Doing a Masters in public health is a pretty big undertaking for any student hoping to make a difference in the healthcare sector.
One of the biggest decisions aspiring students must make is deciding on studying the course via distance learning, or via in-person classroom learning.
The increased demand to deliver course content online, brought about by the recent events of the pandemic now means that world-class education can be delivered and consumed from the comfort of your own home.
As such, public health programs can be successfully delivered entirely online.
However does the student get all the same benefits?
Would it be better to take advantage of the brilliant distance learning programs delivered by high-quality institutions, or attend lectures in-person which has been the usual standard.
In other words, is online learning better than in-person teaching for an MPH?
Before making this decision, one must weigh the pros and cons of each mode of study.
Benefits of online learning
Online learning is something we are all familiar with.
Course content is delivered through a combination of PDF assignments, zoom meetings and group tasks.
The course content can be consumed entirely from the comfort of your own home, making it appealing to individuals with full-time jobs and people who want to take a course part time.
Instead of looking at the drawbacks of both modes of study, it is more important to weigh all the strengths of each.
This way, you can make an informed decision on how you would like to study based in your own personality type.
Often more affordable
Distance learning courses are often more affordable than their in-person counterparts.
This is because the University can offer cheaper programs by cutting lecture cost fees, As well as other fees associated with the delivery of courses on campus.
Aspiring students also have the opportunity to save money on accommodation, especially if they choose to live at home whilst completing their program.
This is incredibly useful for students who wish to save money during the university days whilst building up experience and an academic repertoire towards their future careers.
Often distance learning programs try to replicate as much of the same course content as the in-person versions of the program.
This means that even though the course is cheaper, you are getting exactly the same value for money as someone who attends on-campus lectures.
So as long as you graduate from your MPH public-health degree you should be valued exactly the same as someone else who studied the program in person.
Do note that some universities will print your mode of study on your degree certificate.
This means future employers may find out through your certificate that you studied via distance learning.
This however shouldn’t change the fact that the content you learnt was exactly the same as any other student studying that program.
It is also very unluckily that an employer would look on you less favourably if they found that you completed your degree via distance learning and not in person.
Learn at your own pace
Distance learning courses for you the ability to learn at your own pace.
This is especially true for individuals who are studying part time and have a full-time job that keeps them occupied for most of the week.
Usually distance learning programs have a virtual learning environment that allows students to visit course material at any point during the studies.
This means that if you didn’t understand a particular topic, you can always go back and revisit the material to make sure everything makes sense.
Course material is usually released on a frequent basis, usually once every week.
This means that you have enough time to not be overwhelmed by material, however it does prevent students from front loading the course and viewing all the course material at once.
This is significantly better than in person lectures where your required to take notes at that exact point in time. This can be difficult for tricky lectures!
If you enrol on a part-time public-health MPH via distance learning you are almost guaranteed to have enough time to review the course material, and email your module leaders if you have any questions to ask.
Sometimes material can be quite difficult to understand when delivered by distance learning.
Most of your lectures will probably be video material however some public-health material can be in the form of difficult to understand PDFs and assignments.
In such cases it’s important to email module leaders and supervisors since you may not have the support of your peer groups or in person lecturers.
Many opportunities for group work and networking
Often distance learning programs can seem quite impersonal and isolated.￼
It is however important to understand that you will have many opportunities for group work and meeting new people.
Often at the start of the year students will create things such as WhatsApp and Facebook groups to stay in touch throughout the year and help each other on assignments and final year dissertation.
Your university may actually have their own programs that help match you up with similar students on your program to help you network.
University of york is amongst a few who implemented a buddy matching system that helped students stay connected through the pandemic on their in-person MPH course!
Such initiatives remain crucial in keeping students connected, but also to help students help each other in assignments such as dissertations where you may need a buddy to help you conduct a literature search.
You may also get several opportunities for group work which students should embrace as opposed to shying away from.
It is easy to get lost in your own world as a distance learning student, however you should take every opportunity to network seriously as it may help you get through the degree and also find work after you complete.
Due to distance learning program allowing students to study at their own pace, they can be quite a lot less stressful than studying on campus.
You are in familiar environments, often in the comfort of your own home, and don’t have to worry about attendance, social interactions, making friends, or finding seating!
For students with a lot of social anxiety this can be a pretty important motivator for choosing to study via online learning.
You also don’t have to worry about lecturers picking on you to answer questions in lecture Theatres with potentially hundreds people.
Distance learning can have a come with its own set of issues.
Zoom calls can be just as awkward if not more socially triggering then lecture halls.
Awkward pauses, time delays, And the fact that you can’t see the people you are talking to may potentially affect your ability to speak in front of a class or carry out group work sessions by video chat.
This however doesn’t change the fact that online learning typically takes less efforts to attend, resulting in a lower amount of stress on the student.
Benefits of in-person learning
Now that we have mentioned some of the benefits of online teaching, let’s talk about in-person learning.
The main difference is that the course is delivered alongside your peers often in lecture halls.
You are also expected to meet in person with supervisors for tutorial meetings and small group seminars where you may have the opportunity to form closer bonds and work in smaller peer groups.
Here are some of the benefits of in-person public health MPH programs.
More organic networking
Often in person teaching can offer a more organic networking environment.
Being able to see the people who you are studying and interacting with can be very comforting, making it easier to make friends and connections.
Additionally the fact that you are studying in the same location gives a common shared purpose.￼
Distance learning students on the other hand can often be continents apart which creates a sense of geographical distance.
Also, being able to see your supervisors in person might give you the ability to form close bond with them which might help you in finding work in the future.
Some distance courses actually don’t offer students personal supervisors which removes this ability to create references and valuable future connections.
This means that for students studying MPH course in person, you are often given a better environment to network.
Better student-teacher relationships
As mentioned above the ability to meet with your supervisor in person is important.
They are likely the ones who will provide you with references that you will need for employment in the future.
They are also the ones who may give you suggestions on where to apply for jobs, or put you in touch with other academics who can help.
As such, forming a good bond with supervisors is a good way of securing success after you graduate.
Learning in person will give you close contact with lecturers during seminars.
If you are one to answer a lot of questions, this will also help greatly as lecturers will start to know you my name.
This will all go towards helping you be better known in the department, which in turn will help you form better connections with academics and department heads.
More students need to form better connections with their academics and department heads in order to be alerted of the best opportunities during and after graduation!
It also helps to know your lecturers well when you get stuck with an assignment grade you aren’t happy with!
Better guidance for assignments
As a student studying on campus, you will find that you have better access to lecturers and supervisors for guidance.
Often, it may only take one visit to your supervisors office to talk through and solve an issue you have.
It may also be solved through a simple group meeting with your fellow students in a library study room!
With online learning on the other hand, you will need to send several emails or even schedule a video call which can be sometimes cumbersome.
If you feel that you work better in isolation, this might not be too much of a worry, however MPH programs are very difficult, and often you will need regular guidance from supervisors and fellow students.
Working online in isolation for a public health degree can be a very difficult and lonely experience!
More involved and collaborative learning
With in-person teaching, you often get the best of both worlds.
100% or your course isn’t spent in lecture theatre’s so therefore there is bound to be a small online component to your learning.
This means that your learning is usually more integrated and tailored to your experience with the course materials.
Being able to sit in lecture halls and interact with lecturers about effective public health strategies can be a rewarding experience.
Likewise, being able to go home and digest the material on your own, while also having the option to contact your supervisor and schedule either an office meeting, or video call can add to the overall learning experience.
In other words, in-person teaching brings the best of both campus and online learning!
Whether you are considering distance learning because you cant afford to relocate to your institution of choice, or because it is simply more convenient, nowadays, both modes of study will afford you top quality jobs with none benefiting over the other.
The only way distance/online learning can be inferior to in-person teaching is the ability to network with staff and students organically.
Distance learning often feels isolated and can leave introverted students feeling very lonely if they don’t speak up.
So it is all down to your own personality. If you are quite independent and prefer to take charge of your own work with little help from others, online lessons might be the one for you.
But if you are a people person, and quite interested in networking for future opportunities, you can easily thrive in both online and in-person environments.
You will have plenty of opportunities to make friends and do group work even if your course is delivered purely online, however you may find that in-person contact allows you to form more meaningful connections that will last you far longer.
It is also much easier to ask for help on assignments from fellow students when you see them in-person on a regular basis.
Public health course are quite difficult these days, and it is important to have a support system of friends who can contribute their own expertise to helping each other complete assignments and achieve the best grades.
Tell us what you think in the comments, will you be studying public health via distance learning?