In the pre-pandemic world, online learning was viewed with apprehension in some quarters. Alongside the clear benefits of studying online – such as enhanced flexibility, greater convenience, and access to new learning techniques and smart technologies – there were fears that employers might not take online qualifications seriously.
But in the post-pandemic world, employers see online study in a renewed light, said Andrew Vincent, Director of Digital Education of Australian Catholic University’s ACU Online (ACUO).
“It’s become clear that there are benefits to this mode of learning that are immediately applicable in real-life employment situations,” said Mr Vincent, who has worked in higher education for more than 30 years.
“If you successfully complete a program of study online, it shows employers that you’re digitally fluent and have developed a whole suite of online skills, that you can communicate with people in various ways, and that you’re motivated and can manage your time effectively.
ACU has designed and launched a fully online education portfolio, offering a personalised student experience supported by smart technologies. ACU Online provides educational opportunities for new communities, especially those who struggle to access on-campus courses because of work or family commitments, disability, or the fact they live in rural or remote areas.
These courses go way beyond the emergency online learning that was prevalent during the pandemic, with interactive videos, discussion boards and a focus on the development of virtual and augmented reality, creating a richer and more immersive student experience.
“The possibilities for new ways of learning are endless. We’re really excited to continue to embrace technologies that provide greater connectivity and community building, enabling our academics to bring our courses to life,” said Mr Vincent, who works with a team of digital learning designers, interactive developers, graphic designers and videographers to continually enhance online learning materials.
“We have adopted a multi-literacy stance, which acknowledges the need for a range of different media to be present across all ACU Online units.”
In the past, one of the key concerns around online learning was the apparent lack of adequate personal interaction between students and instructors. To counter this, ACU has put its focus squarely on providing expert human support to online students – both in the virtual classroom and beyond.
All online students have access to highly skilled academic staff, learning facilitators, student success coaches, counselling services and more. The flexible approach of the courses is extended to the way academics run their classes.
Importantly, all of ACU’s online courses are an in-house creation. Rather than contracting a third-party digital program manager as most tertiary institutions do, the university decided to create, market and deliver the courses itself. This is a major benefit for an institution that is so thoroughly grounded in its mission.
“This continues the excellent student outcomes that ACU is known for, allowing students to progress their career while learning how to make a positive impact in their communities,” said Mr Vincent.