Career Path

Distance Learning Courses

Distance learning gives you the flexibility to fit your studies around your life and personal circumstances. Teaching is delivered online, allowing you to study remotely.


Distance learning (sometimes called online or e-learning) means that an educational course is taught entirely online. Generally, distance learning courses are self-paced so you can study them in your own time, wherever you are.

How is Distance Learning Structured?

For formal qualifications, you’ll usually have some form of online learning platform where all your course materials will be located. There will also, typically, be discussion boards where you can interact with your fellow distance learning classmates. It’s likely that you’ll follow some kind of flexible schedule, for example, study materials may be given out on a weekly basis for you to work on in your own time and assignments will have due dates. 

Your study materials might consist of lecture notes, readings, video lectures or possibly even live tutorials you can attend online. Just like an on-campus course, you should have contact with your tutors/lecturers who are there to support your learning. As a distance learner, you should also have the same access as an on-campus student to student support services; it’s important that you feel supported during your studies. 

Essentially, the delivery and types of learning materials will vary from course to course. So, it’s always a good idea to find out more information before committing to a course, to make sure the set-up suits your needs.

Why Become a Distance Learner?

Absolutely anyone can become a distance learner! The flexibility and remote nature of this mode of study makes it particularly beneficial for people who are unable to attend classes on-campus for a variety of reasons. For example, you may have family or job commitments, a disability which makes studying on-campus difficult, or the costs of moving near the university/college are too great. You might even be interested in changing your career or you just like the course itself. 

Distance learning offers you the space to balance your studies with your personal commitments/circumstances, making it a more accessible way of studying for a lot of people. 

What Distance Learning Courses Are Available?

There are numerous free and paid online courses, short courses, and formal qualifications at all different levels of education, from GCSEs to postgraduate study. The most well-known provider of distance learning programmes in the UK is The Open University, and the great thing is that most of their courses don’t require formal entry requirements. The Open University offers a wide variety of distance learning options from access modules to undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications. 

Other universities and colleges also offer distance learning courses at both further and higher education levels. On some programmes, there will be options for part-time or full-time study. So, if you have a preferred subject/course in mind then it’s worth doing some research to see what options are available.

Top Tips for Choosing a Course

  • Check the syllabus to ensure you’re happy with the content.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask about the delivery of the programme.
  • Try and find opinions from previous students of the course.
  • Make sure you’re satisfied with the student support available.
  • If you need adjustments for studying, make sure you get them.
  • You might be eligible for some funding, so investigate!

Free and Short Courses

If you’re unsure about whether studying online is right for you then free online courses, sometimes called MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), are a great way to try out different subjects. They range from introductory to advanced levels and are normally taught by a university/institution or organisation. You’ll typically work through the material completely by yourself, however some providers have enrolment dates which allow you to work alongside fellow online learners and participate in discussion boards. These courses are a great way to get a feel for a subject and online learning, without committing to tuition fees before you’re ready.

Some course providers include FutureLearn, edX, Coursera, OpenLearn, MIT OpenCourseWare and ESA - Earth Online.

Universities, colleges and other online providers also offer short online courses, usually for a fee, including introductory courses and continuing professional development (CPD) courses. For example, LJMU runs astrophysics CPD distance learning courses each year. 

Remember these free and short courses are not accredited unless otherwise stated.

Further Education Courses

If you’re looking to start out with a further education qualification (GCSE, National 5, A levels, Highers, access courses, etc) then a good place to look first is with your local college(s). There are also a number of online providers, such as the National Extension College and Oxford Open Learning. If you choose one of these providers, remember to thoroughly research the course to make sure it’s accredited and from a recognised provider. It’s also a good idea to look into funding options to see if you’re eligible for financial support. Check out this article by the Money Advice Service for more information.

Higher Education Courses

As a distance learning student on a higher education course, you may be eligible for funding so be sure to explore all your options.

The following is by no means an exhaustive list but hopefully it will give you a good idea for the variety of distance learning courses that exist at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.  

Undergraduate

Entry Point Course

Higher National Certificate (HNC) & Diploma (HND)

Certificate of Higher Education (CertHE) & Diploma (DipHE)

Foundation Degree

Bachelor’s Degree

Graduate Certificate

If you’re wanting to prepare yourself for postgraduate study, perhaps you need to obtain certain entry requirements, then a graduate certificate might be suitable.

Postgraduate 

Whether you want to begin with a PGCert or PGDip or go straight into a master’s degree, hopefully there’s a course for you.

Astronomy/Astrophysics/Space 

Computing/Technology

Engineering

Geographical Information Systems

Science Communication

Outside the UK

There are also lots of distance learning courses outside the UK but bear in mind that most UK-based funding options only apply to UK institutions. However, there are a number of space-related courses that may be of interest, such as

*Blended learning is a combination of distance learning and some attendance on-campus.

Author

Laura Martin

Laura studies MSc Observational Astrophysics at Liverpool John Moores University, via distance learning.

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