The difference between full time and Open Distance Learning (ODL) universities

As the world’s many industries and sectors grow increasingly more competitive, education retains its importance as an integral mark for participating in knowledge economies where talents and skills make all the difference. Thus, universities continue to offer a competitive edge through added education as a way towards career progression. However, some things have changed.

Universities have an extensive history. There was once a time when schools were a relatively new concept utilised only by scholars and masters for students to congregate and learn. This idea blew up in the early 20th century, and the birth of institutionalised education saw massive literacy rate spikes all around the world. In recent years, universities have transitioned through the information age and transformed to include newer, more innovative learning structures

A New Age in Education

While full-time universities still dominate as a major education stronghold, the advent of part-time, blended and even fully-online learning options has increased accessibility, convenience and diversity in flexible offerings. According to a recent worldwide student poll by, 64%  of tertiary students across all surveyed countries (including Malaysia) prefer online learning over traditional face-to-face sessions if it implies lower prices. A similar pattern can be seen across the world.

In Malaysia, Open Distance Learning (ODL) has gained traction as a viable option for students, especially among working adults. This is pitted against conventional universities with full-time options and students often struggle in choosing between the two. In light of this, let’s take a look at the main differences between ODL and full-time universities, and delve into the shortcomings, advantages and opportunities relevant for each one.

Defining Traits of Full-Time Universities

Full-time dedication

When it comes to higher education courses, the full-time university functions as a conventional choice of enrolment. Essentially, students sign up with a university and must attend a rigid set of hours attending classes, as well as being completely devoted to the course. On average, full-time courses comprise approximately 21 hours of studying in classes every week. Of course, these hours vary depending on the faculty chosen.

Campus facilities

Full-time courses often enable students to access dormitory facilities on campus, since students will be spending most of their time dedicated to their studies. It’s not uncommon for students to spend their nights sleeping and learning on campus. Similarly, students interested in full-time universities also usually scout for good facilities, living conditions and wholesome environments because they will be spending most of their time on-site.

Lack of flexibility

The nature of full-time universities does not allow for much flexibility at all. The main pillar of enrolling in this fashion is so that you dedicate all your time and devote all your focus to studying. This way, full attention can go a long way in ensuring optimal results and less distractions for completing studies. However, many working adults don’t consider this a viable option for that very same reason. Flexibility is a crucial demand for higher education seekers.

Defining Traits of ODL Universities

Innovative learning alternatives

At its core, Open Distance Learning is roughly the combination of two different concepts related to education. The first is Open University, which refers to a type of university that allows students to enrol without usual restrictions such as age or prior expertise in the field. Students are admitted based on their basic educational requirements. The second is Distance Learning or Distance education, which is a type of formal education that takes place in a setting where students and teachers are essentially separated. In other words, there is a factor of non-physical interaction between students and teachers.

However, combining the two terms creates an almost completely different definition altogether. ODL is a general term that refers to the usage of network and digital communication or telecommunication tools to enhance the learning experience. The end result is a new system of learning where teachers and learners do not have to be physically present, and which offers flexibility in terms of modalities and timing.

Flexibility at its core

In Malaysia, we often assume that an Open University will feature some semblance of Distance Learning capabilities. This is not wrong to assume, because for some time now this nation has relied heavily on the use of technology to broaden accessibility and flexibility for adult learners. 

The structure of ODL can differ greatly depending on the country and university in question. In some instances, classes are offered by the ODL University to students. However, physical or virtual attendance of classes is often not compulsory. This means that students must rely on self-studying, focusing on coursework, interacting with peers or lecturers if they want more information, or drawing knowledge from online resources built into the university’s online systems.

Complete autonomy is the price for complete flexibility. This can possibly lead to less accountability for students to apply themselves to their studies, and can also lead to lower graduation rates as some studies have pointed to. It also means that there is a potential problem in relation to stronger student support systems in some ODL Universities. 

Key Difference: Flexibility vs Accountability

Students have complete control and thus must hold complete accountability over their learning when they use flexible learning in the form of ODL. Rather than being forced to attend a class, people can choose when and how much time they spend learning. While this can be beneficial in some cases, a lack of strong student support systems can lead to lower chances of completing a course and graduating. 

In this case, full-time options have the advantage of keeping students on track to completing their courses through full focus and devotion in the presence of a support system comprising administrators and lecturers. On the other hand, an online learning process not only allows them to plan their education around their obligations but also assures that they are studying at the optimal moment. This is key for many adult learners. Some students, for example, may be more productive in the evenings, but traditional education may limit them by only providing classes during the day. 

Flexible learning allows students to determine when and how they will learn by customising their course to their specific needs. As a result, they retain more knowledge and produce better results. They also have the benefit of being able to learn at their own pace, which can assist to relieve a lot of stress. With full-time unis, teachers frequently rush through subjects before giving students an assignment to complete. This might put pressure on individuals to finish tasks fast but it leaves no room for students to ask questions. 

If a student does not understand a concept or idea that the teacher has communicated, they will be unable to accomplish the assignment to their full potential, obstructing their own learning. Because of the flexibility of online learning, students can take their time grasping subjects and ensuring complete knowledge before moving on. This, once again, leads to improved grades.

A Balance Between The Two

So far, we have established that ODL bases most of its success on flexibility in terms of education structure while full-time universities focus on optimal accountability through physical attendance and complete focus on studies. The major downside to ODL is that a lack of accountability brought on by poor support systems can lead to lower chances of course completion and graduation.

The major downside to full-time universities is that adult learners are not granted the flexibility and freedoms necessary to pursue their education while efficiently working around a schedule to fulfil the other obligations of work and life.

What’s the solution? Simply combine the best of both worlds.

MSU CEdEC – A Blended Learning Blessing

To put it simply, the Blended Learning approach combines both the necessity of attending classes to reinforce stronger support systems AND the flexibility granted by online learning infrastructures. MSU CEdEC – a 5-star (rated by the ranking body QS) learning centre, masterfully applies the Blended Learning philosophy into every aspect of its offering. CEdEC is the only 5-star rated uni for adult learners, it is backed by the reputable MSU brand, and features over 160 courses for students to choose from.

For those looking to upskill and upgrade their career progression objectives, CEdEC offers the largest selection of courses ranging from business management, health and life sciences and hospitality to creative arts, pharmacy, and social sciences among others. The centre’s process maintains the perfect balance between high-quality education for professional improvement, and optimal flexibility so you can study at your own pace while keeping accountability as a priority.

There’s a virtual classroom feature so you can put in the hours for face-to-face learning online, which provides full accessibility to study from anywhere. It also covers a strong support system with comprehensive online resources and even a peer-to-peer study opportunity so you can learn from other students from diverse backgrounds, expertises and industries.

As a direct result of the Blended Approach, CEdEC has the highest graduation rates in the industry among adult learners, who often resort to dropping out due to a lack of support, less ability for work commitments and less motivation or accountability to carry on their studies.

The adult learner’s journey is an arduous one with many challenges and disruptions in its wake. The best way to ensure success in completing your studies is to find an option that enables you with the perfect balance between flexibility and accountability.