The Online Experience
It’s been over a year now since I graduated with a 1st class honours degree in graphic design from the University of Hertfordshire... only, I’ve never actually been to Hertfordshire. Like a growing number of people I chose the online route to further education and, having had time to reflect on it’s benefits, I wonder why more people don't consider it.
There seems to be a stigma attached to online education that suggests that the carrot at the end of the stick is somehow fake; not a real qualification. This isn't the case. The course I undertook through the Interactive Design Institute (IDI) earned me a degree awarded from the University of Hertfordshire, no different to those who physically attended the University. So what's the catch?
There isn't one, the end result is exactly the same but as you would expect the experience is much different. I make no illusions that holding down a full time job and studying 20+ hours a week on top is easy; it's not. But if like me you are lucky enough to find a relevant job along the way you will graduate not only with a degree but also a year or more of invaluable experience in the industry. For me, this industry experience has made all of the late nights (and there were many) worth it. The employment route also has obvious financial benefits too, making student debt a completely alien concept.
This all paints a very rosy picture, but it wouldn't be fair to talk about online education without mentioning some of the drawbacks. The social sphere of university is a massive factor and something that you just won't get with online education. Sure, there are online forums where you can give and receive feedback on your work, and get to know your peers, but until they invent a fully functional online pub, it's not the same. This can be said for a lot of the face to face experiences of university, as well as the experience of living away from home. I was once told by a local designer that the physical experiences of university could not be replicated by it's online counterpart; and I think that it was a fair comment.
However, I went into my online journey knowing exactly what I was and wasn't getting. IDI's Admissions staff did a brilliant job in preparing me for this method of study, making the transition between physical and online study easy. I was initially a little nervous that I could feel slightly isolated in my studies but, with daily one to one engagement with tutors and other students, that never happened. Admittedly some tutors were more helpful than others but I think that's true for both methods of study. In fact, I have a lot of positive things to say about the online learning environment and the level of focus, flexibility and freedom that comes with it.
Whether online study is right for you depends entirely on who you are and the kind of experience you're looking for. Online learning is growing in popularity and I think more people can now consider it as a legitimate alternative to attending University. For me it was absolutely the right choice and I've had a lot of success with it, the question now is whether or not I choose to take my education further to a masters degree... but that's for another day!