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Online learning for an increasingly international world

The benefits of online learning for students who are studying and working in an increasingly global environment are many, says Lisa Day

Posted by Charley Rogers | January 09, 2018 | Higher education

It’s natural for education to mirror and evolve with the ever-changing social landscape that surrounds it. This means we need to constantly reflect on how society impacts the ways we educate, and adapt our approach and the tools we use accordingly.

Think first about the type of students who are entering our classrooms. According to Deloitte’s recent Millennial Survey, by 2025, 75% of the workforce will be millennials. This generation of digital natives has grown up with smartphones, with instant access to the internet and near-constant connectivity to social media. 

As they enter the workforce, they will be joining an environment where businesses are likely to trade internationally or have offices all over the world. Developing an understanding of the global business landscape is imperative for students stepping into today’s workforce and for professionals looking to improve their skill set through continued learning.  

Moreover, the global workforce is gradually becoming more mobile, according to the Global Mobile Workforce Forecast Update 2016–2022 from Strategy Analytics. The report forecasts that by 2022, 1.87 billion individuals will be part of the mobile workforce worldwide. This would account for a staggering 42.5% of the overall global workforce. Armed with a mobile phone, a laptop and (most importantly) an internet connection, people can work from wherever they choose as a result of technological advancements – something that 1.45 billion people in 2016 were already doing.

While the mobile workforce is growing, we are seeing challenges for students who want to engage in an international learning environment. Barriers such as stricter visas and the increasing costs of travel and accommodation, as well as the time this takes from people’s busy working lives, have made it more challenging for students to be able to physically attend courses on campus or in other countries.  

While the mobile workforce is growing, we are seeing challenges for students who want to engage in an international learning environment.

These factors are a few of the reasons why it is crucial that our learning modalities and curriculum reflect the world we are living in today, as well as prepare students for the reality of today’s global workforce.

Access to education

Online learning provides an environment that is accessible for all, working around the limitations an on-campus education can unintentionally create.

An on-site education for international students can often be restricted to just full-time courses, meaning that those students who want to balance other commitments like work or family may feel their options are limited. Online learning provides a space for these individuals to continue their education on their own terms, in a supportive environment that can be readily accessed through phone or laptop, wherever they may be.

Diversity and collaboration

Online learning brings together students from all over the world with diverse cultures, backgrounds and views, providing varying perspectives on topical issues and problems faced in today’s society and workforce.

By opening students up to different ways of thinking and learning, the online classroom is preparing them to work and engage with a range of people. Students have the opportunity to discuss ideas and solutions to problems impacting their various global communities and businesses. While the experiences and examples may be different, the underlying problems the students are discussing will often be the same, and collaborative problem-solving can inspire fresh approaches to old problems.

Online learning brings together students from all over the world with diverse cultures, backgrounds and views, providing varying perspectives on topical issues and problems faced in today’s society and workforce.

One example of a recent classroom discussion concerned the promotion of a national in-country brand in the face of competition from large global companies. Students from different countries and industries (such as oil and gas, pharmaceuticals and banking) shared their experiences of how companies had tried to promote their “localness”, whilst also disclosing that ultimately in-country customers appeared to have little loyalty to companies based purely on their local heritage. This led to productive idea-sharing around how to develop a genuine competitive advantage by leveraging local knowledge and using local know-how to provide a superior customer experience. 

Collaboration also allows students to experience first-hand the issues that they are likely to experience in an increasingly networked and globally connected world. In this safe environment, they can learn how to communicate in a way that is culturally appropriate, work across time zones effectively, and adapt their leadership style to suit different audiences.

Providing an environment where a number of students are already working brings another dimension to the learning environment. With a cohort that is learning and working at the same time, live examples are shared to provide context and find new solutions. This allows students to take their learning and apply it directly to their roles, positively impacting their daily working lives. Students often feel more invested in these real-to-life examples because of the practical application.

In the learning environment, we can continually discuss theory, but it’s the ability to draw on current examples and international perspectives that helps students take academic and theoretical learning and transform it into something practical and immediately beneficial to their own careers and workplaces.   

With society becoming increasingly fast-paced and constantly changing, online learning gives students the skills and knowledge for a potential head start in a world that is more connected and global. From accessibility, diversity of thought and collaboration, as well as the practical application of skills, online learning indeed nurtures and propels forward the best features of an international cohort.

Lisa Day is the Director of Studies for the University of Liverpool Online MBA

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