Many a times, we come across institutions offering educational programmes through distance learning. Whether it is a short course or a full degree programme, we have all come across various providers offering online and distance learning education. While the two terms are interchangeably used, there is a difference in their scope and mode of delivery.

Traditionally distance learning took place where students were provided with hard copy of books and learning materials and via mail and were required to undertake reading and preparation of written assignments which were later, either posted or mailed to the teaching institution for individual feedback. Distance learning then evolved to include programmes which were later taught fully online using the internet. A purely online learning is a form of distance learning where all learning materials are taught online on the university's online learning platform, such as Nile, Breo, Minnerva, Blackboard, etc.  The course material including recorded lectures, podcasts, presentations and virtual live sessions are all hosted online for students to access at all times and hence interact electronically via tutors and other students. The online platforms are designed in a manner that renders ease of navigation by its online users whilst successfully storing and providing large amount of information for users to access and study online from anywhere across the world.

The case for online learning

Much debate has been organised around the advantages and disadvantages of online learning and the effectiveness of this mode in everyday lives. Almost every major institute in the UK and worldwide has now adopted online learning to different extents in order to facilitate learning in their institution. There are degrees available completely online and then there are programmes offered part time via blended learning. The part time mode of learning allows students to access tutorial lectures usually once every few weeks, with the availability of tutors to expedite learning and provide face to face real time assistance to students. There is usually also an added element of online learning where all modules, tutorials, presentation and assignments are uploaded online for all students to access learning  materials anytime throughout the duration of their studies.

The part time programmes of Stafford

As part time programmes offer students access to tutorial support in form of face to face workshops, a common question arises if students will be permitted to continue onto the course if they fail to attend workshops. The answer to this lies with the university itself as every university has designed a unique method to implement learning. The University of Northampton, for example offers an impressive part time, executive MBA, which is delivered over 18 months duration. The workshops are held in the UAE, once in every 10 weeks. The workshops, although highly recommended are not mandatory as busy professionals can access the learning materials provided online. Students who attend the workshops describe them as “invaluable”, “amazing”, “informative” and of course students love the networking opportunities.

On the other hand, universities like University of Leicester offer another notable MBA which is again studied part time as a combination of workshops based in the UAE. The university requires students to attend 3 out of the 5 scheduled workshops in order to facilitate delivery of the modules. The workshops allow students to participate in tutorial sessions whilst offering networking opportunities with fellow MBA alumni.

At Stafford, we also offer the PGCEi programme from the University of Nottingham, which is also taught part time via blended learning. The programme is delivered over 12 months duration and only requires students to attend workshops twice during the course of their studies. The university requires a mandatory participation in the workshops in order to compete the required number of credit hours.

Distance learning for work-life balance

As increasing number of professionals spend more working hours than the stipulated 40 hours per week, it leaves little room for a regular classroom based study as work schedule is packed with unlimited work and social commitments. The present day style of work has blurred the lines of work-life balance with professionals now working from home and working hours extending into the late hours of the evening. This has only reinforced the increasing adoption of online learning in order to earn and study at the same time. With part time programmes, the student has the much needed flexibility and you get to decide the time and schedule for spending study hours and commit to the programme.

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