Flexible and individual studies becoming more common

Flexible and individual studies becoming more common

All educational institutions are in distance learning mode at the moment, but many consider online studies ideal in general. Open University student Nico Himanka and Master of Arts Jiachen Dong have enjoyed studying in a way that suits their life situation and is independent of place.

Nico Himanka is a student at the Open University of the University of Oulu and currently studying for entrance exams. At the moment, his main focus is biochemistry, but he has taken other interesting courses as well.

“I chose a course on impacting climate change, for example, based on my own interests. My studies have been free of charge, which is really great. It encourages you to experiment and look into different study paths. If you get into a field through an entrance examination alone, it may turn out not to be your thing. I found a field that interests me, biochemistry that is, through open university.”

Previously, Himanka has taken courses in chemistry and biology at the open universities of the University of Helsinki and the University of Oulu. He reckons he can also apply to a degree programme at the University of Oulu through the open university path.

“I have really liked the online studies of the University of Oulu. There are a lot of videos and assignments in the courses that you can work on together and compare with other students. Studying has been interactive, even though it happens online.”

Himanka usually works on his assignments at his own pace at home after work. He starts by taking a look at the assignment and material, then writes notes and learns about the subject, and then moves on to the assignment. His motivation and interest in the field have helped him to stay driven to study. The assignments have been appropriately versatile, sparking Himanka to search for further information even outside of the study material.

“I may look for further information on the subject on YouTube, for example. You can find a lot of material in English there. I like using videos to support my learning, and I would like to see more of them in my studies. I also read a lot of material about natural sciences that delves deeply into the field.”

According to Nico Himanka, online studies have had a broad effect on his everyday life: natural sciences are connected to his hobbies. Himanka grows house plants and has learned useful information on the structure and care of plants, for example. He has also received a lot of tips on how to use his own microscope.

“I feel that students are well looked after in Oulu, and the reception here has been warm. Teachers answer emails quickly, and there is a low threshold to ask them about things. I think students have been able to follow the online studies well.”


Jiachen Dong and Nico Himanka are satisfied with the online courses of the University of Oulu. Photo: Jiachen Dong and Nico Himanka

A master’s degree from Kokkola

Jiachen Dong graduated from the Master's Degree Programme in Chemistry in 2018. Now he works as a research engineer in industry. Prior to his university studies, he worked in physical labour in the metal industry after earning an engineering degree from a university of applied sciences. He was driven to study further by a desire to advance in his career and work as an expert.

During his studies, Dong only visited Oulu a few times. The majority of the degree was arranged as distance studies and independent assignments based on online material.

“I took one laboratory course in Oulu. Everything else could be negotiated and arranged. I was able to take most of my exams at the Kokkola University Consortium or through other arrangements.”

Studying was not all bliss, however: Dong struggled with studies in Finnish at first, but once his vocabulary grew, studying became easier. Taking pauses in watching lecture videos helped him to understand the subject matter. During his first years of studies, he took mathematics and chemistry courses in the evenings and on weekends alongside his work, but this was tough and slow.

“I thank the study leave and adult education allowance system in Finland. I was able to take study leave from my work, and during that time I went to the Kokkola University Consortium as if going to school. I went there in the morning to study and work on assignments and I went home in the afternoon. I usually studied 6–8 hours a day. It helped me to feel like a regular student.”

Dong could not have studied without flexible distance learning possibilities. His family and life as a whole are in Kokkola, and it would have been very difficult to partially or completely move his daily life to a different city. Although the University of Oulu does not offer fully online degrees, flexible study possibilities help to advance in one’s studies from home or from a different location.

In the end, online studies and independent assignments worked very well. Jiachen Dong feels it was easy to combine studies with his life otherwise.

“The studies were flexible and I was able to fit them into my own schedules. I got the opportunity to develop myself, and the education secured my progress in my career.”

Interactive online studies

The University of Oulu has invested in the digitalisation of studies, and teachers are offered support in modifying materials and pedagogical methods to suit online courses.

Courses have been transformed into online studies at a rapid pace: in 2019, hundreds of courses were shaped into online courses. Teachers have taken a positive attitude towards the development of online courses, say Solution Designer Tiina Vertanen and Team Manager Tytti Tenhula from the teaching support services.

“It is not enough to put the lecture material online – the entire pedagogical manuscript must be rewritten”, Tenhula describes.

The digitalisation of courses benefits both the university and the students. Students gain more flexible ways of studying, as time and place dependency decreases. Flexible options can be used to support the progress of studies and their completion within the time limit. The university gains more students, as the courses become accessible to more and more people, say Tenhula and Vertanen.

For example, the Open University offers an increasing number of online courses, and as a novelty, the University of Oulu offers upper secondary school students introductory studies that can later be included in one’s degree.

At the moment, the situation as regards online courses varies between faculties. The majority of courses offered as entirely online studies are basic studies, although some subject studies are also included. In particular, large mass courses have been transformed into an online format. There is no need for special equipment for online studies: a computer and an Internet connection are enough, and motivation and study planning help you to move forward.

“A teacher burbling in a lecture hall does not guarantee learning – the student needs to actively learn and receive support accordingly”, says Tenhula.

“You need in-depth understanding and competence as well as working life skills. Nowadays, you need to learn about different modern systems and versatile tools for expert work”, Vertanen adds.

Versatile methods

The university has stated that it favours versatile evaluation and performance methods. Students’ daily lives are made easier by the Moodle course platform, various electronic tools and the Exam system (Electronic exams at Exam-system are not organised at the moment due to coronavirus pandemic.), in which you can book an exam at any time of your choosing. Online exams are also possible.

Many teachers offer alternative ways of achieving learning objectives, which means that there are other options besides a lecture course and an exam that you can take for your credits.


Text: Heidi Niemi, main photo: Mikko Törmänen


Last updated: 24.3.2020