There are many reasons people undertake further education; they may wish to gain a promotion or move sideways into another industry, they may be looking to learn a new skill or help perfect a current pastime.
Whatever the aim, there are a myriad of courses out there covering a wide range of subjects and one of the most effective and popular ways to study is online.
Often dubbed the future of education, online study is a rapidly growing industry estimated to be worth $107billion by the start of 2015.
It is an incredibly popular method of studying and in fact, in the UK more people study with e-learning giant Open University than with any other institute.
On top of this just under half of Fortune 500 companies now use some form of online learning with to train their staff, demonstrating the high level of respect online learning now commands.
Learning via distance has come along leaps and bounds in recent years and no longer holds the stigma it once did, in fact every day more and more people sign up to access learning no matter what their location or situation.
Its popularity boils down to many reasons:
For many people the cost of higher education can be a big factor in making a decision, and one that makes e-learning so appealing as typically it is much cheaper than campus study.
There can also be huge further savings when you count the money you are not spending on accommodation or travel.
For businesses it has been found e-learning can cut costs by 50% compared to using an external trainer. So if you wish to study a professional course that your HR department can’t finance, it may be worth seeing if they’d pay for online tuition.
Online study allows people to gain a qualification from any subject from institutes all over the world. E-learning providers offer far greater choice in subjects and teaching methods than traditional learning institutes.
Distance learning is much more convenient than campus study; you can receive a qualification from anywhere in the world without leaving the comfort of your own home
It can also be a preferred option for students who wish to study in a country that isn’t their home country. There can often be difficulty and expense when it comes to arranging a student visa so studying online removes the need for this and makes the whole process much easier.
It can also be an attractive option for older learners who wish to keep active post retirement but do not wish to, or would struggle to, attend lectures.
- Increased learning
Many studies have shown that e-learning actually leads to increased retention of the subject, this can be put down to the familiarity of interacting with a web page, home learning’s lack of distractions (well, compared to a classroom!) and the high interaction levels online study offers with a student’s tutor and peers.
- A more environmentally friendly option
By studying online you are removing the carbon footprint you would have created had you decided to transport yourself from home to your learning institute.
In fact, a recent study showed a student studying via distance learning consumes 90% energy than their campus counterpart.
You can study whenever is most convenient for you and most online courses will allow you to complete your studies at the pace best for you.
If you need to balance your course with other commitments then e-learning courses tend to have a much longer deadline for completion than their campus equivalent.
However, should you wish to put in the hours, you should also be able to complete your qualification much faster than outlined.
- Financial Reward
On average a related qualification can lead to a 10-15% rise in salary, not bad for spending a couple of hours at your laptop when you want.
How does online study work?
The technical complexity of online study varies from using an avatar on a virtual campus to receiving course texts via email. So it is important to establish how you learn best before you decide on which course to enrol in.
However, pretty much all online courses revolve around a central online portal where you will have access to your tutor, video lectures, course texts, assessments and other learning features.
You will be taught according to a syllabus which may be tailorable to your learning needs and completed at the pace best for you.
You will be assessed via exams, coursework and /or continued assessments.
Once you pass you will be presented with an accredited certificate.
How will I be supported while I study?
Despite not being on campus you will still have access to dedicated tutor and many course providers will also provide a career’s advice service where you can access services like job interview techniques, and CV and networking help.
Depending on the course you may also be able to arrange work experience or internships to compliment your study. These can provide invaluable insight into the area of work you wish to get into and are regarded very highly by employees who want to employ a candidate that can hit the ground running.
Can I study online while I still have a job?
If you are looking for a new job or promotion studying online can be a great way to gain skills you can immediately use in the workplace or outline in a job interview.
Some people who wish to set up their own venture don’t want to give up their current job while they gain other skills for financial reasons, so online study is a fantastic option for them.
Because of its flexibility it is ideal if you wish to study in the evenings or weekends.
Can online study be sociable?
Just because you are studying online does not mean the only interaction you will have is with your computer.
In fact, studying online can be a very sociable affair which allows students to connect with thousands of others undergoing the same experience as them.
Some course providers like the Open University arrange local meetings, others offer virtual ‘hang-outs’, and of course there is nothing to stop you from seeing who is around you.
Is online study all online?
Despite the name, online study is not always all online.
You may have to sit your exam in a controlled environment so if location is an issue for you, it is important you check this before you enrol. If you are studying in a different country to your learning institute is often possible to sit the exam in a counsel office or equivalent.
Some course providers also open up campus workshops or seminars to online students which, though not assessed, can help learning.
Currently most work experience and / or internships are not web-based though with the rise of tech jobs this is changing.
Are online and campus earned qualifications viewed differently by employers?
In most cases there is no way of knowing if a qualification has been gained online or on campus if it is from a provider that offers both method of study.
In fact, over the last few years many highly respected institutes have started offering courses via distance learning.
And if anything, most employers are more impressed with online qualifications which show self- discipline, motivation and a passion for bettering themselves in the field they wish to work in. The time management required to complete an online qualification is a skill very much in demand by recruiters.
What I should look for in an e-learning provider?
There are many learning institutes that offer online study, from ‘traditional’ universities, to dedicated services such as the Open University, to much smaller specialised course providers.
It is important to check they provide valid and recognised qualifications. The easiest way to ascertain this is by checking they are accredited by the relevant industry regulator, for example ACCA or AAT for an accounting qualification.
You may wish to speak to employers about what qualifications they value, you don’t
want to spend your time completing a course unrecognised by employers.
It is also important to find a course provider that allows you to learn in the way best for you. You may wish to find a course that leaves you completely up to your own devices, or need one that offers much more support. Most institutes will have dedicated advisors who can help you with this.