Attending college or university isn’t for everybody. The idea of being part of a predominantly younger student body can strike some as unappealing. Fortunately, there are alternatives. Correspondence courses (also known as distance learning) mean that study can be done on an individual basis in your own home and in your own time, meaning that you can fit it around other work/life commitments.
The idea of distance learning dates back to the 1850’s when the University of London became the first university to offer degree courses by correspondence. The idea caught on quickly and was copied by many other institutions but took a real leap forward in the late 1960’s when the Open University was set up, embracing new technology such as televised lectures to bring learning opportunities to a wider audience. The tradition has continued with many distance learning courses utilising the internet for tutor – student communication, delivery of work and of course, lectures that can be viewed ‘on demand’.
Distance learning is a simple idea. Instead of attending seminars and lectures in person, you access course materials and are set tasks to complete by correspondence, using mail or online delivery methods. All the while you communicate and receive support from your allocated tutor by email or phone.
The two methods you’ll need to choose between when it comes to selecting your study are paced and self-paced. The paced model usually runs concurrently with the same course being taught on the campus of the institution you’re studying with and is the most common form of distance learning.
Paced learning offers advantages to the institution you’re studying with in terms of teacher workload, planning and delivery of learning, tuition deadlines and examinations, which can all be conveniently synchronized (with the campus based course). The hidden benefit for students is that a course with set deadlines to think about means you’re likely to get things done and make progress with the other students. (Speaking of other students, you could also collaborate with people at the same point on the course if you care to.)
Paced courses won’t suit everyone and so some institutions, such as the Open University specialise in self-paced learning. This method of learning will work for those who either want to finish the course quickly or for students that have other commitments (family, jobs and the like) that need to be given precedence. This gives students the freedom to commence and finish a course when they like, through continuous enrolment. If there is a downside to self-paced learning it might be that without a schedule or deadlines to consider, procrastination can become problematic. You’ll need discipline and motivation to make it work.
For Service-leavers that need to get a specific qualification in order to compete in the job market for a particular role, distance learning is a smart way of using your resettlement period. Distance learning also allows you to study from anywhere in the world. It’s likely to take longer than studying full time, but distance learning has allowed thousands to get qualifications – from HNCs to MBAs – that would otherwise have been out of reach. In other words, you could start studying before you arrive back home. Information on the hundreds of colleges and universities offering distance learning courses is available through your unit’s education officer or your nearest education centre.
Distance learning students aren’t just left to fend for themselves. Most colleges and universities have a large available archive of resources that is backed up by regular support from a tutor. The tutor’s responsibility is to help you to work through coursework and assignments, providing ideas and critique of your work which will go towards your final grade or prepare you for examinations, depending on the course.
Support also extends to taking part in online or phone tutorials and seminars with staff and other students. Online forums are not unusual and can be an interesting way to get a new perspective on topics.
Tutorials are largely optional but they present an opportunity to meet your tutor and fellow students to discuss feedback on your assignments. For some courses residential or day schools are held at various locations around the UK. (Attendance may sometimes be a required component to pass the course.)
Distance learning can also prove to be a cost effective way of gaining qualifications. Tuition fees are expensive and taking up a correspondence course can be much cheaper. The other cost savings stem from not having to travel to the campus or purchasing as many books, since much of the learning collateral is presented electronically.
Distance learning puts the student in control of what they want to learn and how they want to progress through the course. Whilst it still takes hard work and dedication to succeed, the fact that distance learning does not require a full time commitment can make it an easier and more convenient way to get on.
The Open University (OU) is the largest provider of distance learning in the UK and is currently helping around 200,000 students towards qualifications, 75% of which still have full time or part time jobs.
The OU already works with each of the Armed Forces to provide in-Service qualifications and, thanks to an agreement between the MoD and the OU, you can study any OU course – at UK prices – from any BFPO address in the world. At any one time, thousands of Personnel will be studying through the OU. All of its courses are approved under the MoD’s Enhanced Learning Credit scheme.
Open University – www.open.ac.uk/forces