In an independent enquiry issued by the Higher Education Commission in 2012, universities were recommended to engage systematically with distance and on-line learning as a means of widening access to postgraduate education. This enquiry highlighted how full-time study was simply not an option for postgraduates with family or financial commitment. For others already in employment, who simply wished to improve their career prospects, full-time study was not an attractive prospect. In an article published on this website in that same year, Wendy Reed explored the idea of improving employability with a professional qualification. She pointed to the benefits of flexible learning and identified the Open University as a key player in this type of educational provision.
Since 2012, universities across the UK have responded to this widening participation agenda, offering postgraduate study qualifications in a variety of forms:
- distance learning;
- on-line training and assessment provisions;
- regional seminars and workshops;
- annual residential schools.
If you are thinking of pursuing a postgraduate diploma or a Master’s, then the distance learning elements of these courses can differ greatly depending on the course. With distance learning and on-line postgraduate qualifications becoming increasingly popular, it is worth exploring what to expect from this type of course provision.
A Master’s by Research via Distance Learning
This option is best suited to postgraduates who have a clearly defined project already in mind, or whose research is affiliated closely with their job, or with local resources. The principal difference between a research Master’s by distance learning or on campus is that your supervisory meetings are conducted on line via Skype or Facetime, or even by telephone. On-campus requirements differ from various institutions, so you should check these out before you apply. In most cases, you are not required to attend campus unless you wish to do so. However, at some universities, your course fees also include travel and accommodation for yearly on-campus visits.
Postgraduate Diplomas and Taught Masters via distance learning
A Postgraduate Diploma or a Taught Master’s via a distance learning route follow similar patterns, in that the courses are delivered through a university’s ‘virtual learning environment’. Here you will have access to an online Tutor and in the case of a Taught Master’s, a dissertation supervisor. All the course material and online resources are available via a university’s virtual learning environment and your assignments will often be submitted here. Universities use their on line platforms to encourage students and academic staff to interact through online chats and discussion forums. In general, attendance requirements are limited to examinations at the end of the year or the module. For some postgraduate distance learning courses, universities adopt blended learning, where study-based weeks or days are a compulsory element of the course. While these compulsory events are often on campus, some universities also offer regional tutorials and seminar workshops.