There are many different names for learning away from the classroom. You may have heard of distance learning, open learning, correspondence courses, home study and flexible courses. Some of these are alternative names for the same thing but some are different learning methods altogether.
Studying from home is often known as distance learning. You may get your course materials through the internet and email or sent through the post. A tutor will support you by phone, email or post. 'Correspondence courses' and 'home study' are different terms for distance learning.
On an open learning course you can combine study methods - studying at home, visiting a resource centre and face-to-face tuition.
Flexible learning is not home study; it's attending a college, adult education centre or other course providers at times agreed by you and the centre. You usually work through a computer-based learning package or a tuition pack and have tutors on hand.
You might like to study by open learning and home study if:
On most open learning and home study courses you'll work at your own pace and fix your own deadlines. This can be a big advantage and suits a lot of people. But it also means you have to keep yourself motivated. This can be difficult sometimes, especially if you have been working all day. You'll need to set yourself targets and stick to them.
Working at your own pace might suit you if you think you might study for three hours one week but 15 hours the next. Also, some people find working at the pace of the whole group restrictive - if you're learning well and it's all sinking in you might be able to work through the material more quickly.
It will also help if you're a confident learner who works well on your own. If you're the type of person who likes the support of other learners you might find it's not for you.
You can study a huge range of courses such as accounting, horticulture, counselling, law, languages, IT and computing, public relations, psychology, travel, etc.
For practical reasons, there are some skills and qualifications you can't pick up from a home study course. Some courses can give you the theory part of the course. Learning the theory may give you a head start but to qualify in some jobs the practical element is essential.
An example of this is plumbing: some home study courses offer you the 'underpinning knowledge' you need for the NVQ 2 qualification. However, you'll have to either be employed in plumbing or have a work placement to be assessed on the job and become fully qualified to work as a plumber.
There are a few providers that offer a large range of subjects - academic courses such as GCSEs, work-related courses such as computing, professional courses such as banking, and leisure courses you can study for pleasure such as painting. These are some of the more commonly known large course providers:
There are other ways of learning outside of the classroom. They're different from structured courses because you won't get any tutor support, but for some people they're ideal:
Universities and colleges are state funded so the government inspects them. Many open and distance learning course providers are private organisations, so you'll need to check to make sure they meet quality standards.
Check that your course provider is accredited and recognised by the industry. The Open and Distance Learning Quality Council (ODLQC) is an independent organisation that inspects course providers and assesses whether their quality standards are being met. Most approved course providers show the ODLQC accreditation logo on their promotional material.
The ODLQC website lists their accredited colleges, the courses you can study with them, and has more general information and advice on open and distance learning.
The Association of British Correspondence Colleges (ABCC) is a trade association. Course providers that are members of the ABCC have agreed to their code of ethics.
If a course provider uses another organisation's accreditation logo on their course materials, you should check it is a reputable and independent organisation that inspects course providers.
You'll find there are quite a few non-accredited course providers. You'll need to assess the quality of their courses yourself. You might want to get answers to questions like:
Some other hints and tips:
It can be difficult getting funding for open learning and home study if the course provider is a private organisation. Most statutory funding - such as Learner Discretionary Support and the Student Loan - is for students on attendance courses at government-funded course providers such as colleges and universities.
Some people pay for the courses themselves using savings or a bank loan. However, you should check out all funding options before you consider paying yourself. As with all courses, any funding will depend on your circumstances and the subject you're planning to study. Here are some of the main options for funding open learning and home study:
Ask your course provider if they offer fee discounts or free courses. Some have a limited number of fee concessions for students on benefits or a low income. Some also have links with a sponsorship organisation.
Many course providers allow you to pay the fees in instalments. This spreads the cost over the year rather than paying one lump sum. They may charge a higher total fee for this to cover administrative costs.