How to make the most of online learning

19 February 2016 -

“DistanceLearning"

With increasing pressure on individuals to arrange their own professional development rather than rely on corporate training programmes, many are turning to distance learning to improve their career prospects

Guest blogger Dr Demetra Katsifli

The University of Bradford School of Management has stood shoulder to shoulder with the world’s traditional business school leaders but its MBA programme, however, is anything but traditional.

The University offers its MBA through online distance learning with participants from 90 different countries. There are currently over 1,000 students enrolled in the programme which makes use of Blackboard Collaborate to provide live lectures, discussion forums, workshops and interaction between tutors and students remotely.

The MBA programme has attracted attention far and wide - such as a student from Swedish Lapland within the Arctic Circle who logs in remotely, joining ‘classmates’ from places like Myanmar, Panama and Papua New Guinea as well as students from all over Europe and the UK.

Dr Jonathan Muir, senior lecturer and director of studies at the University of Bradford, said it’s the programme’s reputation that has drawn in students from the wide range of countries.

“We achieved a number one ranking for career-enhancing education and that appeals to professionals from all geographies,” he said. “We have medics, engineers and professionals from all industries joining the programme to upskill and improve their careers.”

Research from CMI and Oxford Strategic Consulting, however, found that many employers are overlooking digital learning – much to the dismay of their staff.

The Learning to Lead report found that 79% of UK managers believe that their organisation is not realising the digital learning potential of smartphone and tablet web-enabled apps, despite nearly all (97%) of the managers surveyed saying they have used digital learning tools in the past 12 months.

CMI chief executive Ann Francke said: “Many employers need to rethink how they go about helping their managers learn new skills. Just dumping textbooks onto smartphones is a dumb way to upskill managers. Managers want personalised bite-size content, to share knowledge and learn from connected peer networks, to ask questions and get feedback in real time. Why? Because it’s now part of how we work and live.”

Today, online distance learning is no longer a poor cousin of the classroom.

In fact, recent research has shown that people taking online courses are developing additional skills ¬– such as discipline, focus, accountability and troubleshooting – precisely because this method of learning requires them to be more organised and manage their own educational experience.

A key feature of online distance learning is that the students are at the centre of the learning process and they have to take a more proactive role.

You’ll need to motivate yourself and draw on the tools at your disposal to get the most out of the experience. It may sound difficult, but this self-sufficient approach appeals to more and more professionals who are signing up to take short courses or full MBAs online.

The freedom to study remotely can be ideal for those whose own responsibilities at work or home prohibit a traditional course. The experience and flexibility of this way of learning, and the career-enhancing end results make it a worthwhile option.

So if you do have the opportunity to study remotely, it’s worth keeping a few things in mind to get the best out of the experience:

Work in a group, not just on your own

Try and set up your own peer learning group, in addition to any group you may be assigned to for assessed work. This will help keep you engaged and will provide the additional peer-to-peer support you would expect if you were attending a university course in person.

Use online real-time collaboration, not just delayed discussion tools or email

Using an online collaboration environment, especially if it has high quality video and audio, makes communication with your peers and tutors more effective. Being engaged during live sessions gives you the chance to ask questions at the right moment, which can benefit your fellow students as well as yourself.

Attending remotely in real time also helps you build personal relationships with people on your course.

Record and re-play at leisure your online sessions with peers and tutors

Take advantage of this option – it’s especially important with distance learning. Review sessions that you might have had trouble keeping up with, or in advance of an assessment as a good reminder of the topic.

Get your progress reviewed regularly

Ask for reviews on how you’re getting on (at least fortnightly) and find out how your progress/performance compares to the rest of your class or group.

You may be able to use a dashboard to get a view of how you’re keeping up with assignments but it’s important to get your tutor’s view too. Insist on getting any questions or concerns answered in a timely manner and ask for feedback on your work via video/audio, not just in text-based comments.

Dr Demetra Katsifli is senior director of international industry management at Blackboard

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