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How online education is bridging learning gaps, University of Roehampton Online example

With shift from traditional to virtual classroom, convenience is the driving force behind online education and the reason it is steadily gaining grounds as a veritable means of learning.

In this interview with Emeka Aginam, Craig Marsh, Chief Academic Officer, University of Roehampton Online spoke on a number of issues including the use of technology to increase access to information and the role online education plays in bridging learning gaps towards fast-tracking economic development.

Excerpts

People may have different interpretations of what online learning means. Can you give us a brief overview of the University of Roehampton, London Online

In 2012, the University of Roehampton, London partnered with online learning experts Laureate Online Education, part of the Laureate International Universities network – a leading global network of accredited high-quality, innovative institutions of higher education reaching more than 800,000 students worldwide. Through this partnership, we are able to continue the University’s legacy of increasing access to learning and providing affordable online masters degree programmes to men and women all over the world.

This partnership allows the University to continue its reputation as an accessible, multicultural institution providing a quality online education that maintains the standards set by the UK Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) and by the University’s own regulations.

Craig Marsh, Chief Academic Officer, University of Roehampton Online
Craig Marsh, Chief Academic Officer, University of Roehampton Online

Currently, the University offers 10 online masters programmes through the Business School, School of Education and Department of Life Sciences. We have five online management programmes that include a Master of Business Administration (MBA), MSc in Information Systems Management, MSc in Project Management, MSc in Strategic Human Resources Management and MSc in Strategic Supply Chain Management. Additionally, we offer a Master of Public Health (MPH) and four online education programmes: a Master of Arts in Learning and Teaching, Master of Arts in Educational Leadership, Master of Arts in Inclusive Special Education and a Master of Arts in Technology and Learning Design. We also have an ambitious growth strategy, which includes launching additional masters programmes later this year and early 2015 in a number of specialisms.

Over the past decade, online education has recorded phenomenal growth all over the world, led by increased Internet access.What has your organisation’s experience been like in Africa, especially Nigeria

Online education has become widely accepted over the last 10 years and the rate of growth of online students has greatly outpaced that of students in tertiary education overall. Increased Internet access has allowed for more people to access online programmes easier than ever before, opening up new opportunities for students to pursue a tertiary education while overcoming challenges such as physical location and work and family commitments. Flexibility and convenience still remain priorities for students, but the ability to accommodate multiple styles of learning and the opportunity to connect with peers and faculty around the world are added benefits of online learning.

Roehampton Online programmes have proved very popular in Nigeria, with Nigerians representing more than 35% of our student body.We are able to meet the demand of Nigerian students who want to pursue tertiary education but may not have the opportunity to do so at a local campus. For those students who want to earn a degree, especially from a UK-based institution, without leaving their home, family or job, our all-inclusive masters programmes are designed to enrich students’ knowledge, help them develop practical skills that can be applied in their work immediately and promote career advancement.

What are the benefits of online education compared with traditional learning models

Online programmes can combine individual instruction with video, audio and written content to provide high-quality courses relevant to working professionals’ daily lives. A single course can accommodate many different learning styles by presenting content in diverse ways such as with streaming video, online discussion forums, reading and even downloads to your mobile device. Our classroom incorporates all of these multimedia elements, and our classroom navigator makes it easy for students to access all of their resources and keep track of their progress throughout the course. Our learning model also facilitates active student engagement and participation through shared activities – where students can discuss and debate what they are learning via an online discussion board, contributing their own experience, values and ideas to the relevant topic and benefiting from the insights of their peers.

Our online student body is made up of working professionals, often in their 30s and 40s, who need to balance family and work commitments with their studies. For this reason, we have specifically designed a learning model that allows busy working professionals to succeed as a masters student. Thanks to a 24-hour classroom, one of the things our students tell us they like most about studying with Roehampton Online is the freedom to choose when they study. They also say their online programme allows them to build their schedules in a way that fits their daily life without affecting their work or personal lives.

Online students at the University of Roehampton gain critical-thinking skills and knowledge needed to make an impact in their professions by addressing contemporary trends and issues that relate to their field or industry and helping equip them with the research skills to address those issues and opportunities, both now and in the future. Unlike traditional learning models, they are able to apply the knowledge and skills they learn in class in their jobs almost immediately, meaning that students don’t need to wait until graduation to start seeing the benefits of their education. Learning from and with like-minded professionals located around the world, our students’ real-world application is based on best practices and insight gained from their global classroom.

How are traditional learning institutions incorporating online education into their curriculum?

There remains an important place in higher education for traditional institutions; however, there is an increasing student population, which includes working adults, who are not able to drop their personal or professional responsibilities for an extended period of time to attend a university – locally or elsewhere. In an effort to continually expand access to education, the University of Roehampton recognised this and partnered with Laureate International Universities in 2012 to deliver online programmes that expand global access to quality-assured British education at an affordable price.

Our engaging online environment blends the networking benefits of social media with the academic rigour of a UK masters degree, providing working professionals with exclusive access to a vibrant, interactive and engaging learning experience.

How is your approach to online education different from that of others? What sets Roehampton Online apart

At Roehampton, we’ve designed our online programmes to give students as much freedom as possible. With no set lecture times, our masters degree programmes fit around students’ schedules – not the other way around – thanks to the 24-hour classroom access and comprehensive support. We understand that deadlines at work, travel commitments and family can all impact students’ study schedules. Our programmes are comprised of six or seven modules, each of which isbroken down into six two-week learning units that include shared activities and individual assignments. The course content in each learning unit relates to the final graded project that students need to submit at the end of the module. This helps students continuously build their graded project throughout the module and apply feedback from their instructor from each learning unit.

This learning model means that students won’t be directly penalised if they miss an occasional deadline, as long as they set some time aside to catch up during the next learning unit. To help make it easier for students to study at their convenience, they can also download all of their resources through the classroom navigator, which makes it easy to complete assignments offline if needed.

A student’s work experience is extremely valuable as it can greatly enrich the learning experience for that student and his or her peers. The University of Roehampton recognises relevant, professional work experience as part of the admission process and makes it possible for students who have sufficient professional experience but don’t hold a bachelors degree with the opportunity to complement their experience with a masters degree and advance their career.

How competitive are your fees in relation to those of other online learning service providers

We’re proud of our history and reputation as an accessible, multicultural university that provides quality teaching. We’re able to provide online education that is in line with our campus standards and is delivered at an all-inclusive tuition, which means students pay just one price for each of our online masters programmes – US$10,000. This means everything – from processing an application to accessing the online library, course materials, e-books, technology and personal support – is covered in a student’s tuition.

What do you think are the three most important points a potential candidate for online learning should consider when selecting a partner institution

Once a student identifies what online degree he or she wants to pursue, sorting through the options is a big decision and requires doing some homework.Regardless of whether it’s a fully online university or online programme offered through a traditional campus-based university like the University of Roehampton, London; students should consider the academic quality of the institution and its programmes. For example, all degrees awarded by the University of Roehampton meet or exceed all academic quality standards for UK higher education, as defined by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), the independent body that is responsible for standards in higher education in the UK.These standards are the same for all programmes – undergraduate, postgraduate and research-based – whether delivered online or on campus. Only by maintaining the standards set by the QAA, which is accountable to UK Parliament, can we keep our status as a Higher Education Institution.

It’s also important for students to understand who will be in their online classroom – this includes fellow students as well as faculty. The online classroom should be global and comprised of like-minded individuals from various countries who are scholars, researchers, professionals, practitioners and distinguished leaders in their fields. To help ensure students’ success, faculty should embody the university’s values and mission and students with similar personal and professional goals should be encouraged to share best practices.

Potential students should also consider the support services offered by the institution because it can often be a deciding factor in your academic success. Roehampton Onlinetakes a proactive approach towards helping students learn. All our online students are taught by excellent faculty and supported by dedicated staff. We also offer personal support through Inspirenet, our social networking environment, where students can ask questions of theirstudent support manager, technical support, billing support and even their peers.

What are the barriers or challenges to online learning

We realise that all students have their own individual learning styles and as such, online learning may be a great fit for some but not for everyone. Online learning requires time management skills, and students who are self-starters are more likely to succeed. To help ensure our students’ success in the online classroom, we provide students with the necessary skills to master online learning through self-paced skill units that focus on several core competencies required to succeed as a masters-level student, including time management and academic integrity. Skill units are free and available to any student with access to our interactive classroom and social environment, Inspirenet, which means students can start preparing for success before they even begin a Roehampton Online masters programme. In addition, our course content, literature and learning platform have all been designed to help our students establish themselves as experts in their chosen career.

Students often fear that online learning will be a solitary experience. However, Roehampton Online students join a community of individuals from all over the world who are professionals, practitioners, scholars and researchers in their fields. The Roehampton Online learning experience is also a social experience that opens doors to a world of possibilities. Students start in Inspirenet, our online student community, and through community blogs, message boards and the chat function, they can build their professional network as they connect with peers who they might never before have had the opportunity to meet.

Support services are available around the clock, regardless of time zone, to assist with technical, academic or other classroom-related questions and challenges that present themselves during a student’s educational journey with Roehampton Online.

Are most of your students from within the vicinity of your home base or are they from around the world

We currently teach online students from more than 100 countries, ensuring our online classrooms are just as diverse as our campus in London, which is home to more than 10,000 students from more than 140 countries, with 30,000 alumni worldwide. Nigeria currently represents the biggest proportion of our student body, with more than 35% of our students living in Nigeria and more than 65% living in Africa.

Our students get to enjoy the benefits of completing their degree from anywhere in the world, and when it’s time to graduate from the University of Roehampton, the degree certificate that online students earn will be the same as the one their on-campus peers receive. Roehampton Online students are invited to join us at our Londoncampus to proudly walk across the stage during our graduation ceremony.

What is the current level of adoption of your services by Nigerians? Do they form a significant percentage of your student body

Some 10,000 students attend the University campus and thousands more study with us through Roehampton Online. We have a truly global online classroom with students from more than 100 countries. As of March 2014, Nigeria represents the biggest proportion of our student body, with more than 35% of our students living in Nigeria and more than 65% of total online students living in Africa.

What are some of the major strategic developments underway at your organisation right now?

We recently launched the new online Master of Public Health (MPH) programme to help prepare professionals to tackle rising and complex health issues. The programme features an interdisciplinary approach that enables students to learn from one another and collaborate across geographic regions and disciplines to address health challenges.

The new MPH, Roehampton’s first online health programme, offers online collaboration with a diverse, global student population and expert faculty. Students have the opportunity to combine their professional experience with the public health knowledge gained in the programme to prepare them for imminent changes in the industry.

To support the launch of the new MPH, Roehampton Online has launched an interactive simulation that encourages participants to use their skills, logic and reasoning to help save thousands of lives in the aftermath of a fictitious massive earthquake in the virtual country of Manresa. The simulation has been designed to give users an opportunity to see whether they would be interested in a career in public health and also to generate interest in the study of public health online via our new programme.“Save Manresa” is an interactive role-playing activity providing an exciting preview into the world of public health, aimed at encouraging professionals to not only learn more, but also to consider a career in this field.

To further the vision of the school and develop outstanding education professionals around the world, the University of Roehampton, London introduced four fully online practitioner-focused Master of Arts degree programmes within the education discipline. All four education programmes follow the professional practitioner approach, providing students with the knowledge, skills and ability to apply research-led solutions to the current educational challenges faced in today’s classrooms and other learning settings.

Designed to fit into the learner-centred approach of Roehampton’s School of Education, the four online programmes focus on understanding the individual learner and providing education solutions so each can reach his or her full potential. The programmes are Master of Arts in Learning and Teaching, Master of Arts in Educational Leadership, Master of Arts in Inclusive Special Education and Master of Arts in Technology and Learning Design.

In what ways do you think online education can play a key role in bridging learning gaps toward fast-tracking Nigeria’s economic development?

Nigeria sends the most students overseas of any country on the African content. Students who earn degrees at traditional universities outside of their home country often stay to live and work without returning. Consequently, their new city profits from their education, leaving their native country with a skills shortage and impacting the economy.One of the benefits of learning online is the ability to stay where you are – geographically, professionally and personally. As a result, Nigerian students who wish to develop their skills with an education from a university based in the UK, the US or elsewhere can now do so without ever leaving their home. Online education providers such as the University of Roehampton, London Online provide Nigerian students with access to high-quality education so they can remain in the country and add to its economic and business growth by meeting the demand for qualified, specialised skilled workers. In addition, whereas outsourcing talent has become common practice in many parts of the world, online students are able to immediately apply what they learn in their classroom to their daily job, thereby bridging knowledge resource gaps that may have otherwise existed.

What are the most notable online learning developments over the last five years

In the last five years, the most critical development in online learning has been the recognition of its value and quality in mainstream educational establishments. Roehampton recognised the equivalence of an online degree to a more traditional on-campus qualification and partnered with Laureate Online Education to offer its programmes online; in 2014, its value and quality are no longer challenged seriously. Online education has become ‘mainstream’ and has been adopted by some of the most recognizable educational institutions in the world, such as Harvard and MIT in the US and the University of Liverpool in the UK.This shift in perception of online education has been facilitated by rapid developments in online technology in the last five years so that our students now experience the second generation of online education (the first generation, which we still saw elements of five years ago, was driven by the simple transfer of the on-campus classroom to an online environment). Now, our online programmes are easier to access due to more widespread availability of Internet connection on a broader range of both fixed and mobile devices, and the content for online degree programmes can now be delivered in multiple media, with no reduction in quality or standards.


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