Online learning prepares kids for HE

Pre-university digital learning experience positively influences higher education study skills says new research

A research study by the Institute of Education has explored the impact of online learning on 16-19 year olds and its influence on their learning experience at university.

Many people think of online learning as MOOCs and a tool for adult learning, but an increasing number of high school students are now studying some of their subjects online – with an online teacher and alongside classmates from around the world.

The Institute of Education University of London (IOE) researched students who are now at university and who participated in online learning during their time in school. 108 university students aged between 17 and 23 were surveyed, including students from the UK. Fifty-eight of those researched had studied at least one two-year subject online as part of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP), delivered by UK-based Pamoja Education.

What skills do students think are important at university?

Of all 108 students surveyed, 78% said they considered it important in university to be able to plan and coordinate group tasks using online tools such as digital calendars, scheduling tools and discussion applications. 94% said having the ability to find academic resources online is valuable. More than three quarters (78%) of all students who responded said that at university they try to solve learning problems by themselves. And 84% said it is definitely important to be able to set goals to help manage studying time for their university course.

So how does online learning experience help?

Those students surveyed who had participated in online learning at school said that they had gained proficiency in a range of online learning tools that they were now using as part of their university working practice. They said that the online learning experience had helped them develop confidence in using technology to source information and that they were more likely to carry out their research online. Students believed studying online had helped them to become independent learners able to manage their own time. They felt that in comparison with other students they were less likely to need to turn to their university lecturers for practical help.

IBDP online students who were interviewed by an IOE researcher commented that learning to study online had come with its own set of challenges, but that developing their skills within the supported environment of their school had been a beneficial experience that was now effectively helping their university study.

What’s it like learning online?

In contrast to the ‘sink or swim’ learning approach of many MOOCs, the highly supported digital learning model available to IBDP students around the world from Pamoja Education, provides a positive online experience for many. Drop-out is low and the success rate (in terms of percentage pass rate achieving a Grade 4 or above) is high; 80% in 2014.

With this model, students are at the centre and access the learning on their own, but they are strongly supported by their online teacher who provides structure with weekly objectives and assignments (both individual and collaborative), and guides and connects directly with the students, as a group and one-to-one. 

One IBDP online student interviewed during the IOE research said: “Studying online is different from attending regular classes. You have to be self-motivated to study on your own and set your own deadlines. Personally, I learned a lot from taking an online course because it helped me prepare myself in terms of scheduling and allocating time.” Another said “I had to be independent and in charge of my own learning so this has helped me be able to work this way.”

Professor Martin Oliver from the Institute of Education, University of London who led the research said: “Those students who had experience of online study were more autonomous, were more independent, were able to regulate their own learning practices more successfully than those who hadn’t.”

Ed Lawless, Principal of Pamoja Education added: “The research suggests there is a shift from school learning to university study, and that a good online learning experience helps students to prepare for that shift. It helps them to develop the ability to work with a whole range of online media, and to develop an awareness of managing their personal progress which university students recognise as an essential part of their study requirement.”

Teaching in the online learning environment

Teachers who were interviewed during the IOE research spoke about the importance of providing a supportive learning environment for school age online learners. Several teachers suggested that online learning provided students with a safe environment that allowed them to take risks, make mistakes and learn from their experiences and this had better prepared them for university.

An overview of the IOE research is available here

Pamoja Education is a social enterprise working in cooperation with the International Baccalaureate (IB) as the only provider of online IBDP courses for students aged 16-19. It has been delivering online IBDP subject learning to students around the world since 2009.

The Institute of Education is a world-leading university specialising in education and the social sciences. In the most recent Research Assessment Exercise, two-thirds of the publications that the IOE submitted were judged to be internationally significant and over a third were judged to be ‘world leading’.