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How online learning is shaking up the educational sector

The idea of online learning can be a daunting one especially if you’re not well versed with the digital world.

Safeera Sarjoo
27th June 2016
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There are a number of concerns people may have such as what will they be getting for their money, will studying online really improve their job prospects and can they really complete a programme with other responsibilities to shoulder?

Well according to Coursera, people are using online learning as a way to equip themselves with the knowledge and tools they need to stay competitive in the work place. Over the last 12 months, the online course provider noticed a 50% increase in user registration.

Rick Levin, the company’s CEO explained that professionals and parents are among the top users of the site due to their desire to change their lives. This is evident with 47% of online learners in the UK being enrolled in categories that will boost their careers such as business, computer science and data science.

When you then factor in that 30% of those people that are studying are accessing their courses on their smartphones, you realise how flexible and accessible online learning can be.

The option of studying online isn’t just for professionals and parents though.

Refuel Agency, a US based marketing agency reported that in 2015, 44% of U.S. college students are taking at least one online course as well as courses on-campus/in-person. However what’s interesting is that the 37% that are taking an online course are doing so from another college other than the one they attend in person.

If we look closer to home, online learning is also cracking into the higher education sector.

Laurence Brockliss, author of Oxford’s official history, explained that universities faced an uncomfortable future unless they embrace online degrees.

Brockliss believes that it’s only a matter of time before virtual learning transforms higher education – and he’s not wrong.

Online learning promotes accessibility, which means that a student from Los Angeles can complete an online degree hosted by a UK university. This accessibility stretches far beyond geographical demographics though. Online education goes a long way in creating diversity and being inclusive of students who may have not been able to finance themselves through university.

This is something Brockliss feels Oxford University specifically can improve on.

‘I don’t think we’re as good as we used to be at connecting with the public… The outside world still thinks Oxford or Cambridge are not really places for ordinary people at all – and that’s both sad and untrue,’ he said.

If there’s one thing that has become apparent to us at Training and Courses, it’s that online learning is all encompassing. It’s a cost effective way to gain an education and the additional costs associated with university like rent, transportation and textbooks are eliminated, meaning more people are able to afford gaining qualifications that can propel their careers.

Though there’s no sign of online learning immediately threatening brick and mortar universities, Brockliss still believes there is potential for an online initiative to take off, which could leave universities like Oxford playing catch up should students respond exceedingly well.

‘ I don’t think it’s a serious threat at the moment, but I could envisage 10 or 15 years down the road one of the newer universities developing online undergraduate degrees in a serious and creative way,’ he said.

‘If that were to happen and if employers – and employers would determine the success or failure of this – were to feel that the quality of the education was as good as residential universities were giving, then that kind of initiative would really take off.’

Would Oxford University become redundant if they don’t pilot online degrees? Not likely. However it is worth them investing in popular programmes to combat the current attitude people have about the social profile of their graduates and the lack of diversity both ethnically and socially that continues to plague them.

Not only does online learning have the potential to get you one step closer to the job you dream of having, it also has the power to change the way universities recruit students and creates an even playing field for those who wish to obtain a university degree.

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