Making study more human: how online education is creating powerful spaces for learning (2024)

Everyone learns differently. But whether we’re a bookish student or more hands-on and interactive, one thing is always true: we do better with support.

Making study more human: how online education is creating powerful spaces for learning (1)

A core theme of the research conducted at Monash University’s Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health is what it calls “developing well”. Recognising the complexity of learning experiences, the institute applies advanced genetics, developmental neuroscience and psychological methods to better understand our brains.

Monash’s School of Psychological Sciences applies this knowledge to develop tech innovations that promote education, resilience and mental wellbeing for their students.

Dr Lilani Arulkadacham, is the acting Director of Online Education with the School of Psychological Sciences at Monash University, and is an expert in online learning. She knows the potential such an approach has to encourage students from every background to thrive.

We all learn in complex, dynamic ways

Human learning is complex. “It’s a dynamic process involving interactions between perception, attention, memory, reinforcement and adaptation,” Arulkadacham says.

“Essentially, humans learn by taking in information from their surroundings and we remember it by repeating it or thinking about it. When we need to, we can remember what we’ve learned in the past and use it in different contexts and situations. So, learning is a cycle where we keep building on what we know to get better at things.”

In a university setting, she says, students are able to learn in different ways, through reading, group and solo projects, and feedback from teachers. But an online learning environment goes even further, offering the potential for teaching staff to respond to individual needs and break down access barriers by creating flexible spaces for students juggling time and geographical constraints, and other commitments.

Audio clip on Dr Lilani Arulkadacham on how online programs are eliminating barriers to higher education for a diverse range of students.

The right support has the power to transform learning

Tertiary students are in the midst of a serious mental health challenge. As a cohort, they experience greater levels of mental distress than the general population and their peers who are not in tertiary education. Arulkadacham says a supportive environment that prioritises health and wellbeing has a positive impact on everything from a student’s academic confidence to the bonds they form.

“We know that students who experience high levels of university support experience lower levels of psychological distress,” she says. “[Support] can transform a student’s learning experience by reducing stress, anxiety. Students can focus better on their studies and engage more actively in class discussions.”

Audio clip on Dr Lilani Arulkadacham

At Monash, Arulkadacham says, support includes easy access to resources such as counselling services and wellness programs, which can provide tools to manage stress and stop students feeling overwhelmed. “As a result, [students are] more resilient, they’re more productive, they’re motivated, which leads to improved academic performance and overall satisfaction with their learning journey.”

Online study is flexible enough to support every student

Monash University offers fully online study programs across a range of disciplines, including business, computer science, health and psychology.

Arulkadacham says that as a result, online learning environments can open new doors for those who might not previously have had access to higher education. “Students can really learn at their own pace from anywhere,” she says. “It presents an alternative to face-to-face learning by offering flexibility and accessibility, so it allows students to access course materials at their convenience, enabling students to balance their education with other commitments – work, family responsibilities.”

Having that level of flexibility has other benefits. “It cultivates self-discipline, and autonomy, preparing students for success both academically and professionally,” she says. “The autonomy and continuous access to resources can really empower students to take ownership of their education and pursue their learning goals.”

Online courses can improve access to tertiary education for students from diverse backgrounds and locations.

“That inclusivity promotes diversity in our programs. It allows individuals who may not have access to traditional educational institutions to pursue their studies – and their dreams.”

Despite the distance, online students can be equally supported

“There may be perceptions that online study can be a lonely experience,” Arulkadacham says. “We really challenge that.”

But it’s not without its difficulties, and she stresses the importance of recognising that online study is different to being on campus. “On campus, you do have access to physical mental health support. You can easily turn to a peer in class if there’s something on your mind. For our online tertiary students, there may be the added stress of juggling other roles.”

To overcome these challenges, Monash has created a supportive environment specifically for online education, rather than trying to simply mimic the on-campus experience. “In an online setting, course administrators need to be mindful of ensuring that students can easily access mental health resources,” Arulkadacham says.

Dr Lilani Arulkadacham audio on how Monash University’s self-care tool box is empowering students.

Arulkadacham’s own research has shown – “time and again” – that one of the greatest predictors of student success is the opportunity to practise self-care. “So, with the help of our students and some of our practising therapists, is an online self-care toolbox for our students. Something that students can turn to whenever they feel like they need some mental help or assistance.”

Within the toolbox are various strategies, including mindfulness and breathing techniques, all guided by mental health professionals and designed for students studying online.

“Then, they can take it out into the real world. It’s helping them with that lifelong learning journey that we want to instill in them.”

Lifelong learning starts with Monash University; find your next challenge with an industry-leading online study program.

Making study more human: how online education is creating powerful spaces for learning (2024)


Do students prefer online or in-person learning? ›

The Time for Class 2023 survey, published Tuesday, found that 31% of students prefer face-to-face instruction over other modes of instruction, but the remaining 69% prefer fully online, hybrid, or blended learning options.

Is online school better than in-person scholarly articles? ›

For example, Iglesias-Pradas et al. (2021) conducted a comparative analysis of 43 bachelor courses at Telecommunication Engineering College in Malaysia, revealing that online students achieved higher academic outcomes than their in-person counterparts.

How does online school work? ›

Online schools have virtual classes that students can take from home or a library or a coffee shop or anywhere else that has an Internet connection. The teachers work remotely and have a structured curriculum for their online students to follow.

Is online learning better or worse for students? ›

Nearly three in 10 students in a Strada Education survey in the fall of 2020 said their ability to learn was much worse online than in person. Even now, acceptance is lukewarm, emerging research shows.

What are the benefits of online learning? ›

10 Top Benefits of Online Learning for College Students
  • Cost-Effective Learning. ...
  • More Flexibility. ...
  • A Wide Range of Online Classes. ...
  • Self-Paced Learning. ...
  • Improved Technical Skills. ...
  • Virtual Collaboration Skills. ...
  • Study From Anywhere. ...
  • Improve Your Time Management Skills.
Nov 8, 2023

Is online school better than real school? ›

Scientists looking at the effectiveness of distance learning found that in some studies, distance education students performed slightly better in exams and grades than traditional classroom students, but that overall the average performance outcomes weren't that different.

Do teachers prefer online learning? ›

About 70 percent of faculty taught a remote class during the pandemic, and the preference for remote teaching has grown, according to the report. Of those surveyed, 20 percent said they prefer to teach hybrid courses that mix in-person and online instruction, while 18 percent prefer teaching fully online courses.

Is online better than classroom? ›

Online learning is more flexible. In addition, as one can attend virtual classes anywhere and anytime, students don't have to travel. At the same time, the physical classroom method involves in-person teaching and hands-on training from a professional, which is also necessary for specific situations.

Are online schools taken seriously? ›

As many as 83% of business leaders see an online degree at a “well-known” institution as having the same value as an on-campus degree. If they are not familiar with a school, however, or the institution isn't known for producing prepared graduates from its programs, your degree may not be seen as having the same value.

Is online school harder than in school? ›

But in many cases, an online degree is more challenging for students because it requires more self-discipline and motivation to "take an active part in their learning," Mathes says. And, like residential students, online students need to maintain academic integrity when completing assignments and taking exams.

Does online school affect GPA? ›

If they are included in your transcript, then yes. Do online courses count towards college GPA? Only if you get grades for them and only if the college accepts the course for credit. Don't take an online course and not do the work.

Why do students prefer in person over online classes? ›

Students note that in the classroom they can make personal connections with like-minded peers who share their scholarly interests. This kind of bonding experience is not easily replicated online, as most students rarely converse with each other during and after an online class.

What percentage of students prefer face to face learning? ›

Although both faculty and students still rank face-to-face courses as the highest preferred model when categorized individually, 55 percent and 31 percent respectively, when all hybrid and fully digital options are combined, about 70 percent of students prefer them to face-to-face classes.

Is online learning better than face to face learning? ›

Different studies have found that participants learn five times more material in online learning courses using multimedia content than in traditional face to face courses. Because online courses give students full control over their own learning, students are able to work at their own speed.


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