The online debate

09 Jun

‘Online versus on campus degrees’ seems to be a recurring topic in higher education. It shouldn’t be a case of ‘one or the other’. To coincide with changing behaviours, such as shorter attention spans and a higher importance placed on self-fulfillment and flexibility, there must be room for both formats.

Just as companies are exploring new methods of recruiting and retaining workers with features like ‘job flexibility’, many universities are now offering blended degrees to attract students.

My mixed bag education

A little about me—I studied a bachelor’s on an Australian campus, a certificate through distance learning and am taking my master’s fully online while living in Canada. Do I feel one delivery method is superior? Not at all! They each have their merits.

Studying a bachelor’s on campus was the right choice for me. Fresh out of school, I wanted the ‘university experience’, also, it was a design degree and included tactile classes; life drawing, black and white photography and visits to the bar.

It turned out the design field wasn’t my scene and I continued my educational journey with a certificate in public relations by distance education. Griffith University offers students the flexibility to study toward a certificate, diploma or degree, which was perfect since I wasn’t sure what I was aiming toward. Students post each assignment and need a Justice of the Peace (or similar) to oversee exams, but in return Griffith mail you printed and bound course materials.

I’m currently studying a Master of Marketing Communication online with the University of Canberra. I have learned from incredible professors and alongside professionals in my field. Assignments and exams are submitted online, class forums attract thoughtful group discussion, convenors are contactable and quick to respond and they regularly enter the portal to answer questions and upload content. One of my recent units included recorded lectures, which I streamed at my leisure. The entire experience so far has been blissful.

Suit yourself

With advancing technology, shifting lifestyles and people’s need to make their personal lives suit them, more universities will need to offer online degrees and blended degrees with a combination of on campus and online classes. Degrees with workshops and labs may, of course, require some on campus delivery, though there is room for theory-based classes to transfer to the online format.

Living and education costs are increasing the appeal of online degrees as a convenient way to improve careers while still continuing to earn reasonable paychecks. The knowledge and skills I take from my master’s is something I immediately apply to my job and when choosing assignment topics, I combine my work and degree where possible.

Benefits of an online master’s

  • Many reputable universities are offering online master’s programs
  • Some programs are less expensive than their on-campus counterparts
  • You won’t necessarily have to give up a full-time salary
  • You aren’t physically tied to a campus and can relocate during your program
  • You may be self-motivated, highly productive on your own and prefer the virtual course structure
  • You may have studied a bachelor’s on campus and feel those ‘campus life’ days are behind you

Facing reality

Being involved in face-to-face group work with classmates is invaluable and helped me ease into online group work situations. My initial on campus degree made the transition to distance and online programs painless. It may come with age, self-awareness and confidence in career direction, but I felt more prepared switching to the online course structure after having first studied on campus.

In my late teens and early twenties, I grew as a person during my time at university in a way I’m not sure could be replicated with a 100% online degree. What format works best for others (whether it’s on campus, online or a mixture of both), will depend entirely on that individual’s expectations, life-stage and past experience.

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Posted by on June 9, 2011 in in the classroom


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