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Distance Learning in the UK, The Open and Distance Learning Quality Council

To describe a distance learning student is rather like trying to give a definition of the human race, excluding perhaps babies and small children.

Distance Learning in the UK

I suppose you could make that statement about all students. Although traditional places of learning tend to be circumscribed by geographical location, age, sex, ability or interest group, if you put them all together, most people would probably be catered for.

Unfortunately, face-to-face tuition is not always available in the right place at the right time. An Adult Education college in Wandsworth may be offering ancient Hebrew this year, and a disillusioned car mechanic might find it difficult to take time off to study zoo animal management, even if he could find a centre offering it.

And how many Zambian villages can offer ambitious young inhabitants a course in business studies?

Although each distance learning college or centre, like its face-to-face counterpart, offers a limited range of subjects, and those not necessarily at all the levels the public may need, the very nature of this mode of learning makes all things, or nearly all things, possible for a large proportion of the population.

In line with popular understanding, research shows that ‘jobs for life’ are now a thing of the past, and that retraining is becoming necessary for an increasing percentage of the workforce.

Distance learning can sometimes be the only means, and is frequently the best means, of acquiring a new post, or of gaining promotion.

Redundancy and early retirement leave people casting around for interests to pursue, for new skills to acquire. This can be the case for mothers with young children, and people temporarily or permanently disabled.

And people resident overseas may not easily be able to train or retrain on the spot for a variety of reasons. Such situations often require individualised programmes of study which can be followed at home, on the bus, in a waiting room or a library, at odd moments of the day or evening, or on a Sunday afternoon.

The Open and Distance Learning Quality Council, which accredits open and distance learning centres throughout the UK, receives incessant inquiries world-wide about the possibility of following courses of all kinds and about the reliability of different colleges.

Touching, sometimes heroic reports also come our way. There was the grandfather of 76, who, cut to the quick by his grandson’s mockery, achieved a grade A in GCSE Maths after a 4 month homestudy course.

An illiterate ‘lifer’ became a highly successful journalist through studying by correspondence. Letters from poverty stricken inhabitants of the developing world demonstrate the amazing degree of self sacrifice and mental stamina some people are capable of when seeking to improve their circumstances through study.

In a sense, therefore, availability of educational provision is endless. The ongoing technological revolution, with video conferencing, courses and tutorial support on the Internet, tutorial contact via E-mail and so on, facilitates things even further, increasing the speed of contact for many, and thus improving the pace of individualised learning and customer satisfaction all over the world.

The picture painted so far depicts something little short of an ideal educational environment: law degrees offered by a college in Guildford can indeed be studied by a student based in Singapore; a business studies course can be provided from Jersey for a student in Kiribati.

As we all know, however, that is not the full story. Distance learning often requires of the student a degree of initiative and mental resilience not always associated with learning in a classroom with a peer group and a teacher in attendance.

The completion of an enrolment form can in itself prove daunting. Learning alone can be difficult, despite encouragement from friendly tutors, especially if you are not accustomed to studying.

And finding your own examination centre is not always easy. All this after you have shopped around to find the best value course at a reliable college, because prices and standards vary in an unregulated commercial market.

But if the availability of money, motivation and perseverance can in themselves be deterrents to undertaking a distance learning course, it would be unfair as well as foolish to end on a negative note.

For, despite everything, colleges and centres throughout the country, accredited by the ODLQC, are helping an estimated ½ a million students at any given time to change and enrich their lives. Letters and phone calls of appreciation from satisfied students abound, both at the colleges themselves, and at the Council’s offices.

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