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Open and distance learning

distance learningIf you plan to continue your studies in further and higher education but cannot attend classes, distance or open learning may be the solution for you.

What is distance learning?

Distance learning, open learning, home study or correspondence courses describe courses, qualifications and training that can be completed from your own home.

Generally speaking, you don’t have to attend lessons, lectures or meetings. You will study the course in modules and will be given assignments: projects, essays or exams, to complete by a specific deadline. Depending on the course, completed work can be handed in online or sent in the post.

Advantages of open and distance learning

Flexible: Depending on your course, you can do the work when you have time. This is handy if you have children or other commitments during the week like a full-time job. If your circumstances change, you may even be able to defer completing your course until a more convenient time.

Live anywhere: Most distance learning can be done from home. Provided you have internet access or access to postal services, that means you can study from anywhere in the world.

Cost: Depending on the course you choose, a distance course may be less expensive than attending a university course. This is not always the case however.

Accreditation: It’s now possible to study a lot of nationally recognised qualifications through distance learning. So, while you are broadening your knowledge, you can also gain a qualification that can help boost your career prospects.

Disadvantages of distance learning

Discipline: You will need to complete assignments under your own steam if you are to meet deadlines. If you are the type of person who needs someone else to crack the whip to get things done, distance learning may not be a sensible option for you.

Specific time demands and constraints: Depending on the type of distance learning course you are doing, you may be expected to complete assignments that involve shadowing a professional or getting work experience. For example, someone studying a distance journalism course may need to attend a council meeting to report on proceedings. This may mean the work is less flexible than other courses. Watch out for this, especially if you have other commitments that could conflict.

No classmates: Sometimes it’s nice to discuss what you’re doing with other people in the class. But with distance learning you will rarely get a chance to talk to other people doing the same course. At times, this can make distance learning lonely compared to something like studying at university.

Funding: Depending on the distance learning course, you may not be eligible for the same kinds of funding that you would be if you were studying full-time at college or university. Make sure you’re aware what loans, grants or discounts you’re eligible for.

What courses can you do through distance learning?

You can pretty much do anything from bachelor's degree courses to MBAs, BTECs, NVQs, A-levels, GCSEs and specialist training courses.
The Open University is a good starting point for distance degrees, or try one of the following distance learning providers for other qualifications:

What to think about when looking for a distance learning course

Contact time or support from tutors and teachers:
Some courses let you email or call the course tutor at specific times for help. Others may have an element of contact time with a tutor and others may have no contact. Think about how much you would like when looking at different courses.

Cost: If you’re worried about paying a lot of money upfront, find out if they offer a payment programme so you can spread payments over several months. Also see if you’re eligible for discounts, loans or grants.

Qualifications: As well as knowledge, you’ll probably want an accredited qualification out of your course. If you’ve never heard of the qualification offered, check online to see where else this qualification is accepted.

Do you need to buy any extra books or equipment? This will add to the cost of the course. Make sure you don’t get caught out and budget for these things.

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