Increase in undergrads choosing online study

The University of Derby Online Learning (UDOL) is seeing more and more undergraduate student enrolling, says its director Julie Stone

Online education isn’t just for mature students wanting to get a masters in order to develop their career. It’s opened up a range of opportunities for undergraduate students who might not want to study on campus, or perhaps want to get a degree with a prestigious UK university but cannot commit to living in the UK for years. 

There are multiple reasons why we are seeing this trend in the popularity of online education for undergraduate students, including technological advances, adaptation in qualification requirements, the reputation of online learning and the perception of it being an alternative mode of study.

Advances in technology

Technology hasn’t only developed the way we communicate and engage, but it has also changed online education as it offers students flexibility. The change of pace has been profound and the way in which we deliver online learning has developed enormously since we started out in 2001. We recognise students’ global geographic locations so we have more tools, such as:

  • Discussion forums – these help a variety of students communicate with tutors and peers, develop academic discussions, share their own professional experience and learn from the experience of others.
  • Café forums – where students can socialise on more of an informal peer to peer basis.
  • Webinars – allowing students to remotely access virtual lectures, Open Days, our careers and wellbeing service, and library events.

The popularity and success of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) has enabled undergraduate students to dip their toe into the online learning arena, to trial for free and at their convenience if it suits them. They are by no means a new trend, but they continue to prove popular and a great tool to exhibit online learning. 

We also believe the increase in undergraduate students is due to accessibility. For example, M-learning (mobile learning) has developed so our students can learn from a mobile device of their choice. More and more people are using iPads and mobile devices to learn on the go. This is a real growth area so we have developed content that can be re-configured for all devices. 

Such advances in technology play a huge part in appealing to undergraduate students.

Adaptation in qualification requirements

Another factor contributing to the increase is due to a rise in other qualifications not being sufficient in some industries anymore. There is a wealth of people who didn’t get a degree as soon as they left college or school who now require one.

Nursing is a great example of this. A diploma was once an accepted qualification for the profession but, increasingly, the industry is now requiring a degree. As a result, online nursing programmes have seen the biggest surge in demand. 

Online learning is now far more recognised as a respected mode of study among undergraduate students as people become more familiar with learning online and as the advances in online learning continue to develop. There has been an increase in online learning as a mode of learning as an alternative route to gaining a Higher Education qualification.

The myths around online learning seem to have been dispelled in recent years, the most common was the misconception around the degree being a different qualification to one from a ‘bricks and mortar’ university.

An online degree is exactly the same as an ‘on campus’ university degree. The only thing that is different is the mode of study. They are the same quality from the same awarding institution and are recognised in the same way by industry. For international students, online learning allows them to achieve a recognised UK university qualification without having to leave their home country.

Online degrees are equally accepted by employers as traditional degrees. Gaining an online degree can also be of value to employers as students will develop during the course which, in turn, will enable their progression professionally without having the leave the workplace.

Many of our courses are accredited by professional organisations, reassuring students that they will be graduating with a credible, industry recognised qualification. Also, some of our students are supported and encouraged by their employers to study with us. Through their studies, they can improve their own practice in the workplace, of benefit to their employer and company.