The number of online learning courses has skyrocketed in the last 10 years, with over 500 universities across Europe now providing digital learning opportunities. It’s been around almost as long as the web itself, but we’ve come a long way in making these platforms the legitimate educational spaces they are today — social networks, forums, clouds, and the development of reliable streaming and capture technology make online learning easier than ever.
But if you’ve never taken an online course — or aren’t up to date with all the terms and technologies — you might not know what to expect.
We spoke to some new students — Maria, Nicholas, Helen and Alex — as well as University of Europe Laureate Digital’s Academic Director, Filipe Castro Soeiro, to find out exactly what it means to leave the classroom for a virtual environment.
What are the advantages of studying online?
Filipe: We have a strong focus on innovation, so in addition to offering our online courses like the MBA and leadership accelerator programs, we are actively developing new digital learning products and solutions. This enables us to create and open a knowledge network for students. It also removes any physical barriers and increases the reach of mentors. We can offer specialised coaching, as well as greater flexibility in how they approach their studies.
Alex: I have access anytime I want. The best thing about studying in an online environment is the flexible schedule.
Helen: You can follow the program when you have free time, without the limitations of a timetable. The studying material is always available, and you can learn from many resources. On the platform, it’s easy to communicate with other students and exchange opinions, and being able to interact with the professors online is very important.
What are the main differences between physical and digital courses?
Filipe: Digital learning is not based on internal resources as much as the current model of academic learning. Instead, it is network-based, built on open systems and communities. Our digital courses form part of a larger ecosystem of open, learning resources and communities — both of the students and the professors.
Maria: The program gives me the possibility to combine independent learning with my family and work commitments, and courses are able to be personalised to fit the needs of individual students. It’s also very easy to set up collaborative projects and groups.
Nicholas: I do not have to become a full-time student to get my Masters thanks to the flexibility. I can connect and network with people from different countries, backgrounds, and with different ways of thinking. It does need a lot of good time management and focus, however.
What are some challenges of studying online?
Filipe: Our courses are customised and personalised as much as possible, and we aim to be complimentary to local needs and regulations. This means that we can offer flexibility to students, but long-range planning is important. We aim to deliver a 360-degree approach around all our learning resources, so students can take their knowledge spill over into practice in the real world.
Alex: I did find it hard to adapt at first. I thought using the online resources would be easier, but I did find my rhythm over time. Initially I found it difficult not being able to see the professor face-to-face.
Nicholas: It was sometimes hard to connect with other students. Some people in my group weren’t very active, but I did connect with a really nice student from another group which was more active than mine. It comes down to how much you want to participate.
What unique opportunities do studying online present?
Filipe: In my personal view, global partnership networks are going to increase in importance, and it’s going to be even more important to translate social and scientific knowledge into economic knowledge — or increase knowledge spillover. We are moving away from focusing on individual leaders and into a world that will be shaped by visions, organisations, and missions: communities. Our courses enable students to experience, innovate, learn from, create, and understand these digital communities firsthand.
Maria: I was able to save a huge amount of time that might have been spent traveling or attending meetings. I could then invest this time into valuable non-traditional learning activities.
Helen: It allowed me to learn new knowledge at my own pace, with healthy competition. There was lots of support and everything that you would find in a real “classroom” — also arranging online meetings and groups with professors and students.
It’s clear that online learning will rise in popularity. There are certainly some very attractive benefits — such as greater flexibility and a more personalised approach to learning. These advantages appeal to increasing numbers of students looking to fit their education around their lifestyle, rather than the other way around.
There are also the disadvantages to consider, especially if you thrive in an in-person teaching environment.
For anyone considering the online learning path, it’s crucial they weigh the pros and cons against their own unique situation. Alex, Helen, Maria and Nicholas made an online classroom work for them. Is it the right option for you?