Why online learning is the future of education and how you can benefit from it
At the height of the global pandemic, we saw that over 1.2 billion children were enrolled in online classes. It’s tempting to label this as the beginning of online learning – but the industry was seeing a huge surge long before the pandemic.
With online skill-boosting platforms like Skillshare and Masterclass marketing themselves as an alternative to Netflix and other large companies pouring vast sums into the necessary technology. We have seen vast advancements in the quality of online education.
However, online education has more to offer than a teach-yourself language app or a pre-recorded writing class with Margret Attwood. Many universities and Academies are beginning to offer their courses online.
For those who cannot attend traditional education – whether that is due to a disability, lack of funds, or another barrier – quality online courses can be a lifeline. One that opens doors many people didn’t realize existed. The advancement of online education is one of the few unexpected benefits of the pandemic.
No matter your reason for wanting to jump into online education, you will find this guide contains everything you need to know about starting the process. We will be covering it all – including costs, accreditation, and assessment formats.
What is Online Learning
Online learning has never been easier to participate in or provide.
The online education market offers a vast range of courses on nearly every subject you could wish for. These courses are offered by creative professionals, universities, and freelancers alike.
All these courses have one common goal – to offer lessons to worldwide audiences through the internet. With many free courses being offered, online learning offers the opportunity for anyone with internet access to improve their skills.
It has been predicted that the online learning industry will be worth $350 billion by 2025. The current market is made up of many forms of education providers – with some individual companies being worth over $50 million.
The data shows that (before the pandemic) over 6 million people were taking online higher education classes in this country. And they were enjoying their classes. A recent study of students who chose to participate in online learning showed that 85% of the students thought their online classes were as good as if not better than in-person lessons.
What does online learning look like?
Well, online learning offers anyone the chance to study from their own home, local library, or anywhere that has internet access.
Online learning covers a whole range of qualifications, from PhDs and other forms of higher education, right down to self-taught skill boosting classes (with no academic qualification attached). Whatever subject you are interested in studying, you will find an online learning course that covers it.
Online learning requires little to no travelling. If you have internet access at home then you don’t need to travel anywhere to attend your classes. The average student travels between 9-20 miles to attend their lectures (in some countries this number is much higher).
Online learning tends to cost significantly less than traditional, in-person classes. The average online degree costs $45,000 in total, while students who went the traditional route end up with debts totaling $138,000 in total. When paying tuition to a traditional school a large amount of that goes towards renting or maintaining the buildings your lessons take place in. Online learning reduces this overhead. There are also no travel costs.
With so many different courses out there, learners have the option to get themselves a great education at a fraction of the cost.
Who Can Online Learning Benefit?
The truth is that online learning can really benefit everyone.
Online learning opens up access to education that was not previously available to large portions of our society – from people who can’t afford traditional education, people who can’t uproot their lives to get an education, to people who can’t physically attend for health reasons.
When you graduate high school there is a lot of pressure for young adults to jump straight into higher education. However, this isn’t possible for everyone.
Some people aren’t interested in traditional higher education, while others can’t afford all the extra costs that come with attending college in person.
Add to that the fact that online courses offer you the opportunity to work to your own time frame, from home, and save money in the process. If you are looking to improve your education while keeping your finances in control then online courses are a great option.
Young learners may also find that summer courses and extracurricular classes are a lot easier to access online than in person. Again you can save money on tuition fees, travel, and accommodation.
Adults Who Want to Learn New Skills
If you are looking to learn new skills without having to give up everything in your life and go back to school – you will love online education. There is such a large range of courses available that you can learn anything.
From a Ph.D. in Astrophysics to how to use Adobe Pro -the world of new skills will be your oyster. All of this can be done in your own time after work, or even from your desk during your lunch break.
Many companies will pay for online courses that will teach you new skills that they believe their business will benefit from. This can be a great way to improve your job performance at a low cost.
Long gone are the days when corporate training had to be dull. Online courses offer a chance for employees to increase the efficiency of their company-wide training initiatives.
Online learning offers companies the opportunity to let their employees learn via training modules at their own pace. L&D teams can then test employees individually, which improves retention rates.
Learners with Disabilities
The group of people who can benefit the most from online learning is learners with disabilities.
If you suffer from a physical or mental disability everything from leaving your house, to traveling, to climbing stairs can be difficult. Unfortunately, a lot of schools don’t cater to disabled learners.
If you are a disabled learner taking part in online learning, you won’t have to worry about these issues. You will also be able to get more personalized support and work at your own pace. On top of being able to work and study in a location that can cater to your personal needs.
There is a huge demand for online learning across the globe. Many countries around the world consider a University degree to be essential for their young people. A study showed that 89% of Chinese parents thought this way.
Online learning allows global learners to study from anywhere. Through schemes like this, global learners can save money on travel and accommodation without having to compromise on the quality of their education. They can have access to the best teachers and schools in the world without having to leave their house. Many people benefit from this as they can carry on working while getting their education.
How is Online Learning Assessed?
It is not uncommon for people to believe that online courses are an easy way of getting a qualification because there’s less work involved and it is easier to cheat. Both of the presumptions are wrong.
Here are the four main types of assessment you will undergo during an online course.
Group presentation – How does Science Fiction teach us about the world we live in (use examples from texts studied and wider reading).
Group research papers – Using the UN guidelines, discuss the 3 major flaws in the design of the Yida, South Sudan refugee camp.
Self reflection essay title – Knowing what you know now, how would you approach this group project if you were to do it again.
Journal – Please present a journal that shows how you prepared for this extended piece of creative writing. You may include research notes, character plans, plots, and literature reviews.
Finally, you may have to take part in exams. Sadly there is no escaping them, even online.
You may have to log into a software platform provided by the course creators to complete the exam. Or it may be an oral exam over video.
If you are doing an academic course then you will be required to install software that prevents you from cheating during your exam. Or you may be set an essay writing task with a very strict deadline.
How to Choose an Online Learning Course
Once you have decided that online education is the right choice for you, it’s time to think about what kind you want to do and where you want to do it.
When trying to pick a school, college, or university to study at, there are many considerations you will need to make. For us, we think that the three most important elements to consider are the reputation of the institution, the cost of the course, and the testimonials from former students.
When it comes to education, the reputation of the school you studied at can mean a lot. A First Class degree from Harvard is not the same as a First Class degree from Morris College – you can check your prospective college’s world rankings here.
However, if you are looking to study in order to work in a certain industry. you should look at the reputation of the course as well as the university as a whole. Particularly, if you are interested in going into a creative or artistic career.
You don’t want the reputation of your institution to work against all the hard work you put in to get your qualification.
The next thing you need to consider is the price of your course. When it comes to undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, you may not get a lot of variation in prices. However, other types of courses can have serious differences in price.
You should think about whether you think the course will be a good investment in your future. Will the skills you learn and the connections you make justify how much money you will need to spend on the course?
Does the reputation of the tutor or institution reconcile with the price that they are charging?
Finally, you should look into who the alumni of the course are. If you are looking at an SEO course you want to be looking to see that people who took the course, and went on to build a successful website portfolio. If you are taking a creative writing course, you want to see that people have taken this course and gone on to be published.
Your course or education institution will likely have a page on its website dedicated to its alumni.
Also, take some time to look into what ex-students are saying about the teachers, and how the course is structured. There is no better way to get an idea of what the course will be like, than talking to people who have already been through it.
In some countries – like the UK – independent bodies survey students every year to get honest feedback on the university, the course, and their quality of life.
The success and the experience of the course’s students will do a great deal when it comes to showing you if this course is worth your money and your time.
What Resources are Used in Online Learning?
Online Learning courses come in many different forms. Some are taught entirely using video classes, while others use a vast range of resources to engage their students.
When you are looking to apply for a course, you should be looking to know more about how they teach their course. In general, the more types of resources they provide, the better chance you have of achieving the qualification.
Online Real Time Learning
Real Time classes were once the backbone of online learning, however, many courses are choosing to use recorded lectures as they are more convenient for students.
Real Time lectures require you to be at your screen while they are happening. They offer you a chance to interact directly with the teacher. Who can tailor their lessons to suit the group that is studying with them that day.
Being able to study along to a live lecture in your own home can be much more effective than studying in a loud classroom.
If you are looking for a course that works around your schedule then you will want to look for one that offers recorded lectures.
While you can’t talk to the teacher while you are watching the lecture, you will be able to watch it multiple times, on-demand, self directed, and email the teacher if you have any questions.
This resource is incredibly useful when it comes to revising at the end of the year.
Many online courses will provide you with E-Books and E-Textbooks to aid you with your studies. The major benefit of E-books is they can be easily transported.
These can be electronic versions of pre-existing works, or they may have been put together by the teaching team specifically for your course.
They can be read electronically if that is what you like to do, or you can print them out if you prepare paper copies.
Most online learning courses offer free access to many important online journals in the appropriate field.
These databases hold thousands of peer-reviewed journals and articles that can be sighted in essays and presentations throughout your course.
This can be an essential resource for undergraduate and postgraduate students – if your college does not offer this it can be an expressive thing to acquire yourself.
Some teaching teams put together videos that help to teach elements of the course. These have more production value than recorded lectures and are often more interesting to watch.
These videos can include step-by-step guides to doing activities essential to the course made by the institution. They can also be videos produced by external people outside the college that the institution has bought to help its students.
These videos can usually be accessed at any time, meaning that the students can use them in a way that fits into their own schedule…
Videos are a great resource for students, as they are less time consuming for teachers to make (giving them more time to spend with students), and they improve retention rates.
Interactive quizzes are a great way to learn. They access very similar parts of the brain as flashcards do. By asking the brain to recall previously learned information in an unexpected way they help to build new neural connections (also called retrieval learning theory).
Some classes may use the test results as a way to determine your end of term grade, while others will simply offer them as a learning resource.
Many courses (particularly non-academic courses) offer discussion forums for their students as part of their resources.
These forums are often used as a place for students to help each other with problems they are having. As well as a place where teachers can answer their student’s questions.
Finally, many institutions will invite experts in the course’s field to come in and be interviewed in front of the students as guest lecturers. Online courses will often do this as well, but stream the interview rather than hold it in a lecture hall.
They may do this live and offer a chance for the students to ask questions. Or they may take questions in advance and put the video up as a pre-recorded lecture.
Recognition of Online Qualifications
As we briefly mentioned above, when choosing your course you should think about its reputation. Some jobs require a certain level of qualification and will not accept anything less. While qualifications at the same level from two different universities can be seen as having different values.
Here is a brief guide on what factors can affect how employers view your accreditation.
Country the Online Institution is Based in
While the country that provides your qualification might not affect the type of teaching you receive – it will affect how others view your qualification, due to internalized biases that can often be found across most industries. For example, a Law degree from The Congo wouldn’t be seen to hold the same value as one from this country or the UK.
Private or Public Institution
Another bias that we see frequently from employers is the favoring of Private education over public education.
In Public colleges and schools, the teachers and school receive their funding from the government, while private schools get their funding from donors. This usually ends up with the private institutions having a lot more money to spend on their students.
Employers often take more notice of privately acquired qualifications.
University, School, or Academy?
There are many types of qualifications available online and many types of places that offer them. While technically they should all have the same value no matter where you get them from. This is not always the case.
For example, if you are looking to acquire an EMT qualification, employers may value it more if you get it from a university rather than an academy – even though the qualification will technically be worth the same amount.
Degree, Certificate, or Qualification?
Finally, you will need to decide what type of qualification you want. You may already know if, for example, you need a degree in engineering to get the promotion you want. Whilst on the other hand, you may also know the subject area, but not the level of qualification you need.
You’ll need to think about what kind of skillset you require of your qualification to prove you have the right tools to succeed. If you want to prove to your next employer that you know how to use wordpress, then you do not need a degree in engineering, a certificate will suffice. However, if you want to get a job at NASA then you will most probably be expected to get a postgraduate degree qualification.
This final choice will entirely depend on what you require from the course – do not feel pressured into committing to a course you feel you will get no benefit from.
What Support is Available for Online Learning?
One of the downsides of online learning is that you do not get any face to face support. The type of support we require during our studies varies from person to person. Some people may need academic support while others may have other things going on in their lives that need something more.
It is important to remember that you are not alone and that your institution will want you to succeed. Asking for help when you need it is very important and you may be surprised by how much support you receive.
Student Support Teams
All bigger institutions will have a dedicated student support team. They will be trained to deal with problems ranging from medical issues affecting studies to students not fully understanding the course, and even students having issues with teachers.
They should be your first port of call if you have an issue. They can advise you on what to do, and point you towards anything the institution can do for you. They will also be able to provide educational and financial support if it’s needed.
In-House and Freelance Lecturers
If you are having issues you will want to keep your lecturers in the loop – as they can only help you if they know there is a problem. They will be able to help you with any of the problems you are having with the course itself. But if your issue is outside of this scope, they may direct you for student support if you need extensions because of external issues.
Many online institutions have invested in software like Lark or Blackboard, that creates a space for students and teachers to communicate safely.
Dr. Amjad, a Professor at The University of Jordan noted, “It has changed the way of teaching. It enables me to reach out to my students more efficiently and effectively through chat groups, video meetings, voting, and also document sharing, especially during this pandemic. My students also find it is easier to communicate on Lark.’
Challenges of Online Learning
There are some downsides of studying online which you should be aware of before you start your course. While the system has many benefits, nothing is perfect.
A Lot of Screen Time
One of the real downsides of taking online classes is that you will drastically increase your screen time.
There are many negative side effects to high levels of screen time. These include chronic neck and back pain, Repetitive Strain Injuries, and migraines.
A large amount of screen time can reduce the amount you sleep. This in turn can raise your cholesterol and make you a less productive person. Lack of sleep can also lead to increased levels of anxiety and deeper depressive episodes.
It is recommended that if you want to increase your screen time then you should increase the amount of time you spend exercising. It is also recommended that you increase the amount of time you spend outside.
Doctors also recommend that you try to stretch when you can to reduce the chances of developing repetitive strain issues.
Maybe also invest in some blue light glasses as well, just to protect your eyes long term.
When you attend online classes you are at the complete mercy of your technology.
If you have a poor internet connection you will struggle to be able to take part in live classes, and even to access some of the pre-recorded content.
You will need a reliable internet connection and a well-built laptop to be able to complete most online learning courses. Without these items, you will struggle and may fall behind.
Many universities will provide laptops to students who cannot afford to buy their own. If you fall into this category, you should take a look at the grants and bursaries that your university offers to people on lower wages.
Can be Isolating
Another disadvantage of learning from home is that it can be very lonely. Particularly if you are in full time online education.
Over the last year, many students have complained that the lack of social interaction that comes with attending online classes has caused a large amount of damage to their mental state. Many reported feeling alone, isolated, and depressed because of the change in their social lives.
However, many online learners work as well as learning or are unable to attend traditional lessons so get to have more social interaction than they otherwise would have had.
There is no clear data on how choosing to go to online classes affects how isolated people feel. As most of the research has been done on people who had to start learning online because their school shut down.
The Benefits of Online Learning
Before we leave you to begin your journey into online learning we want to summarize the benefits of online learning.
Online learning is one of the most convenient ways to learn – and will continue to be, until they learn how to download knowledge directly into our brains!
Studies have shown that retention levels when studying online land between 25-60% compared to a measly 8-10% in traditional classes.
You can study from wherever you want. You do not have to worry about having to make it to lectures on time or even having to live in the same country as your college. If you are someone who is short on time then online learning could be the perfect choice for you.
As well as offering you the chance to study from home (or on the bus during your commute), online learning also provides a lot of flexibility when it comes to when you can study. Online classes tend to be made up of pre-recorded lectures that can be accessed at any time and be reviewed too. As well as this, you can use various devices to view your course content, laptops, desktops, tablets and even phones.
Online learning is a great option for people who have a lot of child care responsibilities, or who are in full time employment – as the process is flexible enough to work around your schedule.
Makes Higher Education More Accessible
If you are someone who lives somewhere where higher education is difficult to access. Or if you have a disability that prevents you from being able to participate in traditional education, then you may want to consider online learning.
Online learning does not come with the same set of physical boundaries that traditional schooling does.
Traveling back and forth to campus to attend your classes can be a very inefficient use of your time. Particularly when you don’t have much time to spare in the first place.
It has been shown that studying online up to 60% more time efficient than traditional education – for both the teachers and students.
By cutting out this travel time you can be far more productive and efficient. Most home learners find they are able to get much more done in a day when they study or work from home.
Finally, online learning is a lot more affordable than traditional forms of education.
You are paying less for accommodation and for travel. You are also able to keep working while taking online classes.
Tuition fees are often lower for online classes than they are for in person classes (particularly for international students), as the institution does not have to pay for the rent or for building amenities..
As we mentioned above, some students could save a total of $50,000 across their 4 year degree course.
You can save a lot of money by studying online.
We hope you found this post useful, we welcome any questions you have about online learning, and keep an eye on other posts on taughtup.com for recommendations and advice on how to level up your online learning journey.
Good luck and speak soon.
Hey, I’m Kris Taylor. I’m a Learning and Development professional currently in the healthcare field, with over 8 years of experience in the area of corporate education. I have created numerous instructional content for various corporate projects including eLearning, in-person facilitation, and virtual training across a wide variety of learning interventions and sectors. On Taughtup, I discuss topics ranging from how to succeed through K-12 to college all the way to instructional design tips for L&D designers.