Juggling work, life and aiming to take the next step in your career, online education is the logical option for many. Here are the top factors to consider.
1. Access to resources
The first thing to consider is how much access students have to the course’s digital resources and the range of resources that are available. A good online degree will have the same level of access to university materials and services as their on-campus counterparts. This would include careers advice, student experience teams, library resources and communication with module leaders. Look for examples of good student services when evaluating your options; the University of Birmingham, for example has been awarded 2016’s Best Careers Support for International Students*. A satisfied online student should feel that the range and quality of resources they have access to is benefitting their learning to the same standard as if they were studying on campus.
Meeting like-minded people and making contacts is often considered one of the most valuable things to gain from a postgraduate degree. Just like enrolling onto a campus course, a student studying online should feel like they are part of a community who share similar industry and/or professional interests. Look for an online degree where peer to peer interaction is central to the course focus and the network you build could prove valuable to your professional development. Typical online networking opportunities might include group work, student discussion forums and synchronous sessions.
3. Interactivity and Engagement
When evaluating online courses an important question to ask is whether the course was specifically designed for online. Does it use a cutting edge platform with interactive content? A good way to tell is by investigating course webinar taster sessions and searching for video demos from a range of institutions. This will give you an idea of the course’s production quality, as well as how online learning works in practice. If an online course is very text heavy with extensive PDFs and little customisation for an online environment, it may not be as engaging as other options. The student’s online experience should be intuitive, interactive and engaging, so look for evidence of this when you’re selecting a course.
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It’s also beneficial to understand the type of content covered and the learning outcomes expected from undertaking an online degree. When searching for the right course, we advise that you closely evaluate the modules on offer – will they help to achieve your goals? If the primary focus is to enhance your career for example, it’s important to consider how the modules you study will help to bridge the gap between your current capabilities and the job roles you aspire to. Some online postgraduate courses, including Birmingham’s allow your final dissertation to focus on a work-based project. If career progression is one of your ambitions, this emphasis is likely to align well with your goals, as well as providing an opportunity to add real value at your company.
When shopping for online learning, the credibility of the university and the course itself are key if you really want to improve your prospects. A top rated, global university will typically bring with it a high quality degree and a high calibre of students. It is important to compare in-country and global rankings as well as other awards, accreditations and university reviews. For example, in the UK membership within the Russell Group provides assurance that the university is among the top research intensive institutions in the country. A degree certificate from a top-rated institution will help high-achieving professionals stand out from the crowd - especially in the job market.
Beyond university rankings, school and course accreditations should also be considered. Taking Birmingham’s Online MBA as an example, Birmingham Business School benefits from triple-crown accreditation and the Online MBA is the world’s first and only 100% online MBA to be accredited by the Association of MBAs. With these credentials, it’s easy to see why this online course is the obvious choice for many students.
Lastly, flexibility is one of the main reasons that busy professionals choose to study online. It’s important to consider your work and personal commitments and how an online degree would help, rather than hinder your present situation. If a university offers flexible online learning, it’s worth researching exactly how flexible the courses are. Things to look for include:
- Availability of module electives
- Flexibility on duration of the course (can you extend the timeline if you need to?)
- Mandatory residentials (visits to campus)
- The amount of study time required each week
- Timings and frequency of synchronous sessions
It’s important that you have a solid understanding of what will be expected of you when you enrol on the course and how much flexibility there will be to make the course right for you.
Of course, everybody’s criteria will be different, but it’s worth knowing that at the University of Birmingham, we work to provide accessible, flexible and credible degrees to take you further in your career. For more information on the courses we offer, please complete the request for information form, or contact our admissions team, who are available to discuss all of these considerations to help find the right course for you.
1*NUS CONNECT (2016) Winners announced for 2016 NUS & UK CISA International Awards [online] Available at: <http://www.nusconnect.org.uk/articles/winners-announced-for-2016-nus-ukcisa-internationalisation-awards> Accessed [05/08/2016]