Events and public defences
Marjo Joshi.

Dissertation: A holistic design framework for online degree programmes creates new possibilities for future higher education


In Finnish higher education (HE), there is a need to create new solutions for flexible education and respond to the needs of the future world of work. In her dissertation, MA Marjo Joshi studied online degree programmes (ODPs) as a HE delivery mode. The holistic design framework that Joshi created for the design of online degree education can help HE organisations provide ODPs that are accessible to students and beneficial to the wider HE community.

Finnish HE organisations are continuously developing the education they offer to meet the future needs of the digital and multicultural society. At the same time, there is a growing need for new modes of continuous learning. ODPs provided by HE organisations can offer one solution to these challenges.

The provision of online education has grown significantly following the COVID-19 pandemic. ODPs are not yet offered by all the HE organisations in Finland, although worldwide, they have been available for a long time.

The pedagogically informed framework created by Joshi can be used to support the holistic design and implementation of ODPs. The framework comprises three levels: organisational, pedagogical and online degree programmes.

“The framework works as a step-by-step guide for the design of ODPs, and it can be adopted in its entirety or by choosing relevant elements and principles”, Joshi states.

If an HE organisation decides to start the provision of ODPs, it places new demands to the organisation of education. Support from the management is especially important when moving to a new type of education. According to the research results, support is needed by both teachers and students.

When planning to provide online education as a new delivery mode, it is important for HE organisations to evaluate their digital readiness to offer degree education online. At the same time, the pedagogical approaches of the organisations must be applicable in the online education context, too.

“HE organisations can utilise the design framework to ensure common approaches to pedagogy and technology in online degree education. This also brings cost-effectiveness to the design process without competing with quality.”

According to the research results, the holistic approach to ODP design increases the accessibility of studies. This is an important finding, as online studies are likely to increase in the future. The holistic design also considers different learners and backgrounds.

Students as the focus of design

Joshi’s study details the design needs of HE organisations as providers of online degree education. However, the focus of the framework is on students.

“I wanted to focus on students and their experiences, as they are the end-users of the planned education. The student-centredness was realised through service design.”

Flexible study modes create opportunities for more personalised learning experiences.

“Students noted that equal access to and competence in studies can be supported by everyone learning to use the same tools.”

“In addition, teachers need support and training in leading multicultural groups online.”

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, many HE organisations have implemented hybrid education that combines campus-based and online education. Joshi’s study reveals that both ODP teachers and students need a closer connection between onsite and online environments. Therefore, it seems to be important to create connections to other HE delivery modes when designing online degree education.

“At its best, the holistic design of ODPs can support ODP students’ wellbeing by linking them to their own HE organisation and to the wider national and international community.”

In addition, sustainable development goals can be promoted in the design of ODPs through national collaboration, as students can be offered open and free online materials and tools to learn sustainable development competences.

Joshi has also been a part of the national eAMK Online Degrees Working Group that created future visions for ODPs in Finland. According to the visions, ODPs can be implemented in various ways, ranging from freely formed degrees by students to those that are more structured, combing different modes of collaboration amongst HE organisations.

Information on the public examination

MA Marjo Joshi’s dissertation Holistic design of online degree programmes in higher education - A pedagogically informed design framework will be publicly examined in the Faculty of Education at the University of Lapland on 2 March 2023 at 12 pm (lecture hall LS2, Yliopistonkatu 8, Rovaniemi). The opponent is Professor Som Naidu, Former Pro Vice-Chancellor, Professor and Director of the Center for Flexible Learning, the University of the South Pacific. The custos is professor Päivi Rasi-Heikkinen from the University of Lapland. The language of the public defence is English.

You can also watch the defence online at:

Information on the doctoral candidate

Marjo Joshi graduated from the University of Joensuu, Finland. Following her MA, Joshi worked as an Assessment Leader at a British education and examinations body in London.

Since 2005, she has worked at Turku University of Applied Sciences (Turku UAS) as a lecturer and online education trainer. In her current role at Turku UAS as Chief Advisor, Development of Education, she is responsible for the support and development of teaching and learning. She has also coordinated the Online Degrees Working Group as part of the national eAMK project, and currently she leads the project National Online Degree Programme Networks.

Further information

Marjo Joshi
Tel. +358 40 355 0378

Information on the publication

Marjo Joshi (2023): Holistic design of online degree programmes in higher education - A pedagogically informed design framework. Acta Electronica Universitatis Lapponiensis, nro 352. ISBN 978-952-337-349-5, ISSN 1796-6310. University of Lapland: Rovaniemi.

The permanent address of the electronic publication: