What is online learning, and will it work for me?

Paul Kirkwood, ACCA’s head of learner experience, considers digital/online learning options for ACCA students

At the time of writing, the impact of Covid-19 around the world is in full effect. I truly hope all our students have been coping well in these extraordinary times.

Many countries are in lockdown to halt the spread of the virus, and this has meant we’re all having to change how we work and live.

Like many organisations running exams, we’ve had to cancel some of ours, most recently our June 2020 sittings across countries where the virus has taken a firm hold. The health and safety of our students, ACCA employees and the wider ACCA community has been, and will be, our priority.

Our message to students has been, where possible, to carry on studying. We know this is a challenge, especially when motivation may have slipped. We recognise that, and so we’ll continue to expand the range of online learning support for students who are restricted to their homes in impacted countries.

Also, in these extraordinary times, classroom-based face-to-face courses may not be possible as you prepare for your next ACCA exams.

So how can we all manage the fact that exam plans are now less certain than ever before?

My first piece of advice is, where appropriate, to contact your current Approved Learning Partner (ALP) to discuss what online options they offer to help you study and revise.

Before joining ACCA in May 2019, I was a tutor with several ACCA Approved Learning Partners. I started teaching face-to-face in a classroom and moved on to teach students online in virtual classrooms, alongside creating other online teaching resources.

I recall the first time I ran an online class. I was very nervous as I had never done this before. But I soon realised that whether in an online classroom, through recorded video or other online resources the basics of learning are the same.

For ACCA exams, the tutor’s role is to build the knowledge, application skills, confidence and exam technique capability to enable students to achieve exam success. The fundamental aim of ACCA students is the same, whether learning in a classroom or online – to achieve exam success – and while I’m sure that you will feel nervous about trying online learning for the first time, I’d encourage you to explore the different options available.

There are three questions I’m asked most about online learning.

Is digital learning and online learning the same thing?

Digital learning is any type of learning that utilises digital technology; for example, when I taught in the classroom, if I asked my students to research a topic on their phones this would be an example of digital learning. Online learning uses the internet to access learning content and so online learning is simply one example of digital learning.

What types of online learning exist for ACCA?

There are many different types of online learning available from ALPs. Here are some of the features that may be used as part of an online course and remember that many online courses will use multiple types of online learning within their programmes.

Online classrooms
This is where a tutor runs a course in a similar way to how a face-to-face classroom operates. The tutor may have a webcam, so students can see the tutor who will be able to present slides or annotate on a whiteboard as part of the teaching process. Students can ask the tutor questions and get answers through a chat panel.

Online classes are often recorded and are available to watch at a later point in time.

Recorded video content
This is pre-recorded video content that often focuses on a specific topic. There are many different styles of recorded content including animations, a tutor talking over presentation slides or talking while writing on a whiteboard, or simply taking to a camera. These can be used as part of the learning phase of a course, to build knowledge, or the revision phase, for example as exam standard question debriefs.

E-learning content
Some online learning uses e-learning platforms that include text-based learning material as well as quizzes and other activities to build and test your knowledge and application skills. Our ACCA-X courses use this style of learning within its programme.

How will I know which type of learning works best for me?

There really is only one way to find out and that’s to have a go, or at least start to explore what online learning is available to you. As I suggested at the start of the article the first step, where possible, is to understand what online learning options are available with your current ALP. Many will offer free trials that you can use to test out their online learning programmes.

If you are currently studying for your strategic professional exams, then ACCA’s Ethics and Professional Skills module will both introduce you to online learning, as well as help prepare you for future exam success.

And finally don’t forget the range of online exam specific study resources available on the student study resources section of the ACCA website.