How does online study actually work?

Online learning

Find out how online learning really works in practice from a Portsmouth Online course adviser.

 Lexie is a course adviser for Portsmouth Online and is also studying part-time for an online degree while she works.  

We spoke to Lexie about how the Portsmouth virtual learning environment works, the ways you’re encouraged to reflect on your work while you study, and how you can fit your course in alongside other commitments.  Lexi Griffiths

How does the virtual learning environment work? 

Lexie: Moodle is your virtual learning environment and there are different areas of the platform where you can talk to different people. Student advisers, your Course Leader and tutors will give you updates via discussion forums. If they post something, you’re able to comment on it.  

When you start going through your work week by week, you’ll be set different tasks to do, such as reading articles and watching videos. There’s a forum where you can comment on other students’ work. Your fellow students and your tutor will comment on your work as well, which will help you reflect on, and improve, your work. 


What is the reflective journal and how does it help you study? 

Lexie: You’ll be encouraged to start a reflective journal, which could be a physical notebook or an online portfolio for example. I started off making notes in my physical notebook, and I realised that it wasn't working for me. It wasn't very organised or easy to look back through.  

What worked for me was the portfolio. I set this up so that every part of the week would have a task and I would write some notes. Then, when I go back and review my notes, I can change them, colour-code them and even listen to them instead of reading them.  

It really doesn't matter how you keep these notes, but my advice is that you keep them as well-structured and as clear as possible with as many headings as possible. 

A reflective journal isn't something that you have to share and it isn't assessed or marked. You’ll use the journal to help you write your assignments.  

The point of the reflective journal is that you're going to be reading and watching a lot of content. But a lot of what you do for your master's is going to be personal to you and your experience and your background, so it's not going to be the same as someone else's.  

During your master’s you’re always reflecting, and you're always giving and receiving feedback. You’re assessing and analysing your ideas to challenge yourself, to challenge other students and to grow during the course. Ultimately, that's what we want to do - we want to grow as professionals or experts in the subject matter.  

Find out more about how master's level study works in practice:  

Discover how you'll learn 

What does reflection mean in the context of a master’s degree? 

Lexie: Reflection can mean a lot of things. It could just be that you go through the work from the week, and you think, what did I find interesting? What challenged me and what have I learnt? You could just ask yourself a few questions each week.  

You could also reflect on what you have read from someone else. If you've critiqued someone else's work, if you've noticed something that you don't agree with or that has made you rethink your original idea, then that’s a reflection.  

When you look at feedback from others, it helps you reflect. And then when you give feedback, it helps you as well. There’s a lot of thinking and rethinking.  

How do discussion forums work? 

Lexie: The key thing is to post regularly. If you don't post, you're going to have nothing to look back when you're writing your assignments. And if you post, it's all in one place. It's all very organised. As you build confidence, you'll find yourself commenting more and more.  

Other students, no matter what their level of experience or background, will have something interesting to bring to the table, something that's new to you. You’re able to build a network, whether that’s learning buddies or people who might be able to help you professionally in the future.  

How do you access library resources? 

Lexie: When you're using Moodle, you'll have access to everything in the online library like you would if you were studying on-campus in Portsmouth. You can just type in the keywords that you need and come up with journals and other resources. Use the library as much as possible because the information's incredible.  

How much time do you need to spend studying each week? 

Lexie: In my job as a course adviser, I recommend that you spend approximately 20 to 25 hours a week studying. However, it really depends on the way you study and the task that you've been set for that week, because you’re going to find some topics easier than others.  

There’s no standard amount of time you need to spend studying each week. I would recommend that you try and put in a regular number of hours to be consistently doing the work. 

I can't study every day, so I tend to do three evenings a week, three or four hours. Then at the weekend I will do more, maybe four to six hours on one or two of the days. It depends, but it's up to you. Everyone has different commitments.  

Ultimately, what I'm trying to say is it's completely manageable and doable. You might feel a little overwhelmed by it in the beginning, and that's fine and completely normal, but you will start to find your flow. As soon as you start receiving some feedback from your tutor, especially when it's positive feedback, you're going to start to push yourself to do a bit more.  

Thank you to Lexie for sharing her insights into studying online! 

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