Distance learning has been around for many years but recently has enjoyed an unprecedented boom in large part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When worldwide lockdowns forced colleges and universities to close their doors, it resulted in a great deal of effort and financial investment being put towards improving online learning facilities. As such, some truly innovative developments have been made, and the status of virtual study has been elevated in the eyes of students and employers alike. It’s not only short courses either. These days you can complete full graduate-level degree programs from the comfort of your own home. Here’s why you should consider doing so.
What is studying for an online degree like?
When you study for a master’s degree online, you will have to complete the same amount of work as you would on a campus program – and to the same high standard. The only difference is in the way that the course is delivered. For example, instead of trekking to a classroom for a lecture, you’ll be able to join it online. In some cases, the lecture might be recorded in advance, giving you the option to watch it at a time that’s convenient for you. Other possible teaching and learning methods you might use during an online degree include:
- Discussion forums
- Audio materials
- Interactive quizzes
- Online books and academic papers
- Zoom seminars with a small group of students
- Written assignments
- Oral examinations via video call
- Powerpoint presentations
- Case studies
You will also be able to contact your professors via email, video call, instant messenger services, or other similar digital tools. Your college will normally have a number of services open to you as a distance learning student, for instance, to help with career options after graduating. Plus, you’ll be able to connect with your fellow students virtually too.
There may be some variation in your experience according to the subject that you choose to study. For example, with a field such as nursing that has a strong practical element, you will also complete placements in person at a location near to where you live. In addition, some programs operate on a hybrid system, where you might need to be on campus once or twice a year.
What are the advantages of studying online?
There are many advantages to studying for your master’s degree online. One of the main ones is the flexibility it offers you. When you decide to study online, you get to choose exactly when and where you learn. This makes it much easier to fit your degree around any existing work commitments or family obligations you may have. For instance, you could study first thing in the morning before work, on your lunch break, or last thing at night once the kids have gone to bed. You can choose to do a little bit of your assignments every day or in longer chunks of time on your days off. It’s entirely up to you.
Similarly, with distance learning, you can pick a place to study that suits your preferences and learning style. This might be in the peace and quiet of your home office, an atmospheric room at your local library, or the creative hustle and bustle of your favorite coffee shop. You’ll even have the chance to dictate the pace of your studies by being able to pause, rewind or revisit certain topics at a later date.
One benefit of online study that people are not always aware of is that it can be cheaper than taking a program on campus. This is partly because the tuition fees are often lower, but also because you don’t have to cover extra costs such as commuting, parking, or finding term-time accommodation near the college. On top of which, the fact that you can easily combine virtual learning with your current day job means you won’t be losing money by becoming a student either.
When doing a virtual learning degree program, you use a lot of innovative technology and cutting-edge software. This means that in addition to all the subject-specific knowledge you learn, you’ll also be giving your IT skills a boost. With more and more of this tech being incorporated into the workplace these days, having the chance to get used to it in a supportive environment can be a big help for your future career.
Finally, you’ll also improve many of your transferable skills when doing an online master’s degree. This includes written and verbal communication, teamwork, organization, time management, confidence, problem-solving, analytical thinking, and much more. In fact, with the added independence you get from studying online, you might improve some of these skills even more than you would do on a traditional campus program!
Are there any downsides to online study?
People often worry that online degrees are looked down on by employers as being inferior to traditional courses. However, these days, this is emphatically not the case. Virtual learning is becoming far more common, and provided that the course you choose is accredited by the relevant bodies, you won’t be disadvantaging yourself by studying this way.
With that said, there are some key differences between learning online and attending classes on campus, and it’s essential to be aware of these before choosing your path. For instance, you won’t be attending college sports events and parties or spending late nights studying in the campus library. Similarly, the way that you socialize with your classmates will be online too. So if you’re hoping for a traditional college experience, distance learning might not satisfy you. On the other hand, if your goal is simply to knuckle down and get the qualification, you shouldn’t have any problems. Remember, you can absolutely still network on a virtual course; you’ll just be doing it digitally.
One final factor to consider is that you will need to take greater responsibility for your learning when studying online. There won’t be anyone there to check that you’re doing the reading or watching the lectures. However, for mature students, this is often actually a benefit because you feel as though you’re being treated more like an adult than a student fresh out of high school.
How do I prepare for an online degree program?
If reading this article has got you interested in enrolling in an online master’s program, there are lots of ways you can prepare yourself for the study experience. Here are some top tips:
- Sign up for a free short course (ideally on a relevant subject) to get a feel for what virtual study is like and how you learn best
- Read blogs by students who have recently taken an online master’s degree, or watch videos on YouTube
- Engage in some self-directed learning in your field before the start of term to lay the foundations for what you’re going to study
- Set aside specific time slots for studying every week, rather than trying to fit it in as and when you can
- Make sure you have a decent laptop or desktop computer, and a strong internet connection (or access to both)
- Set up a dedicated study space at home, where you can keep all of your notes, stationery, and other academic resources
- Let your friends and family know that you’re enrolling in the course, so they can support you (even if it’s just by leaving you alone when you’re studying!)
- Practice self-care – in order to function at your best academically, you need to be healthy. That means eating well, taking regular exercise, drinking plenty of water, and getting lots of sleep
- Discuss any concerns you may have with your college, and make use of their support services if you need them – that’s what they are there for!