Distance learning: study while you work
It was a massive weight off my mind and it was a perfect option for me, Jamie says. It has allowed me to stay at home around my friends and my family and still work part-time.
The ability to work part-time is something which appeals to many students who choose distance learning courses. With employers placing huge importance on work experience, the ability to have the time to go out and gain this experience through independent organisation of your own study can have a positive effect on career prospects.
Jamie has been able to take on two part-time jobs alongside his studies but has also been free to undertake work experience for a law firm, which has led to a job offer before he has even completed his course.
He said: The fact that I m studying towards a law degree at home means that I have the time and the resources to make myself more employable while remaining financially independent.
For those who are already in employment, a distance learning course can mean the ability to study and progress in a career without forfeiting their current roles.
Jonathan Smith, who is studying for a BA (Hons) in Business, chose to study via a distance learning course in order to remain in his job.
I left college in 2010 with A-levels in History, Politics and Economics but going to university wasn t even a consideration for me he explains. My friends were at home, I didn t want to be burdened with debt and I wanted to get straight into a career.
James completed a Business and Administration Apprenticeship with Oxfordshire County Council. While working as a medical administrator, he studied for a Level 4 Diploma and after 12 months had valuable workplace experience.
I d done so well at work that they kept me on. But after six months getting settled into my new role, I was financially stable and ready to progress my career with a degree. I didn t want to give up what I d achieved to go to university, so distance learning was an appealing choice.
It s no surprise that the cost of doing a degree can be reduced by distance learning, but what many potential candidates do not realise is that part-time and full-time distance learning students are still eligible for a tuition fee loan to cover the full or part of the cost of their course.
Courses can also be taken on a flexible basis, which can appeal to students who have pressing commitments outside of further education.
Dr Philip Hallam, CEO of distance and online learning providers RDI says: It s very flexible. We operate 52 weeks of the year. Most students will take between 3 and 5 years to complete a degree and between 18 months and 2.5 years for an MBA.
Generally our students are part-time mature students aged over 21 but we have actually seen a reduction in the age of those considering online learning. Younger students, particularly those who are cost conscious, are considering distance learning as a viable option.
Obviously, one of the downsides to a distance learning course is that students miss out on the experience of attending university, which means missing out on traditional lectures.
Reading feedback and instructions from a screen isn t quite the same as talking to someone face-to-face,” Jamie says. “It s also a lot of work to do on your own.
I don t have a close circle of friends going through the same thing, so I can t really ask my peers for help and advice. However, I ve found the online student forums helpful and the firm I ve been working for have offered advice and guidance when I ve needed it.
Once candidates have joined a course, they are enrolled on RDI s virtual learning environment, iLearn, says Dr Hallam. Everything is online; all the tutor support, the assessment unless it s an examination, which is done locally access to online library facilities, we even offer students career advice online.
However, potential candidates also need to seriously consider the social side of student life. Starting university cannot only be a way to meet a wide variety of new people, but can also give you the opportunity to experience a new city and live independently before beginning a career.
I haven t met as many new people as I would have, had I moved out, says Jamie. But I have met new people through work instead. It s just a different type of experience, which is just as rewarding and ultimately, in my opinion, makes me more employable.
For anyone considering a distance learning course, there are several other factors to be considered; perhaps most importantly, motivation.
Distance learning isn t an easy option, says Dr Hallam. It s going to be a substantial commitment, not only financially but also on your time. We need to make sure that people have really thought it through and understand why they want a degree. You will need to dig deep occasionally.
Distance learning providers such as the Open University and RDI provide a wide range of higher education qualifications such as degrees, diplomas and MBAs.
With his degree, Jonathan Smith hopes to specialise in business leadership and continue building his career with Oxfordshire County Council. He s confident in the choices he s made regarding education, but believes more could be done to make young people aware of the choices they have.
When I got my A-levels, I was shocked at how little advice was available on options other than university. Everyone is different and education should reflect that. I m glad I took the route I did and I think it is important that more people have the opportunity to study in a way that suits them.