Bringing the Lecture to your Living Room

For some student parents, a full-time, on campus degree may not be an option. For those juggling bringing up a child and perhaps part-time employment to boot; studying from home seems an ideal solution. Many universities are now adopting online courses that enable students to adapt their studies around a timetable and lifestyle that suits them. So, Student Parents went to see what is available.

Learning from home is nothing new; with the Open University celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2009. Yet, in these hard economic times, many universities are now turning to cheaper options such as distance, online learning to engage news students, for whom the typical degree format may not fit their extra-curricular requirements.

The evolution may be gathering momentum, as leading higher education institutions from across the globe convened at Cambridge University this April for a conference on the future of online learning. The conference was hosted by the OpenCourseWare Consortium, which is now the largest open, online education resource in the world, comprising of  280 higher education institutions, offering around 21,000 courses online, and has many millions of learners across the globe.

It now seems that many UK universities are starting to engage in the new movement too. Birmingham City University offers a distance learning Masters in Online Journalism. Course Director Paul Bradshaw, explains that his course works “through a combination of learning resources, one to one tutorials and interaction between students. All the resources are available from the start so the student can choose what order they go through them based on the needs of their own project. They are also invited to real world events and visits to newsrooms etc.”

“The main benefit is that they can continue in a job while pursuing the course: students tend to be part time and already working in the media. They can also incorporate their professional work in their MA.” One thing is for sure, “you need to be independently motivated and organised.”

How does it all work?

One University that is pioneering online distance learning is Derby, with a website specifically for online courses. We checked out their website to find how an online course would work in practice:

  • How are the courses run? : Students have access to a ‘virtual learning environment’, where tutors upload course materials that they will have access to from the beginning of the course, to work through at their own pace.
  • What does it entail?: Depending on your course; you may have interactive lectures, similar to online conferences. Tutors deliver live classes using webcams and instant messaging, with the intent that students will not only be able to see their tutor but engage with other students, talk and ask questions. If students are unable to attend classes then they will be able to access are recording that will be made available.
  • How to get in contact?: There are discussion boards and forums in which students can talk to each other and staff at any time. Tutors will be available via email, phone and skype.
  • What’s the benefit?: The good thing is you can learn in the way that suits you, at a pace that suits you.
  • What to watch out for!: Even though these courses are designed to fit your timetable, this doesn’t mean that you can start them at any time of year. So that tutors will be available and to keep the student body up to speed courses start either September or January. Make sure to check this as it varries between providers. If starrting a course at a fixed term date is proving the main difficulty for you, then why not try the UK Open College that sends course packs directly to your home 72 hours after enrollment. You can take up a course any time you choose and learn at your own pace.
  • Costs?: Another thing to be weary of, is that while you may think that distance learning means that courses will inevitably be cheap, this is not always the case: it depends on your course. For each course you pay per module, each subject having a different price and number of modules. For example, Business Studies BA (Hons) is £300 a module, but at 24 modules costs £7,200. Ergonomics Msc, however costs £380 per module, though with only 12 modules is £4,560. so make sure you check each course on its own merit. With the Open University, new fees of £5,000 a year are set from 1st September 2012. but again depends on how many modules you have completed. Though compared with £9,000 per year tuition fees coming in to practice this September, home learning can be a more economically feasible option for student parents.

Where do I find the right course?

If you are interested in finding out more about distance learning: Student Parents have scouted for the top providers that might be able to help. Why not check out a few from the list below and see if home learning sounds like the thing for you:-

The Open University is the largest in the UK with more than 260,000 students and close to 7,000 tutors. Founded in 1969, the OU offers a choice of around 570 courses,  including foundation; undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. Courses are open to all ages and students from a variety of backgrounds with nearly all undergraduate courses having no formal entry requirements. The average age of a new undergraduate is 32, and around 70% on students remain in work while they study.

One of the largest distance learning institutions in the UK, the Open College offers home learning in over 600 vocational courses including bookkeeping; childcare, conservation, health & safety and nutrition. Most home study courses require no previous skills or knowledge to enroll, with over 70% of Open College students having not studied since leaving school. The average age of student is 36. Course packs are dispatched to students’ homes 72 hours after enrolment.

This is the UK’s leading specialist provider of accredited distance learning courses in logistics, supply chain management, purchasing, and export & management. Over the last five years the Distance Learning College has enjoyed a 97 per cent pass rate on all courses.

Learndirect offers online e-courses and qualifications ranging from English and Math to employability skills; specialising in IT and computer qualifications. Learndirect also runs e-courses that allow you to brush up on your skills in areas such as Microsoft Office, web design & development and customer service.They have helped more than 3 million people since 2000. Everyday 10,000 people log on to a Learndirect e-course.

 This establishment offers around 20 online courses, including foundation, honours or postgraduate degrees, in a wide range of subjects from accounting, education, hospitality and law. Students get support from a tutor and are able to discuss theirsubject online with your distance-learning peers. There are virtual open days coming up on Wednesday 20th June and 8th August.

University of London International Programmes provides worldwide access to University of London degrees. It offers over 100 programmes ranging from education to management, law to philosophy and has over 50,000 students in 190 countries. Students can either work from home or opt to pay for additional educational support at local centres to benefit from face to face support.

If your currently working but wish to boost your career prospects? Have limited time due to raising a young baby? Or can’t face the escalating cost of tuition fees?… Then online, home learning may be the solution. This type of learning certainly won’t suit everyone; but for student parents it may definitely be an option worth thinking about.

Case Study

Liam Ainscough is currently studying part-time for a degree in Fine Art at Bolton University. Three days a week he looks after his 4 year old son Sam, but makes sure he puts in two hours study every night when Sam has gone to bed. “A degree is something I’ve always wanted to do.” Being the main carer for Sam for 4 years, studying  “is important so that I don’t get baby brain!” All the course documentation Liam needs can be found online. He can also studies a module at a time and spread his degree over several years. “I’ve not studied in over 20 years. Doing a module at a time means that I don’t feel like I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.” Though after Sam starts school in September, Liam intends to pick up modules and take more classes within the University “Home learning has worked for me, it’s eased me in gently.”


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