By David Wells, editor at Surviving the OU

I started with the Open University in early 2007 and even in the near-10 years that have followed I’ve noticed massive changes in the world of online learning. One of the first things that past and current students recommended to me, as I began studying with the Open University, was the yellow and red Good Study Guide. I believe it is still going and has been updated multiple times since, but I’m sure some of you will remember this in one of it’s original incarnations, talking about video cassettes and writing essays on paper and mailing them in to the tutor. The online TMA system was up-and-running by the time I got involved but I do remember having to write on paper and post out EMAs for some subjects as well.

open-university-arts-good-study-guide  ou-arts-good-study-guide-new

  Old Version                             Slightly Less Old Version

Times have changed, technology has changed and students and universities have adapted and evolved along with it. The rapid progress seen in technology and internet development over recent years has made the ever-increasing amount of information even more readily available. The development of fast and instant internet connection has opened doors to new and futuristic realms of online learning, one that surpasses borders and boundaries via video calls and chatting. The definition of conventional wisdom has been dramatically altered with the dawn of this new era. These days, the trend of online learning is increasing with every passing hour.

But the why the upsurge in users – particularly across the U.K.? Well, research has led to me towards two major reasons that lie behind this steady growth. You may know about these and agree or you may have other reasons for the upsurge in online and distance learning.

-It has given an edge to young people to carry on studying through non-conventional and non-traditional learning methods in order to advance in their chosen careers or vocations without such a strict time period attached to course completion.

-Due to a severe worldwide recession in 2008 (you may have heard about this), poor economic growth, especially in third world or developing countries, has led to people opting for online education.

With this in mind let’s look over some of the pros and cons behind the online approach.

Pros of Online Learning

While reading some academic papers on this subject I saw a theory that the worldwide market of online education largely comprises of people who are mature and grown up (the two are not always mutually exclusive!) because these people tend to have enhanced ‘managing ability’ than younger learners. I am not sure I would entirely agree with this and would say that some of the most motivated and diligent students I’ve met both within the OU and outside have been younger learners. Unfortunately I cannot relocate that original piece to share the link and give them a citation. Bad practice David – always credit your sources when applicable. All around the world, many universities are now accepting online education and integrating new digital approaches it into their curriculums.  an ever-increasing percentage (over 60 per cent according to some studies) of employers and institutions now accept a person’s credibility on the basis of online learning.

Online learning can be very beneficial for students as it is convenient, time saving and carries other additional benefits. Students with family commitments or working full time will struggle to attend college or school on a daily basis and studying all day, every day, is often completely out of the question.

It is convenient because it eliminates the hassle of travelling to campus and is beyond all geographical limitations. Moreover, in some cases, there are no constraints in learning pace but this of course is certainly not the case if you have a TMA deadline looming. Also students are able to access and benefit from online universities resources/archives. Another advantage of online learning includes flexible hours. Students can study any sort of subject by keeping it as a part time activity, while continuing with his/her job. It is far less expensive than conventional learning methods as it eliminates travelling and lodging costs.

Cons of Online Learning

Although online education is a perfect byproduct of technological advancement and increased globalization, we cannot deny the fact that every success comes with a price. There are many possibilities of frauds and other cons associated with online learning. In India alone numbers of fake online universities are closed down each week and Nigeria also has a problem in this area.

The foremost drawback in online learning is a lack of self-discipline. An important part of education is that it exposes you to a learning environment where you are able to socially interact with people from various ages, experiences and ethnic backgrounds. The whole experience is a great wisdom in itself, which online students are not always able to appreciate. There are ways around this of course, that we go into in more depth in the Study Guide, which comes up with ways to avoid isolation and keeping in touch with fellow Open University students.

Mostly, students who opt for online education are those who want to pursue education as their secondary priority. Thus, they are sometimes unable to discipline themselves by setting a time for class each day or simply cannot do so due to outside influences, as we laid out earlier. An online learner has less threshold for motivation unless he/she actively participates in online video discussions. Another problem is a lack of opportunity to develop networking, not only with students, but with professors or tutors.

There is a problem of technological restraints as well. All online learners are required to have fast-paced internet all the time. Their computers or laptops should be well-equipped with basic software like PDF readers, word document, excel programmes and so on. When I started with the OU I had a cumbersome laptop that took about 20 minutes to start itself up. Times have certainly changed since then as I type this on a Google Chromebook that powers up in seven seconds.

Above all, we can’t deny the fact that online learning is for those who can remain in isolation for a long time

It can get boring or frustrating as well at times and we may sometimes feel we have nobody to turn to for help. I’ve felt this way myself. But, rather, than end on a wholly negative note, the power of digital, distance or online learning, whatever you want to call it, cannot be denied. If it wasn’t for the Open University I wouldn’t have moved forward in education and that remains a fact.

That’s Part One over with. Please keep an eye on the website for Part Two, coming soon, when we have a look at MOOCs…..

Are you currently engaging with an online, digital or distance learning course with the OU or another organisation? If so how are you finding it? Please LIKE/SHARE/TWEET or leave a comment below, we would love to hear from you. This social currency helps us to grow and improve the value we are able to provide for Open University students.

The Open University study guide is now available! Click on this image to find out more.

The Open University study guide is now available! Click on this image to find out more.