While online learning had been around even pre-pandemic, it took on a different scale after the virus hit – and forced the world to innovate, as digital became the lifeline that enabled people to work, learn, shop, entertain and even mourn online.
In education specifically, online learning became Noah’s Arc that kept the learning afloat (though millions were also left out due to lack of access to the tools). And while that’s been a lifesaver, it’s not without its challenges. For one, there’s an information epidemic out there – how do you find what’s right for you, and how do you make the most of it?
Here we give you the nuts and bolts of this system, creating a checklist for you to verify before you sign up for any online course.
The internet gives us way too many options and unfortunately, it means that there are way too many types of courses that are available online. This is important because we have different styles of learning. Pick a type that is best suited to your needs. It pays a huge role in determining how much you get out of that course.
An Open course allows anyone to sign up for it while some courses need minimum qualifications and a specific kind of application to be a part of the program. The former is more suited for the beginner levels while the latter places emphasis on greater specialisations. An Open course is a better option if you are sampling your options while a systematised one, as part of a college degree for instance, demands more from you. It also determines who your classmates are. Open courses have an extremely heterogenous crowd, coming from different academic backgrounds while the other has a slightly more homogenous crowd, with many focussed on specialisation.
This sets the level of group discussions and assignments.
The flexibilities provided by the internet allows for the lecturer to interact with the learners in real time or record sessions which learners can access at a later point in time. That is the difference between synchronous and asynchronous courses. If you are taking up a synchronised course, you have lesser time flexibility for you, your classmates and your teacher logs in at the same time, giving you the advantage of real time interaction. Asynchronous learning happens at different times for the instructor and the learner. It gives you greater flexibilities but lesser scope for discussions and real time clarifications.
Some online courses are direct online translations of a real live classroom while others are structured only for the online audience. Depending on the nature of the course, some can be personalised depending on the requirements of the students while others remain the same. Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) are static, you cannot personalise them to suit your needs. Depending on the level you are at and the speed of your learning, choose the type of the course that that works the best for you.
Always check the requirements before you register and pay for a course, especially if it is part of a STEM program. While planning for your courses financially, ensure to account for hardware requirements and other tech investments you will have to make to get the best out of your course. Be it a dedicated software or just the basics of a webcam or a good router, investing in tech is a major part of online learning.
Dig deep into who is offering the course and who accepts the certificates. Learning for learning’s sake is great, but for those looking to advance their professional status, ensure your course if offered by a reputed institution or is accredited with a university or a pioneering research centre. Especially if you are looking to further your job prospects, the certificates you gain from your online courses need to be recognised and accepted by current or prospective employers. The reputation of the course designer and their accreditation also acts a quality guarantee.
Know your facilitators: their degrees, their standing in the field, their feedback by other students and anything else you need to know before signing up for a course. Their teaching styles and expertise have a huge impact on your learning.
This is the other side of the coin. It is natural for you to have a lot of expectations from the course, but let us lot forget what the course expects from you. Most course descriptions give you a succinct picture of the nature of assignments and the amount of work expected from you in order to complete the course successfully. Make sure you have the time and the mind space to keep up with those requirements before you sign up.
In case of tech difficulties during synchronous classes, or you have questions that need to be clarified or require any other form of assistance, you need to know what redressal or support systems are available for you. It is good to keep that contact information handy as your class begins.
With so much of our lives becoming online, the amount of time we spend in front of our computers has increased exorbitantly. If you are already employed and are signing up for online classes to upskill yourself, take some time to find a balance between the demands of your employment and your course. Our minds have their own limitations and you will not be helping anyone by overtaxing it. Some screen-free time everyday is also absolutely essential.
Do a cost benefit analysis before you agree to pay for an online course. There has to be some correlation between the fees you pay and what you gain out of it. This relationship of course changes with each individual and each scenario. However, you should be able to justify the cost of the course in terms of future professional benefits. Do not forget to take into account hidden costs or other technological investments you might have to make in order to complete the course.
Learning has evolved drastically during the pandemic. If there is one thing the lockdown has taught us, it is that learning never ends and it is never too late to upskill yourself. This has created a culture of “stacking” certifications. You keep adding to your knowledge portfolio, either horizontally or vertically: either by going into super-specialisations or diversifying your learning, giving in to the current trends of interdisciplinarity. And online courses are a great medium for you do pursue any and all knowledge that excites you, as long as you know exactly what you are signing up for.