When you’ve chosen your academic subject, arranged your finances and are confident that you can fit learning into your lifestyle, you might still be wondering what kind of support you can expect on a distance learning course.
At a bricks and mortar institution, staff are on hand permanently to help with a range of questions on everything from admin arrangements to wellbeing issues, but can you really expect the same assistance on an online course?
Provided you pick a reputable institution, you’ll be glad to know that the answer is yes – there are various ways you can seek and receive support during a distance learning degree.
Although you can expect many of the same types of support that you’d receive at a physical campus from your online institution, because you’re remote, everything is delivered through technology – typically, some sort of online portal, account or Learning Management System (LMS).
Your LMS is the gateway to your virtual campus, so prestigious universities invest heavily in ensuring that it offers an excellent user experience (UX), meaning that it’s easy to access and work with from anywhere with internet coverage.
So LMS dashboards are designed so that you can use them intuitively and find the most important information fast – whether that’s teaching notes, module guides, discussion boards, multimedia presentations, assignment feedback or tutor contact details.
And as well as providing access to all of the academic staff responsible for your course, an LMS will also be backed by a dedicated IT team with the expertise to rapidly fix any unforeseen technical problems to ensure disruptions are minimised.
But no matter how simple your LMS is to use, as part of your onboarding process, any responsible university will have staff specially employed to help you get started with the system well in advance of you having to use it to commence your course proper.
Teaching quality might be even more important during a distance learning degree than it is at a physical campus – when a quality university designs an online version of one of its signature courses, or develops an entirely new course for remote students, maintaining its reputation depends on ensuring that your physical proximity isn’t detrimental to you enjoying an excellent learning experience.
So in a similar manner to a regular course, a distance learning degree or diploma will have a course leader who is a senior academic responsible for the course content, teaching and assessment, and specialist module tutors who are academic experts.
You may have more regular interaction with module tutors during your distance learning degree, but course leaders will probably be contactable too. You might see module tutor’s faces during video and multimedia presentations, but they’ll also be available via email and messaging services, and provide you with detailed feedback on assignments – all of the same levels of service delivery you’d expect on any course.
Distance learning universities recognise that many students who sign up for their courses already have significant responsibilities, which may include employment and family commitments.
There are many benefits of distance learning if you belong to one of these groups, but balancing your duties sometimes requires support and advice too. To help with this, your university will also have a team of non-academic support staff members well versed in helping you maintain motivation, enhance your resilience, improve your time management and boost your confidence as a learner.
These staff can also supply savvy advice on practical issues like funding, fees and scholarships, because a lack of clarity on any of these factors can compound other challenges in your academic and personal life.
Your distance learning provider won’t be able to guarantee that you make friends with classmates during your course.
But there’s every chance that positive relationships with fellow students will develop – and even although you might not meet up in person (unless it’s at graduation or for an in-person component of certain courses), empathic peer support and connecting with people from different cultures might end up being crucial catalysts for your academic success.
And don’t forget that the friendships you forge during your distance learning degree might last a lifetime and lead to you being part of an exciting international network of contacts.
Distance learning degrees are designed specifically for people with busy lifestyles – so as well as their in-built flexibility and accessibility, it’s vital for your success and that of your university that you’re supported from start to finish.
So although you may have little or no physical interactions with academic or support staff, any university that excels in its online education provision will harness technology to ensure your experience is second to none.
This means that your university will work hard to create an environment and provide a level of support that keeps you connected despite your physical distance from the campus – and can work towards earning an academic and vocational qualification that enhances your career prospects.
For more facts on distance learning, take a look at the following articles: