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Here’s what to consider before choosing an online degree

With no open days or face-to-face meetings, how do you pick a distance learning course?

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For most students, choosing a university is as simple as counting up UCAS points, checking a league table or two, and signing up to a few open days to whittle the list down. But things are more complicated for distance learners, for whom studying off-campus brings a whole new set of considerations.

What’s the learning platform like?

“The technology can vary widely between courses,” says Tom Taylor, head of degrees at work at Anglia Ruskin University. “Students want to know what it will be like to learn online; whether they will get to communicate with other students, and how interactive the course will be.”

To get a feel for the learning environment, you should ask universities if they offer a taster session, according to Ian Myat, director of educational enterprise at Birmingham University: “Some providers allow students to sample a module and try the course in the same way you would if you were enrolled,” he says.

With traditional degree courses, university league tables are a popular way to get a feel for an institution’s reputation. But Myat warns that these may not include some of the best online courses. “Newer courses may not feature in league tables as there is not yet enough data, but these often take advantage of new technology like video conferences and streaming,” he says. “So it’s a trade-off for students between the security of established courses that might be less cutting-edge, and newer, more advanced courses.”

Is it flexible enough?

But if you want to fit work, travel or volunteering around your studies, find out whether your schedule will actually allow it. “Although most online study is part-time, the concentration of the hours you need to put in can vary between institutions and courses,” says Myat. The main thing, Myat says, is to remember that online learning is changing all the time. “It’s an evolving market, so I’d encourage students to speak to course providers and ask lots of questions,” he says.

Ray Brogden, COO of Qualifi concurs with the comments above and would encourage all students considering an online distance learning or blended learning course to make contact with the provider to discuss in detail the course content, LMS/Learning Platform functionality, access to support etc. At Qualifi we publish our qualification specifications, provide potential students with access to centres with excellent LMS systems  so that you can “try before you buy”. We encourage our approved centres to design their course delivery to include in addition to online meeting, opportunities for students to face-to-face.

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