Distance learning can be a flexible, time efficient way of learning from home in your own time, without being in regular, face-to-face contact with teachers or lecturers in the classroom.
Traditionally it was correspondence based, but with the advent of the internet, distance learning is booming! You are supplied with learning materials by the college or university providing your course, which can be usually accessed via the internet.
You will still have one-to-one tutorials, but these will take place remotely by phone, email, Skype or webinars. Most courses now have message boards and study forums where students on the same course can discuss their studies.
Courses can include summer schools or residential weekends where you can work with fellow students on a specific project.
Why choose distance learning?
Distance learning is a fantastic option for thousands of people (around 200,000 people are studying this way each year), for a variety of reasons:
Allows you to work and learn at the same time; gain qualifications that will improve your career without giving up work
Flexibility to fit your studies around your work and family commitments
Access to education even if you live in remote areas, or have health issues or disabilities that make going to university difficult
Cheaper tuition fees, and reduces associated costs of campus based university life
Quality of the course and qualifications are the same as campus based programmes
Distance learning courses often have lower entrance requirements (Open University does not require you to have any specific qualifications to enrol)
There are a few downsides, however. You will miss out on the social aspect of campus life, and you will not have access to resources like the University library or regular contact with your lecturers.
Part time or full time study?
A major advantage of distance learning is the level of flexibility of scheduling your learning around your day to day life. One of the first and most important decisions you will need to make in this regard is whether you will study part time or full time.
Part time study
The part time option is popular as it allows you the time to study and work at the same time. 70% of Open University students work full time whilst studying and most will spend around 16-18 hours a week on their course, taking them six years to complete a full undergraduate degree.
Before considering a distance learning course whilst you work have a think about whether you have enough time to dedicate to your studies. You can use this Open University tool to work out how much time you might have free for studying. It will also advise how many credits you will have time to study for per year, based on the information you give.
If you think you would struggle to find the time, try to think of creative ways to fit your study around your day. Could you listen to any audio material on your drive to work?
The obvious downside of studying part time is that it will take you a long time to get your qualification. If you are in no rush then this is not a problem, but if you want to qualify quickly you will need to consider dedicating more time to your studies.
Full time study
If you study full time, you will be expected to spend around 35 hours a week on your course. This is not an unreasonable amount of time if you are not working, or if you work a few part time hours, but if you work full time it will probably be too much to handle.
It can be tempting to try and tackle as much as possible, but if you are working full time it is recommended you do not study for more than 18 hours a week. By keeping your study manageable you give yourself the best chance of getting good grades.
If you can dedicate yourself full time to your studies then you could complete an undergraduate course in three years.
What is available?
The obvious option if you are considering distance learning is The Open University. They have an extensive choice of courses you can study and plenty of tools and resources that make distance learning easy.
Many universities also offer distance learning courses, for example the University of Leicester, Derby, Aberdeen and Reading all offer distance learning options. Start by deciding upon the subject you would like to study and pick the course that best suits you.
Visit The Complete University Guide website for a resource of the main UK distance learning providers.
The amount you pay should not differ whether you choose full or part time. For example, if you chose a course with The Open University, you pay per module.
So if you wanted to study a Bsc in Biology, you would pay £5,572 per year to study full time (taking three years to complete), or £2,786 per year to study part time (six years to complete). You should check the fee structure with the university before you apply.