Old skills always need to be updated and new abilities must be developed in order to advance your career. In view of this, training and learning itself has undergone radical changes in recent years. The biggest facilitator of these changes is technology, particularly the Internet, which has opened up learning to people who could not otherwise find the time to study.
Today, many postgraduate courses are offered through e-learning. Due to the increased demand for higher qualifications in the workplace many people are turning to e-learning as a way of getting qualified without having to make radical changes in their lifestyle.
What is e-learning?
For some, the concept of studying without visible colleagues, without a ‘real' classroom, or even without a teacher is totally alien. However, e-learning embraces all of these things. It is learning assisted by technology, implying courses - lectures, assignments and everything - that are conducted entirely or almost entirely via the Internet.
Postgraduate e-learning courses are operated in a similar way to any normal course, with a structured program of study leading to a recognized qualification, but without the daily routine of attending lectures and seminars on campus. Instead those resources are made available for use at any time through the Internet so that you can study whenever it is convenient for you. Most of the major universities in the UK are embracing this technology and are operating their own postgraduate e-learning qualifications.
The availability of e-learning
The University of Edinburgh boasts 19 online distance learning postgraduate programs, ranging from an MSc in E-Learning itself to an Med TESOL. Impressively, University of Edinburgh also has 9 Online Distance Learning Masters Scholarships available to support learning.
University of Edinburgh is by no means unique, though. The University of Nottingham is pushing e-learning, as is the University of Birmingham and many others. One major advantage to e-learning, though, is that you don't need to be situated near your host university. In fact, you could be traveling on the other side of the world - as long as you have access to the internet then it can still work for you.
How the courses are operated
How the courses are run in a practical sense depends on the university, the course, the subject and your preference. Generally, it involves learning through web-based audio-visual materials, written assignments, interactive materials, and online group discussions and seminars, among other things. There is a big emphasis on not isolating students by getting them involved in activities with fellow students and giving them interactive time with lecturers and staff to support their studies.
Highlighting the benefits of e-learning is the fact that universities are making use of the same technology to enhance on-site courses. Lectures are being made available for download, while podcasts and other online resources are used to enhance course materials.
Regular assessments and exercises keep your progress monitored so that you can measure your own learning, and so that teaching staff can support your education.
The benefits of e-learning
The most obvious benefit to e-learning is flexibility. You have more control over your schedule and your learning than a classroom-based course can afford. You can study anytime, anywhere providing the technology is available.
This flexibility allows you to study when it is convenient for you. If you are already balancing work, family and secular commitments then an extra study load might seem impossible to take on. However, a postgraduate course by e-learning can fit around your schedule. Of course, it takes commitment and hard work - cramming your study into a few 30 minute sessions late at night will probably not get you very far. But if you can make time to study hard then you will benefit from the e-learning method.
What challenges are there?
With all these comments on flexibility and the open nature of study, you might be concerned about the quality of the teaching. E-learning is quite a different experience to on-site study, admittedly, but a lot of effort has been put into keeping teaching standards high. Most universities offer a wide range of resources and a well-structured program of learning to keep you on the right track. Residential modules are sometimes available if you feel like you need that face-to-face interaction. Because course operators include some of the UK's most highly rated universities, your qualification will be respectable and you can trust the quality of the education you are receiving.
Does it suit you?
E-learning is not for everyone. Some people thrive under normal classroom conditions. The security and tangible nature of on-campus learning keeps them in check and helps them to work hard. E-learning requires reliance on oneself and grants the student a lot of freedom. But don't be put off if you haven't tried it before. Of course, you will want to think carefully before taking an e-learning course, but like most new experiences, you can succeed if you apply yourself to it.
Links and resources
E-learning, then, is a method of study that has several major advantages, particularly for those with other commitments such as work and family. Postgraduate study by e-learning is being pushed by many universities throughout the UK and abroad. Check online prospectuses for the e-learning PG courses that each institution is offering. Below are some links and resources to help you find the right course for you.