This person is learning from home.

Is long-distance education a good idea?

Long-Distance Education

Long-distance online education allows students to learn without necessarily being in the same location as the tutor. There are many advantages of distance learning, it gives them the opportunity to study and complete courses online, even if they’re not able to attend a university or college.

Does it work?

There can be lots of reasons for being obliged to stay in your home district, and maybe even in your house – work or personal commitments, or a crisis of some sort, can make it impossible to move away from your local area, or to comply with a fixed academic timetable, for example. Online learning can be particularly suitable for mature students who may have families or jobs.

Books supporting laptop to signify online learning

Distance learning programmes enable students to fit studies around their own lifestyle, progressing at a speed and time that is convenient for them. Classes can take place online (and full time), through tapes or by mail, and can be taken anywhere at any time.

Excitingly, it isn’t only confined to your country of residence – it’s a method that also permits you to enrol at a university abroad without leaving home, earning an online degree from Europe or elsewhere that will benefit your career prospects, and bring you into contact with other cultures and ways of doing things.

However, there’s no need to worry that you’ll be doing it on your own, with no backup or feedback. Assignments and activities will be supported by help from a tutor, and you’ll be able to talk to other distance learning students by email or phone, and by logging on to forums and virtual conferences.

person typing on laptop

Direct contact will come from day schools and weekends away, where you will work as part of a team. You’ll be able to continue this project by chatting with other team members afterwards, until another residential period assesses progress.

Historical Context

In the UK, the well-established discipline of long-distance education goes back to Victorian times, with the establishment of correspondence courses, when work was received and dispatched by post, leading to qualifications that would otherwise have been out of the reach of ordinary people.

Enthusiastically received, it helped them to further their education, leading in some cases to better job prospects. At the very least, it helped to widen experiences, and to increase confidence, so that the importance of education was better understood.

Today, access to the internet and to computers has made this a much more popular and practical alternative, with materials received instantly. Tutorial support comes the same way or via emails, but phone calls still play a part, and of course, summer schools provide personal contact, giving students the chance to interact.

The Drawbacks

The social side of not being campus-based does have its drawbacks, of course, but online courses contact those and send virtual forums, together with dedicated support from staff, help to offset this. Without classes and face-to-face tutorials, students also need to be more disciplined in applying themselves to their obligations, but this more relaxed and adaptable form of working does reduce tension and pressure.

The Open University is the biggest provider in distance learning courses for undergraduates, and also runs short courses that are free, but many universities offer something similar. Others like the Oxford Learning College also specialise in this method, the possibility of lower fees also makes learning from home an attractive proposition.

With A-levels, undergraduate and postgraduate courses, reaching up to professional level, students can be confident that their qualifications are up to the same standard as those for conventional studies. This provides a workable option for those who, for one reason or another, can’t take the more conventional educational route, increasing their confidence and expertise.

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