The value of online learning

The value of online learning
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Apply Now! – The evolving landscape

The value of online learning has never before been written about so prolifically – why? Well, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has dominated headlines globally since March 2020, reporting the 1.2bn children who were out of schools as a result, the temporary suspension of on-campus lectures at universities around the world and the cessation of international Higher Education (HE) sojourners. For many in HE, online learning solutions are seen as the most effective way to keep student retention and maintain access to online education. However, the need to stimulate learning with methods other than by attending synchronous lectures and seminars has been with us for many years. Distance learning has taken many forms, evolving over time along with communication technologies. Correspondence courses have been around since the Boston Gazette’s weekly lessons in ‘shorthand’ that were mailed out to students in 1728. Telecourses were initially developed in the 1950s to offer educational materials through television broadcasts. They improved throughout the 1970s and 1980s into more tailored courses that universities could ‘live’ broadcast, as well as record and play at other times. CD-ROM e-learning emerged in the 1980s, when books and latterly audio-visual lessons could be recorded and distributed to anyone with a static computer and a CD-ROM drive. Online learning, offering internet-based synchronous and asynchronous courses, has been available since 1989. Now the digital age offers mobile teaching, which delivers a learning experience through devices such as cellular phones, PDAs and digital audio players.

The value of online learning

The debate

This evolution of online learning and the development of teaching methods seems to have been largely associated with the emergence of technological breakthroughs and disassociated with the needs of the students. It does beg the question, do students want a learning experience which appears to be taking them further away from in-class sessions with co-located classmates and instructors, whist being expected to perform as well if not better than other generations of scholars? As one would expect, there are many views both for and against modern methods of learning and teaching, from the 19,400 articles on Google Scholar referring to the associated benefits and dis-benefits of online learning, to the many conflicting news reports about what students actually want. And, how do the lecturers feel about developing and delivering digital teaching? The Office for Students (OfS – the UK regulator and competition authority for HE) suggests that only 21% of lecturers felt ‘very confident’ they could design and deliver digital teaching during the pandemic and summarises that, students are more confident with online learning than the lecturers are about online teaching. And what about the comparative costs of online v traditional education? A recent US report suggested that online degrees are as much as $10,776 cheaper, which includes not only the costs of tuition but also travel and accommodation. One could also explore the issues of quality, accessibility, subject-specific differences between degrees and the best ways to deliver them, and so on.

Student-centred needs 

If the discussion is taken back to what is most important, the focus must be on what works for the students with a recognition that they may not all want the same type of teaching and learning experience; moving us away from a priority to maximise the potential utility of emerging technology across the sector. The focus should also be informed by pedagogic (teaching children) and andragogic (teaching leaders or adults) approaches to learning and teaching. These then can help shape the content and methods which the delivery systems facilitate, to ensure teacher-student learning is supported by student-teacher / student-student interaction, reflection, critique and analysis.

If we put students first, then many student characteristics must be taken into consideration when designing the most ubiquitous teaching and learning environment. Aside from intellect and opportunity, wider demographic information must be included, for example: cultural heritage and learning styles, linguistic study skills (spoken and written), physical location and time differences, local communications infrastructure, national and global skills gaps and the potential to generate intellectual diaspora, amongst others.

With so many dimensions of online learning to consider, choice must be acknowledged as an important feature of the teaching systems, whereby programmes of study offer a variety of delivery times, locations and methods. This has been acknowledged by the OfS, whereby a fresh approach to the new academic year must include online learning options that do not simply replicate traditional lectures and, importantly, student communities are helped to prepare for online learning both with equipment and skills.

The value of online learning

Unicaf considers the value of online learning to be, the ability to take high quality learning and teaching to the students, unconstrained by the many barriers traditional HE institutions impose. This is reflected by Unicaf’s online delivery system, which takes opportunities to those communities who may not have the means by which to pay for all the associated costs of international studies. If students do not have a PDA or smart device to study on, Unicaf can provide the latest equipment without additional fees. Its pricing profile reflects the reduced costs associated with online programmes plus, it can financially support those in most need to enable them to afford a degree. Unicaf has responded to the OfS call for students to be trained in online studies by offering newly registered students an induction module, helping them make the most out of Unicaf’s virtual learning environment. It also upskills the teaching staff, enabling them to maximise the online teaching experience. The barriers to study presented by the different time zones students are located in are addressed by Unicaf’s asynchronous delivery model with synchronous blended options, and further enhanced by a well-trained and experienced Student Support team located at its head offices in Cyprus. The online teaching materials are developed with UK universities and accredited African universities to ensure quality standards are met across its entire portfolio of learning: a portfolio informed by governments, business leaders and local communities, all cognisant of the global skills gaps. Moreover, learning online is the environmentally sustainable way to deliver education internationally.

Unicaf knows the value of online learning – it’s about offering students great choices, not tradition.

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