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Adults used to be the largest online student population before the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the number of online students multiplied during the pandemic, and now includes the complete conglomeration of all student groups. Due to their longer experience of online education, adult students continue to provide valuable insights on how to enhance online learning for other higher education students. This article reports the results of phenomenographic research on the qualitative differences in the ways of experiencing learning by fifteen adult students enrolled in two online postgraduate programmes. The analysis on in-depth, participant-led interviews demonstrated that online learning is conceptualised in three ways: as an investment, as a process that brings structure, and as a process that enables and empowers an individual. The results of this study are of particular importance for those who are concerned with introducing online learning to the higher education curricula. The paper argues that the stigma of online education being the second choice, maintained in the educational research literature, should be replaced by a holistic approach to education as a process that organically incorporates the online educational elements into higher education. Focusing on how adult students experience online learning provides a broader and deeper understanding of adopted effective practices and the variety of online learning opportunities and outcomes for other students’ groups. Insights based on the results of this study are summarised.
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