WHEN Nur Azrina Azizi, 23, was contemplating tertiary education, she had a few criteria in mind: reputation of the university, on-campus or off, and cost.
Working for her family’s natural skin and hair care product business that operates both in Malaysia and the United Kingdom, Nur Azrina shuttles between the two countries and wanted a degree programme that allows flexibility and mobility.
She selected the fully online Bachelor of Science in Business and Management programme at the University of Derby near where she resides in the UK and is looking forward to graduating next year.
“The programme is fully accredited by professional bodies such as the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) and The British Psychology Society.
“The degree course is awarded a CMI Level5in Management and Leadership.
“University of Derby has stated that the credit value of the online programme is the same for students who pursue it on-campus. Online students are under the same intense scrutiny in validation and assessment as students on-campus,” she said, adding that course materials as well as academic journals are accessible via the University Online Library.
The structure of the online degree programme is the same as the one on-campus except that you log into lectures on the student portal.
Each module is 10 weeks long, and students are provided with course materials, time of lectures, and online academic journals and textbooks.
“I tend to buy textbooks because I like to highlight facts for easy reference.
“The business management degree course is 100 per cent coursework with timed online tests for some modules.
“For regular group work, we have Skype sessions and Whatsapp groups to discuss the assignments. Group work is assessed for the final module grade.
“The university provides technology tools and we have daily contact with lecturers. We can call, text, video chat and email them, and they reply in a timely fashion.
“You have to communicate with your lecturer if you need help or guidance. Most lecturers are informative, supportive and engaging.
“We use Blackboard and Turnitin software for coursework, assessments and presentations. A laptop and good Internet connection are crucial.”
Time management and keeping tabs on deadlines is important.
“I allocate most hours for studies to the first six weeks of a module. I study four to five hours per day with breaks in between. Sometimes I spend more hours on studies, especially when assignments are due.
“Typically, a unit in a module takes a week to complete — the university recommends 20 hours per week for a 20-credit module so you have to be diligent and allocate time properly to keep up with the lecturer and the readings.
“On some days I am in front of my laptop all day so it really depends on the module.”
Self-discipline is key for those considering online degrees, cautioned Nur Azrina.
“You have to be organised and meticulous in keeping up to date with assignments and course readings to ensure that you don’t fall behind.
“I have a designated study area at home. But I study in libraries and cafés for a change of environment.
“I tend to work well at a desk and I like to work on assignments at coworking spaces or quiet cafés. Coworking space offers the opportunity to work alongside other people.”
She feels online degree programmes may not be suitable for all studies.
“For example, if you want to read law, medicine or engineering, I wouldn’t recommend an online mode of study as you need practical training.
“And it does get lonely pursuing an online degree course.”
Alan Liau Chen Kiong, 42, who resides in Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, is pursuing a business management bachelor’s degree at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia through the institution’s online platform, Swinburne Online.
Expecting to graduate in 2021, Liau took up the programme as he can both study and continue in his current job at the same time.
Liau studied in Australia in 1993 but, due to budget constraints, he had to return to Malaysia. Now married with one daughter and another daughter on the way, and with an established money services business, he feels it is timely to get a degree that will enable him to lead the company.
“The university provides a weekly schedule to track our studies which I find extremely helpful. Assessments, assignments and tests to be completed online are stated in the schedule.
“It also provides an online textbook and library access. The only hardware
requirement is a PC with Internet access. But I also use my phone or tablet to do readings and follow up on my studies,” he said.
The university suggests online degree students spend at least four hours a day on studies.
“I normally study at night after I’ve settled down my daughter and finished helping out my wife with the housework.
“We do have a schedule to meet up with our lecturers online to understand the requirement of an assignment or test. We can also reach them through email or the online chat portal. We separate into smaller groups for some subjects to gather virtually to discuss an assignment.”
Liau believes anyone can pursue an online degree, provided they meet the entry requirement.
“It offers the efficiency of location and time. Everyone can study anywhere at any time without difficulty. Hardware and internet access is crucial.
“e-learning can value-add but not replace classroom studies. We can have both without doing away with either.”