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Is online study right for you?

Smiling woman with tattoos and red hair in a cafe and studying on a laptop

Sometimes referred to as off-campus or distance education, online study is becoming an increasingly attractive option for many prospective students. Many universities now provide the option to enrol in single subjects or entire courses to achieve a recognised qualification, often without setting foot in an institution.

We spoke to a representative from University of New England (UNE) in Armidale NSW about what goes into the online study experience. UNE have an extensive online offering and our ratings awarded them 5 stars for Overall Experience for 14 consecutive years.

The benefits of online study

One of the main drawcards of online and distance study is the option to study at your own pace, by accelerating or spreading out your course as needed. This flexibility allows many people to arrange their study time around work and family commitments.

At UNE, you can study one unit at a time or a full-time load online. “We offer online students 24/7 support and have the added flexibility of three study periods (trimesters) which means you could potentially finish your degree early, and our Bespoke Courses give you the freedom to study just two, three or four units and assemble them into your own short university course.”

What to expect when studying online

The difference between on-campus and external study modes is not as pronounced these days. There may be assignments and exams that require course materials, but these are generally accessible online.

Along with weekly readings and discussion boards, lectures are usually recorded and uploaded online so you can access course materials when it suits you.

UNE says that “instead of turning up to a lecture on-campus at a designated time, course content is provided to access when it suits you each week. It might be a recorded lecture, a set of readings, questions posed in a forum, an online quiz or a video. Your lecturer will guide you through the unit with a weekly plan of study, as well as checking in on the discussion boards or forums. You can communicate with teaching staff via email, online chat or by phone.”

What types of people are best suited to online learning?

Successful students tend to be committed, self-motivated and organised, and this even more true when it comes to studying off-campus and to your own schedule.  

Online study has opened a world of possibilities for people at all stages of life and with varying levels of commitments. UNE has “students of all ages and backgrounds studying online, including people undertaking their first degree or returning to complete a postgraduate qualification.” They’ve found that “people who are working and juggling family commitments find online study particularly attractive”.

Are there particular courses or fields of study that are best kept to the classroom?

Depending on where you study, courses with a practical element, such as nursing or teaching, may require some time on campus, while others can be completed entirely by distance. Some courses are delivered in ‘mixed mode’, which means a combination of face-to-face contact and online or distance delivery.

While some of UNE’s units have intensive schools enabling students to engage in practical exercises, tutorials and on-campus lectures, most don’t require you to leave home. “Most of our students study online and enjoy support and interaction with lecturers and tutors and fellow students through forums and online tutorials,” they say. UNE strives to create an online study environment that is just as rewarding as attending campus.   

What’s the student interaction like for online learners?

Most online study offerings include discussion forums that serve as virtual classrooms, giving you the ability to interact with your tutor and fellow students.

UNE believes that a vital part of being able to study from anywhere is engaging with the learning community. “Communication with your classmates, teaching staff and university support staff will enhance your study experience and ensure that your skills extend beyond the subject matter. The biggest misconception about online learning is that you’re on your own, but nothing could be further from the truth.”

Testing the waters with MOOCs

Still not sure if you’d thrive in an online environment? A Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) could be a good place to start. Delivered entirely online, MOOCs come from some of the world’s leading institutions and are available to anyone, regardless of prior schooling. While they don’t provide credit towards further study, a MOOC can be taken as an introduction to a field of study, a way to upskill or to pursue an area of interest.

Search and compare online courses here.

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