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Is an online university course right for you? These 10 points will help you decide if you’re ready to sign up

Written by Abby Young-Powell

Today’s high-quality online courses are rich, immersive experiences, where you learn with students from all over the world, so you need never feel isolated.

Online courses give you the flexibility to study while working, and to fit your studies around your life, rather than the other way round. They can help you stay ahead of the game in your profession or to switch career, and can be a chance to access the quality higher education you missed out on first time round. Increasingly, they are an attractive alternative to a traditional campus degree for students at any stage of their lives, offering value and convenience and the same high quality as you would find on campus.

As we live more of our lives than ever online, now could be a good time to think about taking a course specifically designed for flexibility and convenience. But first, you’ll need to consider all your options. So what do you need to know about online learning, and what factors should you take into account?

The quality of the online teaching 

Universities have done an impressive job of shifting lectures and classes online at short notice. But emergency response online lectures do not provide the same experience as a course designed and built for online delivery from the ground up. 

Universities have differing levels of expertise in designing for high-quality online learning, says Sam Brenton, director of education, innovation and development at the University of London (UoL). He believes that being the world’s oldest provider of degrees through distance and flexible learning gives UoL the edge. “We’ve been doing distance learning since the mid 19th century,” he says. “We’ve always been pioneers, and today we use all our experience to ensure our online courses offer the highest possible quality and value.” 

The network your prospective course provider is a part of

Access to expertise makes all the difference – and with Goldsmiths, Birkbeck, University College London (UCL) and 14 other prestigious institutions making up the University of London federation, there’s a deep pool of knowledge for UoL students to dive into. “Our online courses bring the academic excellence of a world-class faculty to students everywhere, regardless of location,” says Brenton.

A range of options

There are many options for online study, from short open courses to large undergraduate programmes and specialist master’s programmes. To figure out which is right for you, you’ll need to examine your experience and motivations, read up about what each option offers and, once you’ve narrowed down your choices, try to speak to people who’ve done the course before you. 

The breadth of learning on offer

Everything on a distance learning course is likely to have a global focus. “Almost 50,000 students all over the world study with us, on more than 100 programmes,” says Brenton. So if you want an internationally recognised qualification, and to learn alongside people from all over the globe, then an online course could be the right option for you.

The level of interaction you’ll have with other students

Distance learning does not mean you’re studying in isolation. At UoL, you’ll be part of a global community, learning with and alongside your peers in a rich, immersive environment. “It transcends cultural and national boundaries, as well as distance,” says Brenton. “Our students feel that they are very much part of our learning community.”

The different ways you’ll need to engage with a course

A well-designed distance learning course won’t have you sitting in front of a computer screen, passively watching an online lecture. Instead, you’ll be an active participant and you’ll have to be ready to be engaged. “It’s not just about receiving knowledge, it’s about applying it in practice, getting and giving feedback, working in a peer group,” says Brenton. “When you get that combination right it can be just as immersive as traditional campus-based teaching.”

What sort of support is on offer

Students at UoL are kept on track by having a lot of support. “Our student support evolves all the time – there’s peer support, online clubs and societies, mentoring schemes, online tutors, careers advice, wellbeing and mental health support, and access to real people whose jobs are to help students succeed,” says Brenton. With online courses, tutors can use data to see when a student is struggling, and then offer them help. 

Your current experience level

Whatever stage you’re at in your life, and whatever your formal skills, if you’re ready to work hard then an online course could be for you. Many degrees at UoL have flexible entry routes and performance-based admission. For example, if you want to do a computer science degree, have the skills, but don’t have the academic requirements, you can use performance-based admission to gain a place on the course. “Learning is for everyone, regardless of background or circumstance, and we’re here to help people transform their lives,” Brenton says.

Your other commitments 

Do you need to fit study around work or caring commitments? If so, distance learning could be a good option. Digital-first courses are designed for people of all ages at any stage in their lives, no matter what their responsibilities. Students can manage their studies to fit in with their own schedule, giving them a choice about how and where to study. “[Distance learning] offers convenience, flexibility and, of course, very good value, without losing out on quality,” says Brenton.

Your tenacity

These courses are not for the faint-hearted – they are academically rigorous and provide a standard of education respected around the world. So students will need to commit, manage their time, work hard and, at the end, will have a world-class qualification to show for it. “The education we offer at a distance is of equal quality to what you’d receive on campus,” says Brenton. “You get access to a top-class faculty. These degrees are every bit as rigorous, since they lead to a UoL degree of the same quality and standards, however you studied.”

Source The Guardian

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