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What's distance learning?

Distance learning lets you study remotely without regular face-to-face contact with a teacher in the classroom.

Student on laptop doing distance learning


  1. What does distance learning involve?

  2. What are the pros and cons of distance learning?

  3. How do you apply for a distance learning course?

  4. Which UK universities offer distance learning courses?

  5. What are Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs)?

What does distance learning involve?

At undergraduate level, distance learning usually involves students engaging with learning materials at home or work. You also get tutorial support through a virtual learning environment, phone, email or other electronic means. There may be occasional face-to-face interactions with tutors and attendance at week-long summer schools.

You can study undergraduate, postgraduate and professional-level distance learning courses. Universities and colleges make sure their distance learning programmes and qualifications are of the same quality as campus-based programmes.

There was no way on earth I was going to be able to afford to stop working and do a degree full time. I was going to have to fit study around work, and distance learning is set up to allow you to do that – to be able to pick up learning as and when.

Jake, distance learning student

What are the pros and cons of distance learning?

Studying a degree through distance learning gives you a number of benefits:

  • You can fit your learning around your work and home life
  • You get to decide exactly when and where you study
  • You can get a degree from anywhere in the world
  • Distance learning courses often cost less than full-time degrees, so you can save money

On the other hand, you won’t get to enjoy the social aspects of being on a campus with fellow students every day. 

How do you apply for a distance learning course?

Most distance learning degrees have specific entry requirements that may include previous educational qualifications and sometimes English language skills.

You apply directly to the course provider. A typical online admission process involves filling in a form and getting a reply from the institution offering you a place, asking for more information or declining your application.

Enrolment usually takes place a few weeks before the course starts. You get the chance to pick modules you want to study and pay the first instalment of your course fees, after which you get confirmation and can begin your studies.

Student researching distance learning courses

Which UK universities offer distance learning courses?

Distance learning programmes are offered by a number of UK universities, including:

  • The Open University (diploma, undergraduate and postgraduate programmes)
  • Arden University (industry-accredited degrees, master's and MBAs)
  • Edinburgh Napier University (MSc degrees)
  • University of Leicester (mainly postgraduate programmes)

Are there distance learning courses for international students?

The beauty of online courses or distance learning is that you can do it from anywhere. The University of London, for example, offers online courses to international students. 

Of course, the best thing to do is to contact universities about courses you’re interested in. If you were planning to study in the UK, make sure to contact your chosen university about their arrangements for courses starting this year.

What are Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs)?

MOOCs offer university-level courses without the need to complete an entire programme of studies. They give you a flexible, affordable way to learn new skills and are becoming increasingly popular.

Video-based, they offer interaction either through peer review and group collaboration or automated feedback through objective, online assessments (including quizzes and exams). Videos are normally short and most of the activity takes place in online discussion groups and forums.

Benefits of studying a MOOC include:

  • Accessing quality courses at a lower cost (most courses are free)
  • The flexibility to combine it with other study or work
  • The convenience of studying wherever you are
  • No entry requirements

A key drawback is that MOOCs are self-contained – they don’t feed into a degree or other qualification. Content from a MOOC offered outside your home country may not match cultural and other conditions you’re familiar with.

Should you study a MOOC?

There are many positives to studying MOOCs, but it all depends on your goals or reason for wanting to study. MOOCs are suited to supporting higher education and helping with your career rather than being a replacement for a degree. They're convenient, have good quality material, can help with professional or educational development, and look great on your CV.

They’re also ideal if you just want to learn for fun. And with them often allowing you to set your own pace, you can fit the work and assessments around your own schedule.

The following UK universities offer MOOCs through FutureLearn:

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