Online learning can open up a world of opportunities; it can allow us to study and learn a vast array of subjects no matter where we are in the world. All we need is a laptop or tablet, electricity and an internet connection, and away we go.
The advantages online learning has over traditional classroom learning in some respects can’t be disputed; the flexibility it allows means that we can fit our studies into our modern, hectic, daily lives, around work and family commitments. We can learn at our own pace, adjusting the amount of study time depending on our schedule, extending the course if we need more time, or getting through the course quicker in order to complete it earlier. There is no commuting time, so we don’t need to negotiate the stresses of rush hour traffic or squeeze ourselves onto buses or trains to get to our lessons on time. Our studies can be carried out from any quiet area with internet access, whether it be at home, in a coffee shop or even on holiday.
Considering these great benefits, it may then be asked, what is stopping some of us from stepping forward and taking advantage? Well, many people see barriers preventing them from moving forward and grasping their opportunity, perhaps in the form of a lack of confidence when working with modern online technology – the fear being it will prevent them from doing technical tasks to meet learning goals. But barriers to online learning can also be emotional, even for those who are generally tech-savvy and quite confident in the use of the internet.
For many people, deciding to pursue online learning often comes after several years of being away from an educational environment, and very often the last time they were studying may have been in a traditional classroom at school or college. Interaction with teachers and other peers would have been face to face, and there would have been a general feeling of ‘being in it together’. However, with distance learning, we often embark on a subject on our own, with an online tutor we have never physically met. We may ‘see’ them on the other side of our computer screen, but we don’t have a 3-dimensional connection.
This also applies to our peers who are taking the same online course; we don’t physically see them and gain an automatic rapport, so therefore the ‘in it together’ aspect can be lost somewhat.
This lack of interaction can cause emotional responses such as feelings of isolation, frustration and anxiety. Human beings are generally social creatures, and need to relate to others who are going through similar life events to feel supported, encouraged and valued. This will then help us to feel motivated enough to move forward, and stick with it. Lack of confidence and self-doubt can rear its head if we feel alone or isolated. So how can we break down these walls in order to grow in confidence and thrive in a global online learning environment?
Firstly, we should choose a subject that we really want to learn, and have a good reason as to why we want to complete the course, whether it be for personal development, to help us with our career advancement or to help us achieve higher academic goals in the future. Utilise all the facilities and opportunities offered through the course in order to engage with others who are taking the same course. This gives you an opportunity to discuss classes, content and assignments, as well as to receive and provide peer feedback.
Generally, those who engage more with tutors and class peers, even in a virtual environment, will be less likely to feel anxious or isolated, and more likely to feel confident and motivated. Forums, study groups and online discussions with class peers will help keep up the motivation. It is important to keep this two-way channel of communication open with peers and tutors in order to feel connected. There’s a big world of online learning opportunities out there – it would be a shame not to take advantage of them and make it work for us.
Jilly Gardiner is a writer and a lecturer, and spent many years in TV broadcasting. She has a degree in Journalism, and a Master’s in Scriptwriting, and has taught at higher education institutions in the UK and the Middle East. Jilly’s short feature, Being Keegan, starring Stephen Graham, has won a number of international awards. She was a winner of the Windsor Drama Award (The Kenneth Branagh Award), and her work has been produced at theatres around the UK and Dubai. Jilly now teaches at Winchester University, Bucks and Restore, Oxford.