10.1 Some misconceptions about distance and online learning
- You study on your own with no support. NOT TRUE: You will have time for independent study, but you will also have the opportunity to take part in discussions, tutorials and other online activities (including collaborative assignments) run using a virtual learning environment. You will be interacting with other students and your tutor on forums, and using online communication tools such as video conferencing or social media. You will be supported by a tutor (academic supervisor or study adviser) and have access to student services throughout your studies – support will be available to you when you need it. Because you won’t have the face-to-face interaction doesn’t mean you can’t speak to your tutor: you can contact them through email, phone or online.
- There is no sense of community and no social life. NOT TRUE: You will be a part of a community of learners, studying within a tutorial group. You can make friends online, set up study groups online, and engage socially with other students who will be in the same boat as you, studying the same discipline. There will be plenty to talk about! You can also get involved in professional networks, online student societies, and get to know students of different ages, backgrounds, interests and experiences from around the world.
- Distance learning is only for older people. NOT TRUE: Attitudes towards online and distance education have continued to change over the past decade. People of all ages (including those in their 20s!) are seeing the benefits of studying for a Master’s degree part-time, as a realistic alternative to a ‘traditional’ university experience.
- Online Master’s courses have less value and are easier to get on to than courses run at traditional ‘brick and mortar’ universities. NOT TRUE: All Master’s degrees have specific entry requirements which applicants have to meet before they can be admitted. Online degrees offered by validated course providers have to meet the same rigorous quality assurance standards, involving external assessors and examiners, in addition to any specific professional body requirements, that would be expected of any higher education institution with degree-awarding powers (regulated in the UK by the Quality Assurance Agency). Brick and mortar universities are increasingly offering blended (face-to-face and online) learning options, as well as online-only degrees.
- Online Master’s courses are easier. NOT TRUE: Online courses are just as difficult, and can even be more challenging than campus-based courses – they have their own particular skills requirements (digital literacy and ICT skills), and sets of pressures (including planning and organisation, time management, and commitment).
- I can work entirely at my own pace. NOT TRUE: While there is a great degree of flexibility in how you manage your own study time, online courses deliver structured learning, and are run over a defined period. You will still need to meet assignment deadlines, attend synchronous (i.e. real-time) online tutorials, and sometimes take part in forum exercises and other assessed activities which are not synchronous, but are timetabled (i.e. scheduled at specific times), so do expect to plan and manage your time well.