Open and distance learning advice
There are many different names for learning away from the traditional classroom environment. You may have heard of distance learning, open learning, correspondence course, home study, flexible learning and also MOOCS. Some of these terms are different and some mean the same thing. This article explains the terminology for you so that you can help your teen decide whether any of these ways of learning are appropriate or not.
Distance learning is where the learner studies at home. They may be sent course materials by post or access them on the internet and receive support from a tutor by phone, e-mail or post. Correspondence courses and “home study” are the same as distance learning.
On an open learning course, there could be a mixture of study methods – studying at home, using a resource centre, residential short courses and face-to-face tuition. In practice, the terms distance learning and open learning are taken to have the same meaning.
Flexible learning is a different concept to distance or open learning. Learners attending a college, adult education centre or other course provider locations at times agreed between the individuals and the centre. Learners usually work through a tuition pack with tutors on hand.
Why study from home?
Open and distance learning can be helpful if:
Will it suit your teenager?
On most open and distance learning courses they will work at their own pace and fix their own deadlines. While this is one of the main advantages for most people, it brings its own challenges – they will have to be motivated and have self-discipline.
Although they may be motivated to learn and want the qualification, for example, the reality of working full-time and studying in the evening may mean that it might be very tempting for them to put their feet up and switch on the TV! You will have to help them set targets and stick to them if motivation wanes.
Working at their own pace suits some people. This may be because they can only spare three hours study one week but can make 15 hours the next. Also, some people find working at the pace of the whole group restrictive – if someone is learning well and it’s all sinking in they can work through the material more quickly.
It will also help if your teenager is a confident learner who works well on their own. If they are the type of person who likes the support of other learners they might find that distance learning is not for them.
What can they study?
Practically anything. For practical reasons, there are some skills and qualifications can’t be picked up from a distance learning course. Some examples would be learning to drive, studying to be a vet or midwifery.
In other words, courses with a practical element to them will be difficult to achieve through distance learning, although some courses attempt to give learners the theory part of the course. But be careful – learning the theory will give a learner a head start but to qualify for some jobs the practical element is essential.
An example of this is plumbing: some distance learning courses offer the underpinning knowledge needed for the NVQ 2 qualification. However, your teenager has to either be employed in plumbing or have a work placement to be assessed on the job and become fully qualified to work as a plumber. Our information on Apprenticeships can help you get to grips with this as a potential pathway for your teenager.
Who are the main course providers?
There are a few providers that offer a large range of subjects – academic courses such as GCSEs, vocational courses such as computing, professional courses such as banking, and leisure courses you may study for pleasure such as painting. These are some of the more commonly known large providers:
1. ICS Learn
Courses offered: International Correspondence Schools provides a wide range of distance learning courses including GCSEs & A Levels, BTEC, AAT etc.
Features: Courses are designed in partnership with nationally recognised awarding bodies such as CIPD, AAT, BTEC & NCFE and there are flexible payment options with most courses.
2. Learn Direct
Courses offered: English, Maths, IT, Job Search Skills, Business and Administration, Customer Service, Health and Social Care, Team Leading, Management and Languages.
Features: Many courses are free of charge. If the learner is aged 24 or over they may be able to take advantage of a 24+ Advanced Learning Loan.
3. NCC Home Learning
Courses offered: Over 350 distance learning courses in a vast range of subject areas from Acrylic Nails to Zoology.
Features: Part of the National Consortium of Colleges: NCC has links with colleges of further education across the UK. Flexible interest-free finance options. are on offer and the majority of courses offer personal tutor support. Courses are accredited by established Awarding Bodies including Ascentis, EDI, Edexcel, ICB, NCFE and Sage.
4. National Extension College (NEC)
Courses offered: GCSEs and IGCSEs, A Levels, professional courses in Book-keeping, Childcare and Early Years, Counselling, Teaching and Training, Business and Management, Creativity and the Arts.
Features: None of the courses requires a learner to have any previous qualifications, but for some, it is recommended that they have already studied the subject to some extent. They won’t need to have a GCSE in Maths to study A level Maths, for instance, but it is recommended that they do. The assessment work for some courses (e.g. childcare) uses real experience in the workplace, so the learner must be working in a suitable setting when they enrol which can be at any time.
5. The Open University (OU)
Courses offered: first degrees, postgraduate and professional training, and special-interest subjects.
Features: For most courses, you don’t need any previous qualifications. A world-leading blend of distance learning and innovative study materials. They provide financial help, support with the study skills and careers advice to help you develop or change your career. Also a wide range of services for students with disabilities. The OU’s Finance Finder is a helpful tool to enable potential learners to identify sources of funding which may include student loans.
6. University of London External Programme
Courses offered: University of London degrees
Features: Qualifications for both internal and external students are of the same standard. Some courses require students to spend a short time in London or at recognised classes.
7. Open College of the Arts (OCA)
Courses offered: Specialists in creative arts education including art history, creative writing, fine art, illustration, graphic design, music, painting, photography, textiles and visual communication.
Features: All courses and degree programmes are delivered through part-time open learning with the support of experienced tutors who are also practising artists, writers, photographers, visual communicators or musicians. There are no entry qualifications and no fixed enrolment dates so you can start studying with the OCA straightaway.
8. Open Learning Foundation (OLF)
Courses offered: Social Work, Business Studies and Health & Nursing
Features: Provides a range of courses in Social Work, Business Studies and Health & Nursing suitable for students (A-Level, foundation, undergraduate and postgraduate) and employees in these fields. Mainly for use by colleges and employers but individuals can enrol too.
9. Massive Open Online Learning (MOOCS)
The big revolution in education in the last five years or so is the introduction and popularity of MOOCs. These are online programmes which learners can sign up for, usually with some form of online interaction with other learners, though not always. Some are just self study.
Courses range in size from bitesize or micro courses which take a total of 30 minutes through to full degree programmes. Many are free, depending on the course and provider if a learner just wants the learning experience, however, if they want a certificate, then there is an administration fee, usually for each module which will need to be paid, though most courses offer significantly good value for money.
The choice is massive and ranges from university MOOCS provided by for example FutureLearn, EdX , and Coursera, through to learning platforms such as Lynda, Udemy, LinkedIn Learning and Teachable for learning anything from photography to programming as well as professional learning. There are also specialist company providers like Google Garage for digital skills learning.
What other ways of learning are there?
There are other ways of learning outside of the classroom. They’re different from structured courses because you won’t get any tutor support, but for some people they’re ideal:
How do I choose between course providers?
Universities and colleges are state funded so the Government inspects them. Many open and distance learning course providers are private organisations, so you’ll need to help your teenager check to make sure the courses they provide meet recognised quality standards and that completing their course will take him or her towards their goals. Firstly, check if the course provider is accredited. The Open and Distance Learning Quality Council (ODLQC) is an independent body that inspects course providers and assesses whether their quality standards are being met. Most approved course providers show the ODLQC accreditation logo on their promotional material.
The ODLQC website lists their accredited colleges, the courses they offer, and has more general information and advice on open and distance learning.
The Association of British Correspondence Colleges is a trade association whose members adhere to a code of ethics that maintain quality.
If a course provider uses another organisation’s accreditation logo on their course materials, it’s best to check it is a reputable and independent organisation that inspects course providers.
There are many non-accredited course providers. If a course provider isn’t accredited by one of these organisations, you and your teenager will have to assess the quality of their courses yourself. Get answers to questions such as:
What else do I need to consider?
Can I get help paying for the course?
It can be difficult getting funding for open and distance learning if the course provider is a private organisation. Most statutory funding is linked to attending courses at government-funded providers such as colleges and universities and your child’s school or college usually take care of this – though different rules apply in different contexts. The Government offers a range of different funding schemes to help with the costs of training and learning if there are any.Many people pay for courses themselves using savings or a bank loan. However, you should check out all funding options before stumping up the money for your teenager’s course. As with all courses, any funding will depend on your circumstances and the subject they are planning to study. Here are some of the main options for funding open and distance learning for your teenager:
Many course providers also allow the fees to be paid in installments. This helps to spread the cost over the year rather than paying one lump sum, though be aware that they may charge a higher total fee for this to cover administrative costs.
Remember to look at our page on financing higher education if your child is looking at doing a degree by distance learning.