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It isn’t for everyone; but in a world where things are getting faster all the time, and people need to do more and more things, online study is becoming more popular – particularly for those returning study, those taking graduate studies, or those living in more remote areas.
Before you decide to enrol in an online course, you need to look at the pros and cons of online study, and then decide if these work in your favour.
The greatest thing is its flexibility: you can study around work and family commitments. There’s no commute to your campus; you can study anywhere you have internet. Essentially, you can study anywhere in the world, at whatever time suits you best (I have classmates in Dubai and South Africa).
You can tailor your learning experience to suit you. That means that it doesn’t matter what type of learner you are (aural, visual, etc), you can tailor your learning to suit yourself to a greater degree than traditional study. With online learning you’re given all the resources you need, including the information for assessment, and then it’s up to you to use the information to its fullest.
There’s also an unusual synergy that comes with online learning. I think it’s because there’s less competition among students; because you’ve never met your classmates face-to-face, you have only their work, and written words to go on. It has nothing to do with age, gender, or background – online learning levels the playing field somewhat. Students use the discussion boards to have open conversations about all aspects of the course, and all opinions are allowed – so long as they are delivered with reasoning and are polite (no bashing allowed); resources are shared and project collaborations abound.
The biggest drawback of online study is the level self-discipline required. Online study is almost completely self-directed: you need good time management skills and a lot of self-discipline to plan your study and assessments, and make sure you stick to it. If you fall behind, it’s almost impossible to catch up, and there’s no lecturer around to remind you that your assignment is due in a week’s time.
You also miss out on social interaction – if you have a question, you can’t just ask your lecturer at the next class. There are less study groups in general with online study (though, as mentioned, project collaboration is common), and you don’t get that same “uni experience” as you do studying on-campus (I say uni only because that’s my personal experience, the same could probably be said for TAFE, or any other type of course).
Before you enrol in an online course then, you need to consider the above points and ask yourself honestly:
• Do I have the extra time for study? Can I make time?
• Do I have regular access to good internet (not as much of an issue now, but you still need to check)?
• Do I have the discipline to make sure I study regularly, without being pushed by others?
• Do I have the time management skills to take on uni as well as my other commitments?
• Am I comfortable with asking a question that more than one person will be able to see?
If you said yes to most of these, then studying online might be for you. If you said no, and still want online study to be a viable option for you, you may need to look into improving whichever aspect is holding you back. If you find that it works for you, it can be a very rewarding experience.
By Sian Bray