It’s getting pretty crowded in the online learning sphere. There’s hundreds of providers offering thousands of different programs for everything from hair dressing to nuclear physics. There are degrees, certificates, Masters, PhD’s, HND’s, higher diplomas, Lesser diplomas, medium spotted diploma…
All in all it’s a tad confusing.
Traditionally the hall mark of higher education was the Degree. Generally offered by Universities and a few other places of higher learning, these programmes generally require several years of study on site at a campus though in the digital age, increasing numbers of providers are delivering degree programmes online.
But one of the most exciting developments in online learning is the emergence of the MOOC. The Massively Online Open Course is a new form of learning which offers teaching material to potentially thousands of students at once who have access to the same materials, the same lectures all delivered on the Internet.
So, what might a potential student opt to consider?
The Traditional Route – The Degree
The degree program, typically awarded by universities is by and large the internationally recognized standard of higher education. Typical exampled include Bachelors of Arts or Bachelors of Science. For many professions if you want to get a foot in the door a degree is mandatory.
However this is changing – the world of work is becoming an increasingly demanding place and retraining for new roles and careers is done with a frequency completely unknown to earlier generations.
Indeed the emphasis by many governments on increasing the numbers of degree qualified people in their countries has had the effect of effectively watering down the value of a degree. Employers are increasingly looking to see other things on a CV or portfolio to help them separate one candidate from another.
One positive change is that degrees are more easily available to distance learners than they ever were in the past. The Internet has really exploded the options available and the options make it possible to study for a degree without having to give up a career or family to attend campus for three or four years. Nevertheless, this significant time investment remains, and the three or four years presumes the student goes for full time study with perhaps part time work on the side. Students with limited time could expect it to take double that time to amass the credits needed for their qualification.
The New Route – The MOOC
The new kid on the block makes ambitious promises of turning the entire education paradigm on it’s head. Instead of higher education being the preserve of a privileged few as it was until recently, it challenges the old ways of thinking and offers potentially high quality teaching and learning to the masses without the huge commitment that degrees require.
Many MOOCS are free and this drives a huge amount of uptake from individuals struggling financially as an opportunity to learn and better themselves. Furthemore MOOCS make the same material available to a hugely increased pool of students for free. Instead of a lecturer talking to one or two hundred students in a room, they can potentially reach one or two thousand, if not more. Where prestigious institutions are involved it’s a fantastic way to get a taste of the way some Universities and colleges teach that a student might otherwise never get a chance to experience.
However MOOCS have their own challenges. For starters they’re very new and will have some difficult gaining acceptance amongst Employers. They also are not entirely free – if you want to get a certification for completing the course this usually requires the payment of a fee and submission of work for marking.
The biggest problem with the MOOC however is that you are entirely on your own. Even by distance learning standards huge numbers of students simply never finish their courses. Many register and never even begin. With so many students compared to staff on the course, there simply isn’t time for traditional tutoring or mentoring to happen.
Diplomas – The Accepted Middleman.
A third way that is worth considering are diplomas earned online by distance learning. Diplomas are a higher educational qualification that generally require less investment of time than traditional degrees. They also have the benefit of being generally recognized amongst employers as well as demonstrating the skill and training required to fulfil a role.
Universities and higher education bodies also frequently recognise diplomas and will often allow them to be used either to gain entry onto a degree programme or even recognise the prior learning for credits.
And with certain providers (such as, say oh, ADL) you can also benefit from the tuition and support you need to reach the end of the programme and make the most of your learning experience.
So, MOOC, Degree or Diploma? The choice, as they say, is yours!