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The Future of Education: Five of the Biggest Benefits of Online Learning

Virtual learning is set to play a huge part in the future of education. Here are just five of the major benefits online learning can provide.

“With working and having two school-aged children, I needed to be able to study around my current commitments. Online learning was by far the best option for me.” These are the words of Northumbria distance learning student Claire Capel, a full-time teacher who took the decision to enrol on our online Psychology Masters in 2020.  

Claire’s words echo the sentiment of thousands of distance learning students worldwide. Although the Covid-19 pandemic has led to a greater need for remote learning in recent months, people have been drawn to the flexibility offered by online courses for many years. 

Here at Northumbria University, we have been running distance learning courses in different formats since the 1980s. We currently have over 1,500 students from across the globe enrolled on our range of online programmes, which cover everything from Quantity Surveying to Business and Management to Psychology. We know first-hand that, when done right, it’s a mode of study that comes with many benefits. And it seems we're not alone in our thinking. In Pearson’s Global Learner Survey of over 11,000 people, conducted just prior to the pandemic, over 80% of respondents believed that digital and virtual learning would become the new normal in the next decade, a timeline that’s set to speed up given the new set of unique circumstances impacting education internationally.   

Pandemic or no pandemic, virtual learning is set to play a huge part in the future of education. Here are just five of the major benefits online learning can provide:


1. Flexibility to Study When You Want 

Many of our distance learning students have a full-time job, family obligations, or work in roles where sticking to a fixed study schedule is virtually impossible. Take Business and Management student Don Johnson for example, who wanted to balance his role as operations manager in the British Army with studying a course that would help him to build a solid management foundation. For Don, army life can be “turbulent, demanding, sometimes chaotic and always challenging”, and he needed a study mode that would allow “flexibility to fight the daily fires that can ignite” in his day-to-day role. At Northumbria, our modules are self-paced and any live sessions recorded so students can check back on the class in their own time if they’re unable to watch live. This has helped Don to fit studying into his busy and complex day-to-day life, allowing him to set his own learning schedule and take breaks if he needs to.

2. Freedom to Learn Anywhere 

As well as being able to choose when you study, most distance learning courses will allow you to choose where you learn too. This has been a feature that really benefits our international students who span the world, from Australia to the USA. And for Psychology MSc student Suzanna Knight, it means she can view the content while she’s in the car waiting for her son to finish basketball training. For others, the freedom to learn anywhere has allowed them to study on holiday, on their daily commute, while they’re waiting for their dog at the vets, in a coffee shop or at the kitchen table – whatever study space works best for them. It’s no wonder that in the Online Education Trends Report 2020, flexibility and convenience topped the list of reasons students gave for choosing to study online for the fourth year in a row. 

alt=""3. Career Advancement  

For those looking to upskill in their current role, online learning gives learners the ability to be able to put theory into practice straight away. For Psychology student Suzanna, this has meant that her new knowledge has been immediately informing her role as a development manager with Westmeath Support Service Against Domestic Violence, helping her to step up, stand out, and make a difference straight away. “I’m really excited about the insights that studying Psychology offers and how it informs my practice and my work”, she says. “I also know that I will have a qualification that is relevant to numerous and diverse fields I may wish to pursue in the future.”  

4. Global Interaction  

Gone are the days when distance or remote learning was an extremely lonely one, with just a tutor checking in occasionally to see if you were on track with tasks and assessments. The growth of digital technology now means that many online courses are extremely social experiences. At Northumbria, distance learners collaborate with other students and have the opportunity to share and exchange experiences. This not only means that our students rarely feel isolated and unsupported, but they also get to meet professionals from all over the world too, adding to the breadth of experience and networking opportunities they’ll have access to. As Psychology MSc student Claire comments, “Studying online sounds like it would be a solitary experience, but it’s been quite the opposite. I’ve got to know far more people on my course than I would have if I were sitting in a lesson.” 

alt=""5. Affordability 

With online learning’s flexibility comes another major benefit: being able to study at the same time as work. Many students who join us are looking to switch career but feel that retraining would be impossible without being able to maintain the financial security of a full-time job. This was the case for Surveying MSc student Gemma Cornwall, who knew she wanted to start a new career but couldn’t afford to simply resign and return to being a full-time student with a mortgage to pay and a young child to sustain. Plus, with no commute cost to factor in to get to on-campus lectures or seminars, many students save a considerable amount of money by undertaking an online programme rather than an on-campus equivalent.  

Find out more about distance learning at Northumbria University. 

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