Distance learning degrees – the right choice?

Student taking distance learning degree
A number of universities offer degrees that you can study from home, known as online degrees or distance learning degrees. There’s plenty of choice, but make sure you won’t miss out on the other advantages that university life can bring.

Want to get a degree from home? There are a number of courses known as online degrees or distance learning degrees that are worth looking into. Some universities use one name and some use the other, so we’ve used the two terms interchangeably.

What are online degrees or distance learning degrees?

  • Online or distance learning degrees allow students to study from their own home without the need to move to a new city to study on campus.
  • Study materials such as ebooks, video lectures and presentations are made available online, allowing students to study from anywhere. Some courses, such as those offered by the Open University, also provide textbooks; however other universities may require you to source your own through libraries or booksellers.
  • There is some degree of interactivity and students can take part in online seminars through video chats and forums (or webinars) and receive feedback from tutors via email and video chat.
  • Some distance learning degrees will require you to take exams. In these instances you’ll either have to travel to the campus or an associated learning centre (such as another university) to sit the exam.

Research online degrees carefully

Be careful when searching for distance learning degrees as you may come across massive open online courses (MOOCs) and online courses. These courses do not offer any degree level qualification and a few charge enrolment fees. However, plenty of other online courses are free and can offer an insight into higher education and the distance learning experience.

If you’re looking to undertake any distance learning, make sure to research the courses you’re interested in thoroughly to see whether they’ll offer you the level of interactivity and support that you’ll require and whether you’ll earn the qualification you’re looking for.

How long do online degree courses take to complete?

The time taken to complete an online degree depends on the time you are able to commit to study. A typical campus-based undergraduate degree takes around three years to complete and an online degree can take between three to six years. Degrees from the Open University give you the ability to take your time with your studies; however, there will be a time limit within which you must complete your degree. This is usually 16 years, but for courses such as law this period is much shorter (six years).

UK universities offering distance learning

UK universities that offer distance learning undergraduate degrees include:

The Open University and Arden University specialise in distance learning degrees, though Arden University also has campuses in Birmingham and London offering blended learning. This is a mixture of using online resources and campus-based study and allows you to complete a degree in three years. However, the time you need to commit to attending lectures and seminars is much less than on a campus-based degree (usually around two days per week, rather than three to five).

When searching for online degrees it’s important that you ensure that it’s delivered through a reputable university. Follow the link for a list of officially recognised universities.

Entry requirements for distance learning degrees

Entry requirements for distance learning degrees vary depending on what you study and which university provides the course. For example, to study management with Anglia Ruskin University, you need GCSE English and maths at grade C or above and 200 UCAS points (on the pre-September 2017 tariff) at A level. However, for entry onto an undergraduate degree at the Open University there are no academic entry requirements.

Online degree cost

The cost of online degrees varies from university to university. The average price of an undergraduate degree from the Open University is £17,184 and a degree at Arden University will cost around £13,500. Other universities charge anywhere between £13,000 and £18,000, so be sure to check what different universities charge when investigating courses.

On an online degree the way fees are paid can be more flexible than on a campus-based degree. Many of them allow you to pay for modules as you study them, rather than paying the fees up front or splitting them into termly payments.

Just like campus-based study, fees for an online degree can be funded by Student Finance. This way you can begin studying and only pay back your fees once you start earning over a certain amount. You can find out more about tuition fees and funding here.

How will I interact with tutors on a distance learning degree?

There will usually be some form of exposure to tutors, most likely in the form of recorded lectures. You may also be able to interact with tutors directly via video chat or phone and you’ll generally be able to contact tutors and support staff (such as technical support) via email.

Will I get to interact with other students?

Because of advances in technology, distance learning does allow you to interact with other students to some extent. Like campus-based study, whole classes enrol on courses at a time and it’s common for the university to provide forums where students can discuss the subject material or online lectures.

Julie Stone, director of University of Derby Online Learning (UDOL) comments, ‘The computer is your gateway to a whole community of students from across the world that you can constantly interact with while being supported by a professional academic team. UDOL provides students with social spaces such as discussion forums where students can talk to each other and live webinars where they can contact their academic team.’

We also spoke to Emma Dodd, brand and campaign manager at Arden University, about how students there interact with each other. She said, ‘Students can interact via forums to discuss key topics and assignments and interact with the tutors. Tutors post discussion ideas, engage in forum conversations and host live chat sessions and webinars to help students understand the study materials.’

How respected are distance learning degrees?

Academically, distance learning degrees are of the same standard as degrees achieved through conventional campus-based study. However, it should be taken into consideration that studying for a degree in this way may mean missing out on some opportunities that campus-based study offers, such as:

  • moving to a new location – moving into halls or a student house may not seem like a valuable experience, but it can indicate to employers that you’re self-sufficient and unafraid to embrace new challenges
  • joining societies – becoming a member of a society is a great way to develop social skills that employers value, such as teamwork and communication, and holding a committee position (such as president or treasurer) will develop leadership skills and demonstrate your responsibility
  • networking at careers events – careers fairs are arranged by the university and bring together recruiters from different sectors to give you the opportunity to meet and speak with potential future employers
  • part-time jobs – a lot of students take on a part-time job at university, which are great for developing skills such as customer service and time management as well as giving you valuable work experience to put on your CV.

It would be possible to gain part-time work and similar experiences and skills while studying for a distance learning degree; however, the opportunities may be harder to come across without the services that universities provide such as student jobs boards, careers services and society fairs.

Stephen Isherwood, chief executive of the Institute of Student Employers, an organisation comprised of some of the largest graduate employers in the UK, spoke to us about distance learning degrees and how graduates with them can maximise their chances of employment. He said, ‘Employers should treat a degree from an officially recognised university the same as any other degree, so when you’re job hunting the same rules apply. This means making your application relevant and strengthening your academic achievements by highlighting any work experience.’

We also spoke to a recruiter from a construction and engineering employer to ask how her firm values distance learning degrees. She told us that if a candidate undertook their bachelors degree through distance learning it wouldn’t count against them. She also said that it would usually show that they had made a deliberate career choice; however, the candidate’s application might not be as strong as an application from a candidate who completed their degree through campus-based study. This is because they would have had fewer opportunities to get involved with student societies and group activities.

Whether you undertake a distance learning degree or study on campus, what is important to employers is a good grade and evidence of extracurricular activities such as a part-time job or membership of a club or society. These allow you to demonstrate the skills employers look out for alongside academic achievement such as organisation, time management, customer service and teamwork.

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