Author: Ed Lawless, Principal of Pamoja Education

Online learning

Learning online during the high school years helps students to develop independent learning skills as well as confidence with technology, says new research.

An increasing number of International Baccalaureate Diploma Progam (IBDP) subjects have been available as online courses for the past five years. For the international schools in Malaysia that are currently offering the IB Diploma Program, this means that how IBDP students choose to study can be a combination of the traditional face-to-face classroom and the more independent, student-centered online learning approach.

Recent research by London’s UCL Institute of Education (IOE) studied the impact of online learning on IBDP students who had progressed to higher education. The results suggest that an online learning experience benefited students in several ways.



Online IBDP courses can be taken by any 16-19 year old IBDP students alongside conventional classes for other subjects. These courses are provided by the only approved provider of online IBDP courses, Pamoja Education. The online option allows a student to study a specialist course that is not currently available as a face-to-face class in their school, or because they choose to take an online course as a different way to learn.

Online students work in a subject “class” with other online learners who might be based in schools anywhere in the world. The students access their learning digitally, on their own, at a time and in a place that best suits each one of them. However, they are not in isolation; they are strongly supported by their online teacher; a fully qualified IBDP teacher who is also trained to deliver online learning. The teacher provides weekly objectives and assignments, guiding and connecting directly with the students, sometimes as a group and also one-to-one.  The students work on their assignments both individually and collaboratively. Group work brings its particular challenges as students have to consider different time zones, communication techniques, and ways to work together; situations that students become increasingly competent at responding to as they progress through their course.

The experience of online learning at this age offers several other potential benefits as the IOE research discovered.



108 current university students from 36 countries were researched, 58 who had studied at least one two-year subject online as part of their IBDP. Developing confidence with technology was one benefit identified.

The research found that students who had studied online prior to university were familiar with technologies that formed an essential part of university life such as learning management systems, discussion forums, Google tools, and audio-visual resources. Not only were they familiar with such tools, they were also confident in their choice and use of technology for different needs; something that many other students said they struggled to master.

The research suggested that this proficiency in the selection and use of technology affected quality of life for university students, not just test scores, because it is such a necessary and expected part of the university learning experience. For the skilled users, technology helped make life easier, particularly by drawing together information and resources, and in some cases was necessary for making tasks possible that would otherwise be impractical without technology. One respondent said the experience of learning online “helped me to learn how to communicate more effectively through online mediums, including getting through group projects without the benefit of face-to-face meetings.”

Students in the research also talked about the cultural benefits of the online learning experience. Their online classes had brought together learners from a range of countries, giving them the chance to consider differing country and cultural perspectives to issues.  Several respondents said that this had helped them to understand a range of cultures and communication styles, and that it had introduced them to different viewpoints.

Perhaps the results of most interest were those that related to independent learning skills. When asked about self-regulatory behaviors for managing studies, the vast majority of respondents agreed that these were important for success at university. 84% said that it was definitely important to be able to set personal goals as a way of managing the time they spent studying at university. 71% said it was definitely important to be able to set standards for work. 88% said it was definitely important to be clear about where and when to study. 97% said it was important to try to solve problems independently. And 88% said it was important to know when to turn to a tutor for support.

Students who had studied online described how valuable it was that they could learn independently. They were less likely than their peers to rely on the university tutors for help, more likely to set goals based on their own performance rather than that of other students, and they had better developed strategies for managing and pacing their studies. One respondent said: “Studying online is different from attending regular classes. You have to be self-motivated to study on your own and set your own deadlines.”


The gap from high school to university remains huge. Studying is more intensive and complex, and undergraduates are expected to be competent independent learners from the start. Helping students to best prepare for this is as important as helping them to get there. As the research suggests, online learning experience helps to bridge that gap.   Over 2,000 IBDP students are currently studying at least one of their subjects online. To find out more and to participate in a free online learning demo, visit