Is an online revolution on the horizon for HE?

A look at why online learning is transforming the sector

By Aled Williams, Vice-Principal – Learning and Teaching, and Lynne Downey, Head of Online Learning, at University College of Estate Management 

One of the biggest trends transforming Higher Education today is online learning. Recent technological advances – e.g. mobile devices and the cloud – and business and educational communities increasingly operating in a global digital world, means there’s never been a better time to continue education online. Students now have the potential to study from anywhere, at any time; without interrupting their career or home life, and they can even earn while they learn. Online learning makes it much easier for working people to embark on further education in order to change careers, earn a promotion, or update their skills.

And as recently reported by THE PIE, employers are beginning to see advantages in hiring students who have studied online over those who have undergone a traditional university experience. As confirmed by Rajay Naik, CEO (Europe) of Keypath Education: “Very often what [employers] say is ‘When I see an online student, I regard those students as more desirable than face-to-face students, the reason being that I know what those students would have gone through to get their experience. To do this alongside your family, alongside your work, takes incredible effort.”

Online learning not only has the potential to be much more cost effective it can also boost individual funding and internationalisation strategies

For institutions, online learning not only has the potential to be much more cost effective it can also boost individual funding and internationalisation strategies. Offering high quality, online degrees enables institutions to reach people who previously might not have been be able to study with them due to geographical factors. Online learning can even improve the reputation of the UK Higher Education sector as a whole; providing opportunities to be a first-choice destination in markets all over the world.

So how does online learning work?

Online learning students can choose where and when they want to study as there are no set lectures and they aren’t tied to a physical campus – however, they can still get full support from tutors and communicate with fellow students whenever they need. Properly designed online learning programmes can provide high levels of interaction, overcoming many of the unique challenges for vocational education. There are now many new, alternative and interactive ways to learn and communicate such as discussion forums, email, online chat, webinars, videos, and podcasts. 

Personally, we’ve moved the delivery of our courses to 100 per cent online learning to take advantage of the possibilities afforded by new technologies, and ensure learning is truly engaging to an audience studying at a distance. To help achieve this we’ve invested in enhancing our teaching resources and techniques through a state-of-the-art online Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). 

Properly designed online learning programmes can provide high levels of interaction, overcoming many of the unique challenges for vocational education

Our VLE is a hub for communication and specialised online resources – helping to build a lively and relevant dialogue with learners using a variety of media. It provides access to timetables and course guides; guidance from highly experienced tutors; all learning materials – including an e-library, logistic and study support; problem-solving; online discussions; Q&As; assignment submissions; and experience sharing. 

The e-learning resources are produced in numerous formats such as Articulate Storyline and Videoscribe, PowerPoint presentations, HD filming, podcasts, webinars and Moodle quizzes for assessments. We’ve even converted and optimised our study papers for use on e-book readers.

Courses are available 24/7 across all types of mobile devices as well as desktops. We also offer webinars at different times of the day to give everyone, across different time zones, a chance of attending. To further help students with their busy lives, we supply course maps, ‘at-a-glance’ weekly overviews and have set-up tailored chat rooms so they can assess and advise on each other’s contributions. And when it’s examination time, students can choose from over 100 centres around the world to sit their exams. 

Furthermore, we’re using our e-learning skills to support our tutors in delivering distance teaching materials, addressing any unique challenges such as student isolation, and improving their own continued professional development. 

Today’s Higher Education students need to be equipped for the 21st century workplace not just in terms of learning about their subject area but also by engaging with current technology. Online learning delivers a modern, engaging, innovative and flexible learning environment, which supports students in their studies, potential career paths and technological development; taking into account their backgrounds, experiences and circumstances. In 2016, all institutions should be at the cutting edge of the online revolution – pioneering innovative and flexible pedagogies for the future.     

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