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What is Distance Learning?

Simon Midgley

Distance learning is a way of learning remotely without being in regular face-to-face contact with a teacher in the classroom. In the UK such learning has its roots in students learning through correspondence courses.

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  • More than 270,000 undergraduate students are taking their first degrees via distance learning, together with some 108,000 postgraduate students.
  • In recent years the advent of the internet and widespread use of the computer has led to a huge growth in distantly delivered tuition and study.

At undergraduate level distance learning usually means students engaging with learning materials at home or work.

  • These materials are produced by the university, college or learning provider and are either sent directly to the student or more usually today accessed via the internet. 
  • Tutorial support is provided via a virtual learning environment, telephone, email or other electronic means. 
  • There may be occasional face-to-face encounters with tutors and attendance at week-long summer schools.

The majority of UK undergraduate students study with the Open University (although many universities offer distance learning programmes); postgraduates study elsewhere.