Should You Move Your Studying Purely Online? A Guide

Never Stop Learning, Online Learning

For many people, studying online is a difficult choice to make. For some, this can be a freeing experience, but for others it can be quite daunting. Before starting your online course, you should consider two things: First, what barriers might there be between you and effective education? And secondly, what is your educator doing to reach across the gap? Here, we’ll discuss the phenomena of online learning and determine if it is right for you.

The Initial Barriers

Despite online learning being touted as a way to remove barriers, for some people that is far from the case. Online learning can be a private and isolating affair and while it does offer many benefits – including the supreme advantage of not having to leave your house! This can be a problem depending on how and why we’re motivated to learn. Some of us are social learners, we learn largely from a combination of general observation and practical engagement, meaning we often learn just as much from our peers as we do from our teachers and lecturers. In online contexts, where our peers aren’t right next to each other, this can be made more difficult. Certainly, we get some engagements with the lecturer – and that might be enough – but the less immediate connection with peers can affect the way some people learn – and even the way some content is taught.

Alongside social engagement, some of us are also socially motivated. Seeing our peers beside us diligently working inspires us to work diligently as well. When you tie this in to environmental factors – such as the presence of distractions in a home environment – it can become quickly unsettling for some students who subconsciously rely on the classroom or peer environment to assist their learning. Simply put, in an online environment your peers aren’t next to you, they’re not part of your environment, and it can become very easy to convince yourself that you’re alone or that they’re doing better than you. This sort of demoralising effect from a lack of information is very common, in fact, it even affected soldiers during world war one who, while obeying the adage “look to your front” could easily convince themselves that the front must be failing elsewhere along the line.

On the other hand, for many students the joy of learning comes from learning itself. It doesn’t matter if they’re only engaging with a lecturer or if there is a barrier to their fellow students, because it’s the information, the content, the problem solving, the pattern seeking that drives and motivates them. Some students also prefer a closed, quiet environment that they can control, finding the presence of fellow students more distracting than helpful. For these students, online learning isn’t a barrier, it’s freeing and life changing and can permit better study habits than a classroom environment might otherwise allow.

Reaching Across The Gap

Once you know what kind of a learner you are and what you need from your environment, there’s a lot you can do to craft the perfect learning environment for yourself. You could take control of a single room of your house for privacy or minimise distractions, or you could go to a local cafe to get the feeling of being surrounded by fellow workers, or you could contact your fellow classmates and attempt to form a study group. However, some of the onus is on your teacher or lecturer to reach across the gap – after all, it’s your educator who sets the structure of the course that you have to work around and it is a lot easier to work around them then to try to get them to work around you.

There are several ways that online courses are or can be structured. Back in the 90s and early 2000s, many universities offered forum based education where messages would be sent back and forth from teachers to students. This still exists today in two major forms. The first is any education system where the student is permitted to move entirely at their own pace, with all classes being pre-recorded or exclusively textual. Another way it still exists is in the way that many university courses offer student forums for students to to discuss or submit their work online, or advocating the use of social networking tools like Facebook or Discord to facilitate student interaction. However some universities are structured more like an RMIT MBA, essentially treating your computer as the lecture theatre and live-streaming the educated content directly to the student. These systems are more akin to traditional education methods with a dedicated lecturer available in standard office hours, just the classes are held via video call instead of in person. It’s worth asking your institution which system they use for online learning as this might change how you choose to set up your home (or cafe) environment.

However, there is one major advantage to online university education that many other systems don’t have, and that’s student liaison departments, disability assistance, and education assistance hubs. Universities have a responsibility to look after their students to the best of their abilities, so if you have concerns, contact them, and work with them to craft the best situation for you.

Is Online Learning Right For You?

That is a question only you can answer, but even if you believe that you learn better via traditional educational methods, it is worth knowing that online education is possible. There’s a lot that you can do to reach across the gap and your chosen institution is part of that. So if you’re thinking of studying online, take a look at yourself, your environment and what you need, and approach your chosen institution armed with that knowledge so that you can craft the best learning environment for you.

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