Digital platforms have played a significant role in education during the past years. Degrees can now be completed entirely online, eliminating the need for on-site classroom settings. Students have the possibility to study in many flexible ways and to create their own study paths in more self-directed ways.
The advantages of online studies are many, i.e. online degrees and courses are more flexible to combine with work and family life. On the other hand studying online is not a suitable learning method for everyone. This was seen during the covid pandemic when students faced a lot of challenges with the transformation from class-room settings to online studies (Bird, Castleman & Lohner 2022).
Understanding the students’ points of view
Working closely with international students as a student advisor, I have heard a lot of feedback on online courses. Online studies may be beneficial in situations when a student is completing an internship in another city and wants to do courses at the same time. Some students start their studies online because they do not receive their visa in time. Some international students complete their first semester of mandatory studies effectively online. After all they have paid for them. Some students do not want to complete studies online at all, and some even pay for the semester without studying at all.
Online studies are not necessarily common in many countries. Learning how to use technical systems and how the Finnish education system works at the same time may cause problems. Integrating to Finnish education is not an easy journey and doing that with minimal resources from home country without face-to-face interaction is not necessarily motivating for everyone.
Some students have a lot of expectations of studying on campus with others. Upon their arrival in Finland, I have observed the disappointment on their faces when assigning courses and some turn out to be online or blended learning. Many students are used to teamwork assignments and group discussions during their studies. Making new friends and participating in student events are important for most of our international students.
If the whole degree is online or even a lot of courses are built on independent work, the interaction with others is minimal. How can we take care of our students’ well-being and make sure that they do not feel isolated, if most of their studies are online?
Supporting students is crucial in online learning
Studying online does not have to block all interaction. If students are situated in the same city or country, they could engage in networking with one another. Online studies can provide an opportunity for international interaction between students from many countries, which makes studying more global.
Online studies include receiving guidance and support from the university. Universities have the responsibility to organize orientation weeks for new students and to make sure that students are familiar with and have access to technology and technical support, student support services, and interactive learning materials.
Kebritchi, Lipschuetz and Santiague (2017) have argued that even when studies are taught online, the quality of teaching must stay the same. Providing good instructions how to complete courses online for students and preparing teachers to teach online courses are essential factors. Educational institutions bear a significant responsibility in ensuring this process.
At Haaga-Helia, we put a lot of work into making sure that our international students are familiar with systems from the beginning. We strive to create a supportive environment within online studies, aiming to help students to success and enjoy their studies. As online and blended learning courses are becoming an increasing part of education, it is important that we provide our students with immersive educational experiences – not forgetting the magic of good old on-site learning.
Bird, K. A., Castleman, B. L., & Lohner, G. 2022. Negative Impacts From the Shift to Online Learning During the COVID-19 Crisis: Evidence From a Statewide Community College System. AERA Open, 8.
Kebritchi, M., Lipschuetz, A., & Santiague, L. 2017. Issues and Challenges for Teaching Successful Online Courses in Higher Education: A Literature Review. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 46(1), 4-29.
Editing: Marianne Wegmüller