Distance Learning - Woman at Laptop with Headset

How Does Distance Learning Work?

24th September 2019

Distance learning works by using PCs, tablets, phones and the internet so that you can study from remote locations like your home or office, rather than attending a university campus. It’s a flexible solution for fitting higher education around work and family commitments.

A distance learning degree from a reputable institution carries as much academic and vocational value as its traditional counterpart and this learning method can be particularly beneficial to people who want to change career, earn a promotion or simply satisfy their thirst for knowledge.

Understanding the details of how distance learning works can help you decide whether it’s appropriate for your educational and career journey – read this blog for the lowdown.

How do you learn virtually?

The concept of distance learning predates the dawn of the internet and has its roots in the correspondence courses of the 19th Century, where students were sent study materials and assignments through the post and corresponded with tutors via snail mail.

But these days, most universities have progressed from emailing materials to students to creating virtual campuses which, in terms of teaching quality, student support and accessibility, are incredibly rich and immersive.

For example, ARU Distance Learning’s Learning Management System (LMS) Canvas equalises higher learning opportunities for remote students through functionality that includes:

  • An intuitive dashboard that offers an excellent user experience with easy navigation and access to vital coursework in a few clicks – from a variety of electronic devices like phones and tablets.
  • Optimisation that provides access to module guides, teaching notes supporting documents and class activities on your phone.
  • Real-time feedback that ensures you’re always up to date with the latest course developments and multimedia functions that offer an integrated learning experience.
  • Embedded video for engaged and stimulating learning.
  • Discussion boards where you can chat to fellow students about coursework or anything else that’s on your mind.
  • Real-time technology that allows polls during lectures and rapid assignment feedback.

Whichever distance learning institution you choose, ensuring that it offers the type of LMS described above is reassuring if you’re a student who wants your remote learning experience to work efficiently and be as inclusive and fulfilling as possible.

What Study Materials And Teaching Methods Are Used In Distance Learning?

In simple terms, the study materials you use for distance learning will be electronic versions of those you’re already more familiar with from bricks and mortar schools, colleges or universities.

You’ll probably communicate via email and possibly some sort of live chat system, but you’ll also have access to a secure online portal where you’ll find the following:

  • Academic coursebooks, guides and supplementary literature in electronic formats.
  • Live or pre-recorded lectures from course tutors.
  • Virtual seminars led by tutors where you might see tutors via video link or hear live audio and interact with staff and classmates in real time.
  • Access to third-party, recommended video and audio materials which allow you to study from your mobile phone as well as your tablet or PC.

In other words, modern universities who offer distance learning course options ensure that you receive the same volume and standard of course materials you’d expect from a regular course. However, the formats and delivery methods are different and designed to make your study as versatile as possible, while always maintaining high teaching and learning standards.

What hardware and software do I need for a Distance Learning Course?

If you have a decent PC, Mac or tablet, the larger screen size will make completing coursework and watching videos at home more manageable, but many providers have optimised their delivery systems so that you can also study on the move on your mobile phone.

You’ll also need a reliable internet connection, a browser like Chrome or Explorer and perhaps regular office software like Excel and Word.

So making sure that you’re set up properly needn’t be expensive or complex, but check recommendations and requirements with your course provider at the earliest opportunity.

How Long Does It Take To Complete A Distance Learning Course?

The amount of time it takes to complete a distance learning course depends on whether you’re studying part-time (which is often the case) or full-time, and on the academic level of the qualification you’re earning.

In order to ensure you’re fully aware of the time investment required, you should confirm course length with your provider as early as possible, but here’s a general guide:

  • A part time Certificate of Higher Education (Cert HE) can be completed in 18 months.
  • A part-time Foundation Degree (FdA) can be finished in 30 months.
  • A Bachelor’s Degree with Honours (BA Hons) can be completed in 3 - 4 years while you work.
  • A part-time Master of Business Administration (MBA) takes 2-2.5 years of part-time study.
  • A Master of Science (MSc) requires 2-3 years when studying part time.

Distance learning providers try to be as fluid as possible with their course offerings, so for instance, if you’re unable to devote 2-3 years to achieving an MSc, you can study the same subject to Postgraduate Certificate (PG Cert) or Postgraduate Diploma (PG Dip) level in less time and still emerge with a valuable vocational qualification.

And to enhance flexibility further, there are often several intakes for distance learning courses per year – you may find that there are January, May and September intakes.

Do I Need To Attend In Person For Parts Of My Distance Learning Course?

Some distance learning courses can be completed entirely online and remotely.

However, certain courses include components that require you to attend your institution’s physical campus, or another prearranged location, for a limited time.

A good example of this are distance learning football coaching degrees, which sometimes have a mandatory one week residential each year. This allows students to meet their tutors, catch up with classmates in person and also hear from specially invited guests who are thought leaders within the sports sector.

If you like the idea of spending some time during your course attending this type of module in person, it might provide more variety to your learning experience, but if you’re unable to commit to travelling for any reason, this might mean you should look for another type of course which doesn’t have these requirements.

How Can I Balance My Distance Learning With Other Commitments?

Flexibility is at the heart of distance learning, therefore it’s possible that you can increase or decrease your course workload at different points if your circumstances change unexpectedly.

However, you’ll be expected to make a commitment to study an average amount of hours per week in order to complete your course to the expected timescale and graduate with your qualification as planned.

So although you can choose where and when you study with distance learning, there are no shortcuts to committing to the hours required.

Therefore, before applying to your course, ask your provider how many hours on average are required each week and be sure that, all things being equal, you can fit this around your existing work and family duties.

Is Distance Learning A Popular Choice For Students?

Distance learning is becoming more prevalent and popular:

  • A recent Universities UK report reveals that online learning makes up almost 8 percent of all provision at British Higher Education institutions and the number of UK institutions offering online courses increased from 102 in 2010-11 to 117 in 2016-17.
  • The same paper reports that 16 percent of online students entered with lower or no formal qualifications and 83 percent were aged 25 or over, while the most popular distance learning subjects include Business Studies and Social Studies.
  • The Higher Education Statistical Authority (HESA) reports that since 2011, the number of US students studying online at UK universities has increased by 26 per cent and Australian and South African numbers have risen by 125 percent and 135 per cent respectively.

So if you choose to embark on a distance learning course, you can be confident that this learning method works well for students from around the globe and you’ll probably meet and make friends with classmates from many interesting and diverse cultures.

Key Takeaways About How Distance Learning Degrees Work

Here’s a summary of the different ways distance learning works – it might help you decide whether it’s an attractive option for you:

  • Distance learning works by delivering lectures, seminars and course materials over the internet to your PC, tablet or phone.
  • You don’t need expensive hardware of software to start a distance learning course, but you do need a reliable internet connection.
  • Many distance learning courses are studied part-time and can be completed in between 18 months and three years, depending on their academic level.
  • You can balance distance learning courses them with other commitments, but you’ll still need to dedicate enough time to study each week.
  • UK distance learning courses are popular with students from around the world.

Distance learning is an agile learning option that allows students to study from practically any location.

So if you want to smoothly migrate to a new employment sector without giving up your current job straight away and full-time learning isn’t viable, it might work particularly well for you.

To find out more about distance learning, please browse the following blogs: