Online learning / Pexels

A study has found that adult learners opt for online education over in-person learning primarily due to the increased flexibility in course scheduling that studying online offers.

The labour market has faced constant challenges in recent years, particularly given the limited supply of workers available. This has resulted in a push for the upskilling of employees, in a bid to boost the supply of workers in areas currently experiencing many vacancies.

Business leaders have constantly had to juggle the dilemma of whether to allow their employees to pursue educational courses for self-development during working hours, or limit them to outside of working hours. This becomes increasingly difficult if the educational institutions do not offer courses with flexible schedules, as is often the case.

These limitations are somewhat reduced through the adoption of online learning, since it enables learners to avoid any time wasted in transport and also awards them more control over their schedules.

This was explored in a recent study by Elephant & Cross (E&C), a Malta-based online education agency offering a range of distance learning courses that cater to different fields of study. The study was based on a survey with results from the agency’s students, with 343 taking part. Participants’ ages spanned 18 to 66, with the majority of the demographic being in the 27 to 40 years old age bracket. Approximately 61 per cent of the participants were women.

The survey delved into the flexibility of course scheduling, with the agency explaining that the rigidity of class timings in traditional educational institutions can make it “challenging” for students with varying personal and professional commitments.

Within this context, 225 of respondents (65.5 per cent) found limited flexibility to be a significant barrier to pursuing in-person learning, with just 12.8 per cent not considering it challenging. The remaining 21.7 per cent deemed it to be a moderate issue.

Additionally, finding a balance between work commitments and studies can prove to be especially difficult. Very often, adult learners have full-time jobs, posing potential conflicts in schedules and added stress, possibly leading to burnout.

65.1 per cent of respondents (equivalent to 223 respondents) stated that the balance between work and studies is a “major obstacle” and one of the key reasons why they opt for online courses. The remaining respondents said that they were not as concerned by the need to balance commitments.

Unexpectedly, traffic and commuting were the primary reasons as to why these students chose online over in-person education, with 256 of respondents (74.7 per cent) identifying traffic as a “huge challenge”. The rest of the respondents either deemed traffic to be a moderate issue, or not an issue altogether.

Lastly, the survey also looked into the way mature students returning to education are perceived by society, as this can have an impact on learners’ experiences.

In this respect, 239 of students (69.7 per cent) replied that societal pressures were not a factor in decisions. The rest of the respondents either deemed societal pressures to have an impact on further studies, or considered them to be just a “moderate concern”.

E&C concluded that given the landscape of higher education is constantly evolving, collaboration between institutions, urban planners, and policymakers is “imperative”.

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