Online learning is for the disciplined

lIMPROVED education directly contributes to improved economic output and online learning brings new options into formal education for companies as adults look to coordinate learning with daily working duties.

Flexibility is one advantage of online study.Flexibility is one advantage of online study. (Source: Sme)

Still, these new opportunities and flexible methods remain largely dependent on discipline and self-commitment.

“Online study is designed for students that cannot participate in full-time courses,” said Branislav Zlocha, the director of marketing and development at the School of Management at the City University of Seattle.

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Apart from paid courses, the online space offers plenty of Open Educational Resources that make knowledge available to everyone. At some schools, they are utilised by teachers alongside traditional curriculum.

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Increasing interest

The seismic spread of free online courses for life-long education in some countries has caused an outflow of students from institutionalised online education. However, in Slovakia online learning is still a product offered by universities. They offer courses in management, marketing, communication, finances, human resource management and accounting.

All of these fields require an active approach and constant learning, which is reflected in the profile of the students. Indeed, online study is different from day-to-day school attendance and isn’t suitable for lazy students.

“Interactive online programs of LIGS University are for students who want to work on their skills and at the same time they consider their time carefully,” Dagmar Makovská, executive director at LIGS, said.

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Most of them are already managers or people who are preparing for a managerial role.

“The main advantage is that you can study, submit work and take tests when you want, not when the school orders you,” said Makovská. “Students find all the material in one place, they can participate in real-time webinars or get back to them later. Moreover, students can arrange their programs in a way that best suits their individual needs.”

Students of the City University of Seattle can enrol in individual subjects or go through the full curriculum.

“We offer courses in management, marketing, finance, project management, communication and other subjects that develop personal skills,” Zlocha said. “A Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and MBA are fully available online in English.”

Zlocha also pointed out the flexibility of the courses.

“I can study when I want, from home or from an office,” he said. All you need is a notebook and internet connection. “All communication with the lecturers and peers takes place via the web portal, therefore it is comparable with the face-to-face consultations with tutors.”

However, there are limitations to the personal contact.

“One disadvantage is the less frequent contact with the peers, which we try to replace by chatting via the student information system, video-consultations and webinars,” said Makovská.

Another disadvantage is the need for discipline, as students take on a greater responsibility to motivate themselves and manage their time.

“Therefore online learning is suitable mainly for the older and more self-disciplined students,” said Zlocha.

Hand in hand

Online learning improves the cooperation between universities as it facilitates sharing of materials and the streaming of lectures. In July 2012, 12 universities in the Untied States and Europe announced participation in Coursera project – an online platform created by two fellows at Stanford University. The number of universities and range of courses has increased since, leading to a small revolution in education.

The first European initiative in online learning was launched in 2013 by 11 universities, including the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology of the Slovak Technical University in Bratislava. It is led by the European Association of Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU) and offers about 40 courses in 12 languages, covering a wide range of topics.

“[It is] an exciting development and I hope it will open up education to tens of thousands of students and trigger our schools and universities to adopt more innovative and flexible teaching methods,’” said Androulla Vassiliu, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth in 2013.

According to her, the initiative should bring European online learning to the next level, following its popularity in the United States.

Fred Muller from EADTU said that it is a way to make higher education more accessible, and it was envisaged by the European Commission as a way to close the gap between the options the new technologies offer and its use at schools. The STU offers several channels that support online learning. Each of the faculties has its own system, usually working on the principles of Moodle or AIS.

Moodle is freely distributed learning software, used for blended and distance education, as well as for further education in the workplace. After log-in, the students can access the course objectives, materials and submit work by typing text or uploading files. AIS is the digital interface used by the students to communicate with the university.

STU also offers free software for employees and students. After registering with the assigned email address, they can access the Microsoft Education 365, which facilitates data storage and sharing.

“The interest in online courses is increasing also thanks to the rising internet coverage of Slovakia,” Zlocha said. “Moreover, we also offer online lectures, webinars and workshops.”

Management schools are among the top providers of online learning in Slovakia and are preparing to bring more technological innovations in order to create more responsive and attractive offers.

“This year we introduced our e-books, so that all students can download the study material into their tablets,” said Zlocha.

Undergraduate and graduate online courses in Slovak language are available across the online Moodle portal. Courses in English language are available via different platforms. Upon successful completion of the studies the graduates obtain a degree. All online courses of the City University are subject to a fee.

Online learning in Slovakia is spreading mainly thanks to the institution although there is no national framework for online learning at the Ministry of Education. Universities want to involve the largest number of potential students and give them a chance to improve.

“Interactive online learning is one of the priorities of LIGS University,” said Makovská. “We are preparing new specialisations and new study languages so that all programmes will be interesting and financially affordable.”

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