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Thursday 30 November 2023 Dublin: 3°C

Online learning is here to stay and Covid-19 changes have pushed it further

Colman Walsh of the UX Design Institute says remote working during the Covid-19 lockdown also spurred on a hunger for remote learning.

TEAMS WORKING REMOTELY, businesses moving online and people choosing to learn online rather than in the classroom – the necessary restrictions caused by Covid-19 have seen technology take centre stage in so many aspects of business and life.

Our own course sign-ups in the UX Design Institute increased significantly during the lockdown, when we saw a 220 per cent increase compared to the same period last year.

What is UX? Also known as ‘user experience’, it’s how it feels when you use a product or website. Simply put, a product, website or app with good UX design is easy and enjoyable to use. The pandemic has made UX even more important as businesses have been forced to do more and more through digital channels.

And it’s not just UX. All over the world, online education providers have seen a surge in popularity. But while this pandemic has made remote learning mandatory, the increased adoption of online services was already well underway for a few reasons.

The need for lifelong learning

The internet has utterly disrupted traditional career trajectories. Many have discovered the need for lifelong learning in order to stay relevant and future-proof their careers.

It’s no longer the case that you go to college, get a qualification and work in your field for the rest of your life.

Even if you do stay in a role long-term, roles are changing so quickly that what you learned in college can become obsolete in a short space of time.&

Increased automation has meant that some roles are becoming extinct but new roles are emerging too. As well as UX, roles in AI, data analysis and cybersecurity are topping the list of emerging jobs that are in strong demand.

These fields didn’t exist when a lot of people were choosing their field of study and now, as they reach the prime of their career, they want to make the move.&

People have realised that education does not stop at college. It really is a lifelong endeavour. You can no longer afford to rest on your laurels. Upskilling equals better job prospects.

Greater flexibility and accessibility

What really sets online colleges apart from bricks and mortar ones is their convenience. Learning online makes upskilling so much easier. Students can fit study around their day jobs and family commitments, they don’t need to take extended periods off work to study and they have the freedom to choose what day, time and location suits their schedule best.&

People really like that flexibility which makes it an extremely attractive option for most mid-career professionals. 

One can’t ignore the fact that online learning is also much more accessible when it comes to cost. Room and board, travel, attendance fees and books costs don’t come into the equation and lower overheads for providers mean course fees are much more affordable.  Because online learning is more affordable, it is effectively democratising education. 

This flexibility extends to how online education is delivered and the benefits that brings to learners. There’s a consistency to online learning that can’t be replicated in the classroom, where lecturer performance, other students and even acoustics can have a negative impact on a person’s experience.

Because of technological advances, students can watch lectures on their preferred device, pausing at important or complex ideas and playing back segments that require more attention.

If there are elements of the curriculum that aren’t resonating with students, feedback can be incorporated relatively easily through online messaging and forums. We also see participation increasing amongst more introverted students as classes are less likely to be dominated by the louder voices.

Studies have shown that this kind of active, autonomous learning can also improve memory retention and lead to a more rewarding experience. Furthermore, technology allows smaller, nimbler organisations to update their curriculum faster than more bureaucratic universities.

Change in attitude

I’ve certainly noticed a mindset shift, again been accelerated by Covid-19. Education has been forced online and more people are beginning to realise that it’s a valid and valuable option. 

I don’t believe online learning will ever replace the classroom or university experience in terms of the broader life-changing type of education. I studied a business degree in college but wish I’d done something less pragmatic, like history or politics. 

University gives you the chance to study something purely for the love of it and there’s so much more to campus life than study. Nothing can replace that.

But while online learning is not trying to replace university life it offers many advantages for busy professionals looking to upskill, secure and enhance their career prospects. Covid-19 has only served to further highlight how online learning makes this possible. 

Colman Walsh is CEO of the UX Design Institute.

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