A Distance Learning degree offers a huge amount of flexibility, regardless of whether the Distance Learning student is a career changer, studying towards their first degree or an employed graduate looking to jump onto the next rung of the ladder. Lucy Harbour is a mother who juggles a part-time career, degree and a family - working three days a week at the Royal Institute of British Architects and studying towards an MSC in Green Economy via a Distance Learning programme at the
University of Bournemouth. She told The Guardian, "When you have a job and a child you don't have too much time to study. I need to keep earning but on the days when I'm not working I study from home.”
Many institutions are utilising developments in online technology in order to make it easier for students to take a degree without leaving their homes. On a Distance Learning course there are no tangible lectures to turn up to, allowing those with jobs or families extra flexibility. Instead, students enrolled on Distance Learning degree courses can get involved in webinars (lectures available online provide by the university) and have access to downloadable material - usually in PDF format. Assignments are also submitted online and lecturers can be available via email or over the phone. Some institutions, such as the
University of Exeter Business School give over the phone tutorials, according to Jonathon Gosling, Professor of Leadership Studies, "Distance learners get one hour of coaching a week and one hour of written preparation for each coaching session." Weekly tutorials are quite a rare phenomenon in UK Higher Education, usually being the preserve of Oxbridge.
And distance learning does not have to mean distance from contact and valuable networking with other students, academics and professionals - many Distance Learning programmes encourage students to volunteer, try to find relevant employment alongside their degree and network electronically with their student colleagues. OU Psychology student,
Jennie, wrote in her Whatuni Student Review, “[I]made some good online friends; everyone [was] very friendly.”Bob Willis, studying a degree in Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Leicester, has been able to network with students and lecturers online and has been volunteering on Archaeological Digs. He told The Guardian, "I am in a good position to find paid work."
Distance learning courses can, in some cases, last up to nine years although the usual timescale is six years, modularly. One of the UK’s largest providers of Distance Learning degrees is the
Open University (OU). Psychology student Jennie further states, “The course materials are extensive, the online activities and support and library is great, the course is very interesting and pitched at the right level.”
With the onset of online technology making it easier for Distance Learning and the state of the economy squeezing our pockets, many universities have clocked onto to the rising popularity of Distance Learning.
Matt M Jones