Study better in cyberspace

Log on and you can learn in a much more flexible and collaborative way

The future is incontestably digital: the internet is changing the way we do all sorts of things, from shopping to working to running our social lives. Education, though, has so far largely remained anchored in the old world – but even this is beginning to change.

Universities are fast becoming receptive to the new horizons and opportunities the internet offers. Of course, distance learning is an established concept, but modern online learning is a far cry from old-style correspondence courses.

Flexibility and collaboration are the key advantages to the new style of online learning, according to Alan Southern, the director of postgraduate studies at the University of Liverpool's management school. Classes are small and based around web forums. Students are given some reading or research, and can interact with their instructors and peers in evolving discussion threads. One-to-one access to tutors is readily available, and the beauty of the system means that classes do not have to happen in real time.

Discussions will be open for days at a time, meaning that students can ask their questions when their time zones and work schedules allow. It's all done on a low-tech platform for people with slower internet connections.

"We are playing to the strengths of the technology – the real time aspect doesn't add anything online," says Southern. "In this format, a student can go away and do some more reading or have a harder think about the subject before coming back and rejoining the discussion.

"We've avoided transferring what we think as the 'classroom on campus' experience into the online environment, so you won't see conventional-style lectures taking place."

Online learners are a different crowd from on-campus students. They're generally older and probably in full-time work, and either can't spare the money or the time to complete a traditional course. Many have decide that a degree is the best way to advance a career, but that it isn't practical to leave their job to study for one.

Unsurprisingly, the Open University, the heavyweight champion of distance learning, is also embracing the brave new digital world. "Most of our courses now have an online component," explains Niall Sclater, OU's director of learning innovation, who favours a hybrid approach to online learning.

"There are pros and cons to all technologies," he says. "To do away with traditional methods does not work – but you do have to use new techniques for what they're good for. Distance students can feel isolated, so the internet helps them connect to each other in a way that wasn't possible when they were using bits of paper sent out to them."It's more efficient from our point of view, too. Students are submitting their assignments electronically, and the marking is done electronically. There's not a lot of point in using the mail any more."

The OU is taking a much higher-tech attitude with its content than many, and is using all sorts of media, like wikis, videos, audio, animations and virtual whiteboards. It also holds scheduled learning activities, when a class logs on at the same time to use video- and audio-conferencing and collaborative applications. It is even pioneering lectures held in the online world Second Life.

"One of the things we're doing is trying to make all our student-facing systems mobile friendly," says Sclater. "Smart phones are going to be huge. They can take small chunks of learning – reading, podcasts or quizzes – wherever they are."

Peter Crookes spent nine years on and off studying for an open degree in science, maths and computing with the OU. His job as a meteorologist keeps him travelling, and he was only able to get the degree he needed to move his career to the next level by flexible online study.

"I couldn't have taken these courses in any other way," he says. "When you're in work, you just don't have the time to dedicate yourself to a full-time degree. With the OU, I could fit the degree around my life. Sometimes I had a lot of time on my hands at work, and I just went online and studied.

"My degree is opening doors for me. I can go for better jobs in the met office; it's really improving my career."

Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
life
Life and Style
It is believed that historically rising rates of alcohol consumption have contributed to the increase
food + drink
Voices
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
The White Sails Hospital and Spa is to be built in the new Tunisia Economic City.
architectureRussian billionaire designs boat-shaped hospital for new Dubai-style Tunisia Economic City
Arts and Entertainment
You could be in the Glastonbury crowd next summer if you follow our tips for bagging tickets this week
music
Sport
Husain Abdullah returns an interception off Tom Brady for a touchdown
nflLeague has rules against 'sliding to ground on knees'
Life and Style
tech
Extras
indybest
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Maths Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Reading: Maths Teacher required to teach Furthe...

Primary teachers required for schools in Norwich

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary teachers requ...

Science Teacher

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: Science Supply Teacher position...

Teaching Assistant

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Randstad Education is recruiting ...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style