Distance Learning


Need qualifications for that new civilian career? You don’t have to become a full-time student to earn them.

Adapted from CivvyStreet Magazine, September 2013. Words: Paul Cockburn

What’s your idea of ‘a student’? Someone who spends a lot of time in the student bar, or sleeping at the back of a lecture hall? Truth is, lots of students nowadays are just like you; they seldom, if ever, set foot on the campus at all.

The last few decades have seen a significant rise in “distance learning”, where you study and learn remotely from the institution. As with most things in world today, this has benefited greatly from the rise of the internet, though many courses haven’t entirely given up on paper and print. Nevertheless, it’s even possible now to remotely sit your exams anywhere in the world as long as you have a secure internet connection.

Convenience is key; distance learning enables you to work at your own pace, fitting your study time into your life rather than the other way round. And it’s not just the simpler qualifications we’re talking about here; you can study for everything from the simplest certificate (needing only a few hours study, probably completed over a few days) to degrees and postgraduate qualifications that will require several years’ commitment.

Many providers will also include either the accreditation of prior learning (APL) or the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS) in their distance learning courses. These mean you can gain credit for any previous learning or relevant experience gained from your time in the Armed Forces – ensuring that you don’t waste time repeating things you’ve already done.

The choice in distance courses can be confusing, but the sheer numbers now around mean that you certainly should be able to find the right course and qualifications for you. Many come from long-established higher education (HE) and further education (FE) providers; only this June, the University of Lincoln added three work-based distance learning degrees in aerospace engineering, communications engineering and communications management. That said, don’t ignore the options provided by large private companies, trade bodies and professional organisations.

Check with both the CTP (Careers Transition Partnership) and your Service education and training staff, for advice on both the range of distance learning courses available and potential funding options from the Armed Forces. You may even be able to access e-learning facilities through your nearest learning centre.

Information about distance learning (from providers based in England, Wales and Northern Ireland) is available through learndirect, including the many courses and learning centres it runs itself. Alternatively, you can check out the website of the Open and Distance Learning Quality Council, which is the “UK guardian of quality in open and distance learning”; check out the “Find an accredited provider” link on their homepage.

The two biggest providers of distance learning based in the UK are the Open University (OU) and the National Extension College (NEC); both offer various discounts and specialised support to Armed Forces personnel, which may well explain why around 4,000 Service personnel will be studying with the OU at any particular time.

Although some courses will be approved for standard learning credits and enhanced learning credits (even after you leave the Services), you’ll nevertheless have to partly fund your own learning; so it makes sense to be sure what the final bill will be before you commit yourself.


01763 268120, www.courses4forces.co.uk

0800 101 901, www.learndirect.co.uk

0800 389 2839, www.nec.ac.uk


0845 300 6090, www.open.ac.uk


The OU ensures that Services personnel:

  • Only pay UK prices regardless of where they’re serving.
  • Can benefit from course discounts and financial assistance.
  • Can contact a special team devoted to assisting Armed Forces learners.

The NEC’s offers:

A “Forces learning scheme,” enabling Services personnel to acquire GCSEs, A-levels and a host of other specialist qualifications, use of Standard Learning Credits (SLC) and Enhanced Learning Credits to pay for courses, enrolment and examination at any time suitable to you.