Six benefits of online learning for unpaid carers

Tony, founder of the Carers’ Academy at Carers Centre Tower Hamlets shares six benefits that online learning has brought to unpaid carers.

Often as carers, our own goals and interests are put aside while we care for another. This can include training for work or courses in an interest or skill like drawing, knitting or learning an instrument.

One unexpected benefit of the recent pandemic, has been the rise of online courses, accessible at any time of day to anyone with a computer.

Pre-pandemic, the Carers Centre in Tower Hamlets where I work had a light touch virtual learning programme. But since March 2020, all activities including learning solutions have moved solely online. At the time, there was no other option, as we tried to make sure carers had activities and learning opportunities available during lockdown.

Now that we are out of lockdown, we continue to be committed to online learning as an option for carers rather than going back to face to face learning as the only option.

While some carers cannot wait to come back to the Centre and take part in group classes, others have specifically requested that we continue with an online option.

Here are just some of the reasons why online learning can be a beneficial option for carers.

1. Learn at your own pace

Online learning allows us to set our own pace. Many online classes are pre-recorded, meaning that we can dip in and out as needed. For ‘live’ classes, timetables can be organised around caring and work responsibilities.

This makes it more likely that we can complete the whole course instead of missing classes because they clash with caring responsibilities. It also means there’s no need to give anything up. Studying online also teaches us vital time management skills, which can have benefits in other areas of our lives.

2. Plenty of choice

In a space as vast and wide as the internet, there are infinite skills and subjects to discover. Whether we’re looking to start a new hobby or gain a new qualification, the choice is almost endless.

Many universities or higher education programmes now offer online versions of their courses. From certificates to whole degrees taught online, from music composition to quantum physics. There’s even a qualification in caring – even though most carers could teach that course!

Studying online is an option for those of us carers who are hoping to earn an official certificate, diploma, or degree. In most cases we don’t even need to physically set foot on a university or college campus. And we can study when it suits us.

3. Find information and support

For new carers, or those of us whose caring situation changes, finding support and information videos related to the caring role or the condition of the person we care for can be really beneficial. It can help us to understand what the person we care for is dealing with. And ultimately make us feel less anxious and stressed in our caring role.

4. Teach or learn from anywhere

The flexibility online education provides enables us to study – or teach – from anywhere in the world. There’s no need to commute from one place to another, saving time and money which can be spent on other priorities.

Our virtual classroom is available anywhere there’s an internet connection, so we can study from home, or while we’re staying with the person we care for. If we are a carer with access issues that affect us getting to in-person classes, learning online can open up a world of possibilities.

5. Save money

Unlike in-person education and learning opportunities, online education tends to be more affordable. There’s also often a wide range of payment options that let us pay in instalments or per class, especially at Local Authority Adult Education facilities. This allows for better budget management – something of particular importance to us if we are on a fixed income.

There are sometimes special discounts or scholarships available to carers that are well worth investigating. We will often spend less taking an online course, but the results can be the same or even better than more expensive in-person options.

6. Design the learning experience we want

Flexibility can help us to set our own study pace and level of ability. New to learning a language or want to refresh your skills? There are classes available at all levels.

We will often have a one-on-one tutor. This allows for greater interaction and more feedback between us and our tutor.

Some final thoughts

These are only a few reasons to choose an online learning option, and many people now prefer it to a traditional classroom experience. When considering an online course, it’s good to think about our caring situation. This includes fitting learning alongside our caring work responsibilities before we decide if it meets our needs and goals. While this alternative to traditional education is not for everyone, it's a very convenient option with virtually endless options.

So remember, be brave, your caring experience means you can do anything you put your mind to!

Where can I find a course?

Here are a few companies and institutions that, between them, offer thousands of different courses to expand our world. With some offering free trials, and others starting from £9.99 per month up to £49.99 per month. Why not pop the kettle on, have a browse and be inspired. What will you learn?

Udemy logo

1. Udemy

Udemy is a great way for us to learn things we never thought we could get to - either because of time constraints, or because we’ve never come across somewhere that offers exactly what we are looking for.

With courses starting from £13.99, and a huge selection of courses to choose from, Udemy has something for everyone. From design to self development, or photography to music. What’s your pick?

FutureLearn logo

2. FutureLearn

If you’ve ever considered the Open University, then you will most likely love FutureLearn. Jointly owned by the Open University, they offer online courses and degrees from top universities across the globe!

These include King's College in the UK as well as John Hopkins University in America. And even Monash University, all the way on the other end of the world in Australia. Ranging from Medicine, to Environmental Science and much more, tap into these courses at your own pace. You may discover a new career path.

FutureLearn offers a free seven day trial period on their shorter courses so why not give them a try? Then, we have the option to commit to a £36 monthly subscription.

Uptime logo

3. Uptime App

Perhaps we’re super tight on time but are still interested in learning new things at our fingertips. Then the Uptime App is perfect for this. With super-quick five minute knowledge hacks to dive into, extracted from books, documentaries and courses, we don’t need to do the searching - just absorbing!

Uptime also offers users a three day trial period for us to get familiar with their interface. And after that we have the option to commit to a £9.99 monthly subscription.

Shaw Academy logo

4. Shaw Academy

Calling all business savvy carers. With Shaw Academy, we can come out of a course with a real certification depending on our course range. These could be a free four week course, or an extended 16 week course at £49.99.

The flexible options means we are able to know exactly how long we need to set aside for online learning. If we are ambitious bunches, we can set a goal to complete this in a month.

Check out their range of courses from Digital Marketing, to Project Management here.

MasterClass logo

5. MasterClass

MasterClass sits on the higher end of the price spectrum. This is perfect for those of us who are fully dedicated to learning something particular. And the best part is we may recognise some of the faces running these courses!

From cooking with British Chef Gordon Ramsay, to music with American artist Alicia Keys. Or space exploration with Astrophysicists Neil deGrasse Tyson.

This way, MasterClass is a super fun way to learn our favourite subjects, from just £14 a month.

Coursera logo

6. Coursera

Finally, Coursera is also another great online course provider, in partnership with world-class universities and organisations.

Maybe the idea of learning something with Michigan University takes our fancy? Or Facebook and Google? Explore their courses to build new skill sets now!

Get access to unlimited 3,000+ courses, guided projects, and earn a professional certificate with Coursera plus, from $59 a month.

Virtual Village Hall logo

7. The Virtual Village

Carers in the Mobilise community have also been vocal about the courses they enjoy online. Particularly, the Virtual Village which offers a range of fun online activity classes spanning from sewing to zumba.

One carer in our community shared that she enjoys their Laughter Yoga sessions with Tess Sanderson. And better yet, they're free through Facebook! Why not have a go at your first Laughter Yoga class today?

Finally, we can also check our local authority for which learning options they offer. Many councils have Adult Education centres and local colleges. If you are from Tower Hamlets, do check out their Carers Academy. They offer a range of training on technical skills, first aid, and condition-specific diagnoses.

You might also like:

Digital skills for carers

The impact of unpaid caring

Embracing technology that brings us together

About the author

Tony Collins-Moore is manager for education, training, peer support and volunteer management at Carers Centre Tower Hamlets.