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Wed 27th Jul 2011

The role of distance learning in higher education today

Higher education used to be delivered through traditional face to face routes and required student commitment of many years study either part time (for example up to 6 years for a degree) or full time (for example three years for a degree).

As society changes and expectations of education provision follows, education institutions have had to be more flexible and meet these needs and expectations in order to remain dynamic and modern. The technological age also continues to allow instant access to global knowledge and information, therefore traditional higher education delivery methods cannot stand still.

Taking a browse through the various websites of colleges and universities it is clear that changes are happening. Most universities are now offering blended learning options so that some modules can be completed via distance learning. This allows students to remain in work, fulfil other commitments and also opens up opportunities to enrol at universities further afield. Perhaps the biggest change is for the mature student who is not entering higher education straight from school but coming in at a later date to enhance knowledge, skills or to facilitate a career change.

Likewise colleges of further education are now beginning to expand their higher education courses, and again integrating many modules as distance learning options.

Distance learning colleges such as Oxford College have always remained at the forefront of remote learning, and now offer a range of BTEC HND courses which provide 240 credits at level 5 on successful completion. This means that students can integrate higher education studies into normal life and use the credits as a standalone qualification or transfer them and complete further credits at other institutions in order to achieve a full degree in their chosen subject.

The process of credit transfer has revolutionised distance learning and higher education, not only in terms of flexibility of learning, but also because students can plan their studies and undertake modules when and where they choose. For example; a student that completes a BTEC HND course with Oxford College in Therapeutic Person Centred Counselling may then go on to complete a practical element of counselling within an agency setting; or they may already have the practical skills element and wish to study at higher education level but cannot attend face to face classes within a traditional course format. Likewise, a student completing a BTEC HND with Oxford College in Understanding Health and Social Care Practices, may use the higher education credits as a stepping stone into further work based courses or as basis for entry into health profession training.

Full degrees achieved via distance learning match those completed by traditional learning routes and often completion time for students is much less as there are few restrictions on entry and completion points.

Therefore, the relationship of distance learning and higher education today is symbiotic. Distance learning has an important role in providing accessible and flexible higher education opportunities and importantly for students, choice of study options.