Experts aren’t surprised by the popularity of online learning, whether through short courses or blended learning, because its flexibility suits so many situations (for example, fitting study around a busy work life or parenthood). They point out that short online courses can also serve many purposes for the learner – from a simple thirst for knowledge to specific vocational needs.
Online platforms are rated the top provider by most age groups surveyed, apart from those aged 55-plus, who prefer to learn via a college (32%). In terms of how people learn, 31% of respondents say they would take an online short course if they needed to learn new skills to further their career, making this the top answer.
Learners prefer online courses to other ways of learning for several reasons. Chief among these is the freedom of learning at a pace that suits them (23%), but the ability to learn from home (22%) and overall flexibility (20%) are also highly rated.
Women are generally more positive than men about all of these factors. More than a quarter (26%) of women enjoy learning at their own pace, compared to a fifth (20%) of men. Moreover, 24% of women compared to 20% of men enjoy learning in the comfort of their own home.
This type of ‘cosmopolitan course’, bringing together learners from different backgrounds, cultures and locations, is also a much bigger draw for 16- to 24-year-old respondents (16%) than the oldest group surveyed – those aged 55 and over (4%). When we asked people to tell us their least favourite things about an online course they have taken, a fifth (20%) of respondents overall state there are no disadvantages to taking an online course. However, the research shows that some providers and platforms can still make improvements to create even better online learning environments. For example, some respondents say losing motivation quickly and missing the physical classroom setting are their least favourite things about online learning.
Experts point out that learners generally have similar likes and dislikes for all educational settings. To bolster motivation and support for online learners during a course, they believe dedicated counsellors/ tutors for advice and support, and online chat boards for students to share experiences will help. These measures are already in place, in many cases.
Educational psychologist t Dr Kairen Cullen agrees: “If we don’t enable people and help them to feel supported it can feel quite an anonymous, hostile world.”