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Preparing to learn at a distance > What you need for online learning

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Computer Equipment

In order to learn online you will need access to a computer with appropriate software which is connected to the internet, either in your home, place of work or elsewhere, for example a library. The important thing is that these facilities are suitable for your course and always available when you need them.

Already have a computer?
If your computer is less than five years old it should meet the computing requirements for most courses but you will need to check that you have the necessary version of any software needed to study your chosen course. See also Factors to consider.

Buying a new computer?
Any good quality desktop personal computer, laptop, netbook or tablet PC should be fine.

Factors to consider:

  1. Operating systems: Windows (XP upwards), Mac (OSX) or Linux (modern release) are all suitable. Older operating systems may not support the software required for your course. 
  2. Screen size: the small screen and keyboard on portable computers may be a disadvantage if you are going to work for long periods on your computer.
  3. Speed: high-speed processor and large memory (RAM) help programmes to run efficiently.
  4. Internet access: if studying from home you will need an account with an internet service provider (ISP), a company that will provide the hardware and software you need to connect your computer the internet.
  5. Internet connection: a fast broadband or network connection is preferable to a telephone dial-up connection, particularly where media-rich applications are used.
  6. Web browser (a software program which enables you to view internet content including the VLE): Internet Explorer 7 and above, Firefox 3.4, Google Chrome will usually be required to ensure that resources created for online learning work properly.
  7. Software: word processing, presentation and spreadsheet software will be required for learning activities on most courses. These are usually available in an 'package' like Microsoft Office (Windows and Mac), Open Office (Windows, Mac and Linux) or iWork (Mac only). Other software may be specified for individual courses.
  8. Storing your work: you will need to keep copies of your work, both while in progress and after completion. Useful storage devices include: a CD or DVD writer or a separate portable hard drive.
  9. Assistive technology: if you need special software to use your computer, such as a screen magnifier or a screen reader, you will need to check the compatibility of the software with the required applications. As a student in higher education, you can apply for a Disabled Students Grant from your Local Education Authority. You will be assessed at a local assessment centre, and the grant will cover the costs of any additional software or equipment that you need to work on this module.
  10. Printer access.

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Computer skills

To use a computer effectively you will need to be able to:

Need to improve your computer skills?
You will find some excellent free online tutorials, including a helpful A-Z glossary of computer-related terms, on the BBC's Webwise website.

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