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Bustin’ 10 myths about online learning

Learning is often about challenging assumptions. This can equally apply to online learning, which, despite its growing popularity across the globe, is subject to certain myths and misconceptions.
Dr. CECELIA ROSA gives the facts.

The requirements of the knowledge economy and the changing needs of business, as the Fourth Industrial Revolution continues its relentless rollout, means traditional learning can’t necessarily give those ‘students’ what they need in terms of time and flexibility.

As the Centre for Education and Innovation has written, “In the knowledge economy, memorisation of facts and procedures is not enough for success. Educated workers need a conceptual understanding of complex concepts, and the ability to work with them creatively to generate new ideas, new theories, new products and new knowledge…They need to learn integrated and usable knowledge, rather than the sets of compartmentalised and de-contextualised facts. They need to be able to take responsibility for their own continuing, life-long learning.”

We asked the IMM Graduate School’s head of teaching and learning, Dr Cecelia Rosa, to dispel the myths about learning via a ‘virtual’ classroom, and offer sage advice to the increasing number of students and professionals wanting to increase their knowledge and skill sets, or study towards a diploma or degree, while continuing to work.

MYTH 1: You have to teach yourself when you learn online

Technology is an opportunity to reduce the distance between the distance student and the lecturer/facilitator. Several strategies are available for this. A good learner management system provides discussion forums, chat rooms, virtual classrooms, the use of social media such as Twitter, WhatsApp and the conventional email make it possible for there to be a dynamic relationship between the distance student and the lecturer/facilitator. The lecturer is not the ‘sage on the stage’ but the ‘guide on the side’. Of course, if the student does not make use of these tools and makes a decision not to be a part of the community, the sense of isolation remains.

MYTH 2: There’s no interaction with classmates

A well-designed online course provides you with opportunities to interact with your peers in a variety of ways. One of the benefits of interacting with your peers is that you are exposed to classmates from around the world, which gives you a very broad perspective of the subject content in an international context.

MYTH 3: Your lecturers/professors are faceless

A well-known and useful model for online learning is the Community of Enquiry concept upon which many well-designed online courses are based. One of the three presences discussed is the ‘Social Presence’. Students, despite the distance, are drawn into a community of which the lecturer/facilitator is one member. Other strategies to reduce the distance between lecturer/facilitator are ongoing two-way communication in a variety of forms such as discussion forums, email, WhatsApp groups etc. Technology has without a doubt reduced the sense of anonymity and isolation for lecturers and their students studying at a distance.

MYTH 4: Employers don’t trust online degrees and don’t take online learning seriously and MOOCs are ‘diploma mills’

Perceptions and a change of mindset will happen over time. However, online degrees that have been accredited by regulatory authorities or endorsed by accredited universities will have complied with particular standards. Furthermore, a student who completes a degree online shows characteristics which should be sought after by employers as it entails the student showing evidence of discipline, a high work ethic, time management and initiative as they are not being spoon-fed in the classroom environment. The world of work is changing at a very fast pace and with it comes the need for more complex skills. Employees should constantly be upgrading and updating their skills-set to remain relevant. At the same time, the employer cannot afford to grant long periods of study leave. Enter online learning to meet the needs of both employer and employee!

MYTH 5: Online learning courses are easier than campus

A well-designed and structured online course is by no means easier than conventional courses. As mentioned before, courses developed within accredited institutions need to comply with standards set out by the regulatory authorities. Furthermore, technology provides opportunities for the creation of more authentic, real world learning in a meaningful context through the use of media rich resources, thus creating a more 3D perspective of learning content.

Technology further provides the facilitator with opportunities to create learning content, which requires students to use critical and creative thinking to solve real world problems. Like conventional classroom activities, technology also provides opportunities for lecturers/facilitators to design activities that assist students to work meaningfully, and encourage active engagement through learning content. Lifelong learning is encouraged through assisting students to source information at a broader and deeper level.  

MYTH 6: You have to understand technology to learn online

You do have to have a basic understanding of how a computer works. Most courses provide one with a user tour to assist you to orientate yourself around the learning material. Many courses are also accessible on the cellphone/tablet/iPad, with which most people are familiar. Most students find their way around their online courses quite quickly.

MYTH 7: You don’t get hands-on (practical) experience

As mentioned above, technology provides the opportunity for students to solve real world problems. Simulations and Problem Based Learning are popular methods in many conventional classrooms and online to provide students with the ability to solve real world problems. The focus should never be only on the subject content, but how to use the subject content to solve real problems.

MYTH 8: It’s too time-consuming

It is no more time consuming than conventional studies. Courses are developed with particular notional hours in mind. That means it is understood that it will take the student that many hours to master the outcomes of the learning content, whether online or contact studies. Of course, distance learning, including online learning, requires the students to be disciplined and independent learners, manage their time and remain motivated.

On the other hand, conventional classes require of the student to be the same, especially at tertiary level. A benefit of online learning is that students can pace themselves and move quicker or slower through the learning material while assessing themselves through continuous assessment activities and revisiting and affirming their newfound knowledge and skills. This means students do have a measure of control over their learning process.

MYTH 9: They’re too expensive

The cost depends on the course and varies from institution to institution and country to country. The prospective student can source a preferred course from anywhere in the world. The choices are numerous enough to suite any pocket.

MYTH 10: Courses aren’t accredited

There may be some that are not. It is up to the student to identify institutions that are accredited and regulated by the regulatory authorities of the country from which they are sourcing the course.

The IMM Graduate School is a distance-learning provider of choice and aims to be the centre of excellence for marketing, supply chain and business disciplines in Africa. For more on our online courses, click here.

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