What to expect from a fully online law degree: common myths busted

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Could your law degree be something you study completely online? We spoke to an expert from The University of Law to discover more about this flexible option

There is a huge amount of choice when it comes to choosing a law degree - including where you study it.

Many courses will include at least some element of online study, but some will be based entirely online. So what can you expect from that kind of remote study degree?

We spoke to Richard Haggett, national programme director for online programmes at The University of Law, to discover more about what it means to take a fully online law degree course – and tackle some common misconceptions along the way.

The myth: online courses are delivered in the same way everywhere

The reality: just like in-person courses, online courses are all different

Just because a course is delivered online, don’t assume it will follow a standard format.

That doesn’t happen with courses that are taught primarily in-person - and there’s no reason why it would with fully online courses, says Richard.

“I invite everyone to take a step back and think about their experiences of attended learning over the course of their education. It’s varied in how it is done,” he says.

“If there’s not one sole model for attended learning, it’s an equally misguided supposition that ‘online’ can only sustain one method, with the easy preconception of lecturing via videoconferencing or a bank of recorded lectures to work one’s way through passively. 

“Rid yourself of that preconception as a starting point; online is varied in how it is done.

“Even if you have taken courses online before, it doesn’t mean the next one uses the same methods.”

The myth: in-person learning is a richer experience than online

The reality: each approach provides differing benefits

When you’re choosing between courses that are primarily in-person or fully online, you can expect them to be different. But that doesn’t mean one is inherently ‘better’ than the other, says Richard. 

It’s perhaps simpler to focus - not on the course which is ‘better’ - but the course which is better for you.

Online learners may find they get greater flexibility to work in their own time, and in their own home or workplace. If that’s an approach that works for you, it could make a difference to your learning.

“You should find, with sophisticated online learning, that as one progresses through, the teacher becomes a supervisor and feedback tool, rather than a source of great dependency,” says Richard. 

“You’re not abandoned, but you may have greater capacity and freedom in your learning to demonstrate what you need to.”

The myth: online courses are solely assessed online

The reality: some assessments could be in person

When it comes to exams, you might think that online course = online test. But law is a regulated industry, and there might be certain requirements that make it impossible for absolutely everything to be assessed virtually.

“Generally, there is a move to online assessment, be it proctored exams or coursework,” says Richard. 

“But there may be regulated limits and I really advise people to do their research with the institutions they are looking at. Don’t assume that an online course inevitably means online assessment.”.

The myth: online law degrees offer total flexibility 

The reality: they may be more flexible, but there are always limits 

Flexibility is one word you might hear thrown around a lot when it comes to online study, but it will mean different things on different courses.

“Don’t expect total flexibility; everything that flexes has a point at which it must snap,” says Richard. “Be wary around ‘flexibility’ and explore with your institution of choice. 

“Some may have a greater balance of live time online with a tutor, some may have more recognition of the limits on your learning time and offer a more deadline-driven experience with access to more focused tutor support.

“It’s unlikely to be a total free-for-all: you will still have deadlines to work to and you will still need to actually do the work.”

The myth: online courses are easier

The reality: the qualification is the same no matter how you obtain it

Whether your course is focused on in-person learning or it’s one that’s completely online, you can expect to work just as hard to achieve the same result. 

“Don’t perceive [a fully online course] as a lighter, diet or short-cut way to the same qualification as being worked towards in an attended course,” says Richard.

“It’s more than likely an online student would sit the same assessment as an attendance peer. 

“Therefore the work, albeit potentially delivered differently, is going to be the same, and equally demanding if the course is any good.”

The myth: online students won’t be able to access support from the wider university

The reality: support will be available if you need it

There’s no reason you won’t be able to access just as many resources from an online course as you would if you attended classes in person. 

“An institution mature in offering online provision – such as The University of Law, which has been offering online since 2008 to all continents save Antarctica (so far) – will recognise the support need,” says Richard. 

“You should find all similar services provided, be they library and library training, wellbeing and support, access to employability advice and support, academic coaching, student journey advisors, access to Student Union and representation opportunities and study skills support and development.”

Getting the most out of online learning: some final advice 

So which style of law degree is right for you? The answer to that question will depend on what we’ve covered above and more. But putting your lawyer head on and asking some questions will help you find the path that suits you best. 

“The vital starting point is to flush the assumption that all online is the same,” says Richard. 

“Second thing flushed is that it’s going to be an easier method. It might be, for want of a better word, easier to fit around your other commitments by letting the learning come to you, but even if the ride in has been made more accessible don’t expect an easy ride as a result. 

 “If you start from the assumption that no online is the same, this then takes you to the next important stage, which is (and always will be): ask.

“You’re looking at a profession whose currency is questions: start now.”

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