"Online learning is the ‘blackboard of the future’’

– Richard Garner

Article by Felicity Allen

I’m staring at the world’s second most offensive carpet (the first being the hallway carpet my parents insist on continuing to give life), allowing the yellow and orange and green to dance into the back of my eyeballs. Occasionally I take a sip out of my thermos and ‘enjoy’ my home made home brand instant coffee and look around the room. From what I can see, without being too obviously weird about looking around an uncomfortably silent room, 8 out of 9 people are on their laptop. Oh, and so am I.

It’s difficult to know for sure what each individual is doing on said laptops, but as we all happen to be in a library it’s safe to assume they are working and/or studying. Or trying to, in between 20 minute social media breaks (guilty).  Moreover, our ages range from young first year student to middle aged businessman to old age pensioner. What has brought us all here? I wonder myself why I’m punishing my eyes with this carpet, but the answer for me is: because I can.

The same reason a month ago I was doing the exact same thing, only in a patio in sunny Spain and drinking better coffee. Or the other week I spent my entire day horizontal in bed, whilst still being productive. Let me clarify: I am a university student. But I do not have physical lectures to attend. I do not have classmates to be frustrated at their lack of input on group projects. I also, sadly, do not have SAAS to blow on new handbags and margaritas. But what I do have is freedom. I study for my degree online, which means I am able to work alone or with people, in my bed or in another country.

I’m not alone in e-learning: there are 173,889 students enrolled in The Open University, making it one of the UK’s largest universities. On top of this, there is a plethora of free online courses available as well as courses offered by other universities. E-learning isn’t just for studying either; many companies train their employees digitally.

So, is distance learning all it’s cracked up to be? In one word: yes. But of course, I’m biased. The thing is, I never went to university straight out of school, mainly because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life. Who does at the age of 17? Now that I’ve had the time to find what interests me, I had to decide whether to attend regular university or take the arguably harder route of studying online.  I chose the latter.

It’s not easy, I’ll tell you that.

- For one, the grade boundaries are higher at my university meaning it is much harder to reach that highly coveted 1:1 (First Class).

- Secondly, it can be hard enough for a student to motivate themselves to work on an assignment, let alone be motivated enough to study all the topics by yourself so you’re able to actually write said assignment.

- Thirdly, sometimes life gets in the way and you’re not able to set aside your normal amount of study time, which can be stressful.

Having said that, it suits me perfectly. I have the flexibility to study when I can and where I want (so again, why am I surrounding myself with this hideous carpet? I’m going back to bed). I have the support of a tutor over phone and email and I can also attend tutorials both online and face to face, meaning you can chose to study solo or use the support of your peers. The higher grade boundaries push me to study harder and if I ever find I need time out because of life, I can organise a break in study. Not bad, if you ask me.

Personally, I’m a big advocate of online learning. Whether it’s a short term course to boost your employability, or gaining an undergraduate degree at a time in your life when you thought it was too late, there can only be benefits. Of course it’s not for everyone; some students need the environment of a physical university to attend. But nevertheless, it’s a big thing that’s about to get bigger…and on that note, I’m away to top up my home brand coffee and study from the comfort of my own home.