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By Jennifer McShane Campus.ie Intern
According to recent figures published by the Irish Times, more and more students are now opting to study at home rather than attend college lectures. The numbers of institute of technology students who are aren't physically there increased by 31% last year. During the last academic year, just fewer than 1500 students were doing courses through distance learning or e-learning and just over 500 of these students interact with the institutes almost exclusively over the Internet.
Nowadays, this method of online learning is becoming increasingly popular with students, particularly as the majority of the colleges in Ireland have their own databases where lectures and other notes can be stored, making it very easy for students who can?t physically attend these lectures to catch up at home.
Using these resources, they can log on to lectures from anywhere in the world, they can submit questions to lecturers as they happen, and if they miss a lecture it will be there for them to view at their own leisure.
Online courses are available from the Institutes of Technology in Sligo and Blanchardstown.
According to the Times, students doing e-learning courses study over 80% of their course materials on the Internet. Those doing distance-learning courses are also off campus for most of the time, but come in for some seminars, and use traditional texts as well as the Internet. Distance-learning courses are available in five ITs and other colleges such as NCI, DBS and the University of Limerick.
Part-time numbers are also rising, as mature workers and the unemployed try to increase their skills.
The ITs are stepping up to attract students taking part-time and flexible learning courses through the web site Bluebrick.ie. This website offers a convenient online comparison option and course registration for those who are interested in upskilling and gaining further qualifications.
Developed by the 14 Institutes of Technology, BlueBrick.ie aims to fill a void that previously existed for those who were interested in improving their educational qualifications, but were finding it difficult to find time in busy schedules.
Typically these courses enable a student to study at an institute while they hold down a job, something that many would find ideal in today?s climate. This would explain the increasing popularity of distance learning courses.
Dr Richard Thorn, Director of Flexible Learning, Institutes of Technology Ireland, says the Institutes are responding to the demands of the market and looking at what people want: "Increasingly the Institutes see it as part of their mission to provide these courses.?
He also said that Bluebrick.ie is the ideal platform to aid those looking to advance their career prospects or start a distance learning course from scratch: "We created the site to be a one-stop-shop for people in all areas around the country who were interested in moving forward with their career and securing better job prospects," said Dr Thorn.
According to Dr Thorn despite the drop in the number of students attending part time courses, the IT numbers have increased. This is a telling fact in today?s climate, where many students wish to further their education but would not be willing to give up working completely.
Used in conjunction with college or on its own, distance learning could prove to be the way forward with the boom in technology and the amount that is available to us online. It may not be for everyone though as one can argue that it is more anti-social that attending college itself and you wouldn?t have the same interaction with lecturers or classmates.
As with all things, it has its advantages and disadvantages, so what do students make of it?
Lidia A. Okorokova, Journalism and Visual Media, Griffith College Dublin "I'm more for going to the lectures, because this is the time when a student can ask questions and get responses from a lecturer. I believe the studying process should go both ways, but with a different percentage. I think 60-70% should be dedicated to the in-class studying and 40-30% to a home one."
Ursula Cadden, Law, Griffith College Dublin "At first I wasn?t in favour of distance learning courses. However due to the adverse weather conditions that we have seen over the past few weeks. I was unable to travel to Dublin and as a result I have had to resort to watching lectures online. At this stage, I would find it very hard to go back to attending lectures. Online delivery has meant I can study at my own pace and time and I can do what I want when I want. It has also cut all the travel cost out for me too. I would also dismiss other people who claim that they feel they cannot ask a question if they are not in class. If I need to ask anything at all, I can email both lecturers and also my fellow students, and within a few minutes I will be guaranteed an opinion and not only does the lecturer respond but many students also air their opinions and answers to my query. I am fully in favour of distance / online learning courses, and believe they are a valuable method or absorbing information at your own pace for people who lead busy daily lives, and are always on the go."
Joseph Brennan, Business and Management, DIT "The concept for studying at home doesn't really appeal to me at all, I would prefer going into college and attending lectures. Staying at home to study, you loose out on the social aspect of college - where as if you attend college/lectures you make life long friends and can build on your social skills, to help deal with the 'real world'. I suppose it is a good idea if you are working and the course is to aid your future skills and makes you become more attractive to employers. But, overall studying at home isn't for me personally; I need some help/motivation to get me to do assignments/study for exams. I feel you gain much more attending college."
John Geraghty, Higher Diploma in Business, Dublin Business School "I think the Internet is a great way to communicate with students. Doing lectures online and having a database of knowledge is great too. Personally, I wouldn?t take lectures over face-to-face interaction though because I think that the interaction aspect is key. But for secondary referencing or if someone is looking to back up information and watch a lecture on a topic they are studying, it is very useful."
Noelle Byrne, Midwifery, Trinity College Dublin "I think it?s great if you have a family or a busy lifestyle and can do a part time course that way, but my own preference would be to have direct interaction with the lecturers. I just think I would feel extremely unmotivated without the help of lectures and fellow students. I can definitely see why it would appeal to others, but it?s not for me."

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