need not take place face-to-face with a teacher or tutor. Increasingly distance
learning is the method of choice for many, particularly post-graduates.
Harrison of the Open and Distance Learning Quality Council discusses the real
advantages for post-graduate study, the drawbacks of distance, and gives some
pointers on choosing the right course.
Distance learning is not a
new idea. But more and more people today find it the most suitable way to master
new skills and qualifications.
The obvious attractions of
distance learning are the flexibility and the capacity to fit learning to
lifestyle. Study wherever is convenient, at times to suit, at a speed you set,
and start dates are not necessarily fixed to an outdated academic calendar.
In recent years, the
choice of courses has expanded to cover practically any subject, and these lead
to a wide range of qualifications, from GCSEs to Masters and Doctorates.
The Internet is creating
new possibilities. The advocates of “e-learning” argue that it will
revolutionize education. One American university has gone so far as to insist
students take at least one online course a year.
“Home study” need not mean
second class or unsupported. Success rates are often higher than for traditional
learning, as distance learners have more control over their studies and the
motivation to excel.
High quality course
materials are specially devised to optimize learning at a distance. Each student
has an individual expert tutor, drawn from amongst the best in the country, to
provide professional guidance, support and encouragement, which may be by
correspondence, telephone, fax or e-mail. Where hands on experience is
essential, for instance in the healing arts, this can be provided through
Nor should learners feel
lonely. Peer-group contact and discussions can take place, either locally,
through special sessions, or using new technologies such as e-mail chat groups.
Larger providers will also have student and careers advisers, ready to help and
However, distance has
disadvantages. It is essential to assess any provision carefully to ensure
likely outcome matches aspiration, that there is adequate support, and above all
that the course is of a high quality. Learners with ODL QC-accredited providers
are covered by the ODL QC Guarantee. Those who receive a poor service, or have a
dispute they cannot resolve can write to ODL QC who will look into their case.
With other providers, such support may not be available.
Motivation can be higher
amongst those in the correspondence community, but commitment and stamina are
essential to complete courses. Learners who lack the will power to ‘get down to
work’ or the time management skills to organize their studies will find it
harder to succeed. When choosing a course prospective learners must be pragmatic
about their own abilities and the time necessary for any program of study.
distance learning can be a particularly effective.
Learners who wish to
obtain a specific qualification, such as MSc or Doctorate, are more likely to be
able to judge whether any provision will give the required result. In addition,
a first degree (gained via distance or traditional methods) will have taught
study skills and organizational techniques.
Post-grads with analytical
skills can take advantage of the wealth of courses offered by international
providers. The US is a particularly strong player in distance learning and with
careful selection, learners anywhere can benefit from a world-class provision in
practically any subject.
According to figures from
The Open University, a high proportion of post-graduate diplomas are now gained
via distance methods. There is no single reason for this but the key is
undoubtedly the flexibility that distance learning allows.
Graduates may decide on
extra qualifications once established in work to enhance or change their career.
After university students often wish to experience “real life”, and to undertake
any further study whilst working. The value, both monetary and through the eyes
of employers, is great. In practical terms, it allows learners to fund their
studies and gain financial independence. Costs, particularly transport and
residential, are kept to a minimum.
qualifications alone are not enough to climb the career ladder. Whilst demanding
highly educated staff, employers also seek evidence of transferable skills, and
often demand relevant professional experience. Distance learning is the ideal
way to meet this challenge. What better way to prove organizational skills,
flexibility and motivation? Indeed, many courses are run in partnership with
employers, who provide time and money to support training.
Every learner wants to choose a high-quality, relevant provision. A new booklet
from the Open and Distance Learning Quality Council (ODL QC) shows how to
identify a quality provision and find the right course. Entitled “Distance
Learning Courses: A Buyers Guide”, it is available upon request.
Established by government
as the official accrediting body for Open and Distance Learning, the Council has
30 years unrivalled experience of ensuring excellence. ODL QC aims to ensure
learning is flexible, friendly, and above all secure.
allows providers to display the ODL QC Guarantee, gives learners much needed
reassurance as to the quality of the opportunities on offer in the rapidly
expanding “home-study” sector. For details of ODL QC Accredited Providers (and
the courses they offer) contact ODL QC at the address below.