Going the distance: Why online learning is gaining ground

Some students never set foot in a lecture theatre. They never pace the library aisles, queue for a computer or struggle to get their voices heard at a seminar. In fact, some students manage to complete their degrees without so much as leaving their homes – and, according to Julie Stone, business development manager at the University of Derby, they are among the most dedicated. "Learning online requires commitment," she says. "When we started developing online programmes, in 2001, it was a marginal activity because there simply weren't the students." That changed in 2008, when applications suddenly flooded in – there are now about 1,500 online students on Derby's books. "We anticipate significant growth over the next five years," says Stone. "We're investing in online education as a core part of our business."

At the Open University (OU), online education is old hat. Niall Sclater, director of learning innovation, believes technologies such as Smartphones, the iPad and Kindle will now push learning to a new level. "We've got the dual movements of online and mobile happening at the same time, and that suits distance learners. They can stay in touch with their course, and with each other, portably and comfortably." The OU exploits technology well: their Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) attracts 50,000 unique users a day, there have been 31 million downloads of their podcasts on iTunes U and they offer more than 800 videos on YouTube EDU.

Resource Development International (RDI) is an independent provider of UK qualifications via distance learning, with more than 7,000 students. Marketing co-ordinator, Carrie-Anne Rice, explains: "People can study with us anywhere in the world."

It currently costs up to £3,290 a year to study full-time on a UK university campus, which, potentially, is £9,870 for a three-year degree. A degree with RDI costs just under £6,000. In 2012/13, when the fee threshold increases to £9,000 a year to study on campus, online degrees will seem even more financially attractive. "We have no immediate plans to raise our fees," says Rice, although she adds, "we have to be guided by our university partners."

Sclater concurs: "We will have to raise fees because of a massive cut in government grant, but we will still charge considerably less than most face-to-face programmes." Interestingly, he says the reverse can be true overseas. "In the United States, some online courses charge higher fees than face-to-face qualifications because they can take more resource to run them – facilitating online forums, for example. Students there are prepared to pay more for the convenience of studying when they want, from the comfort of their own homes."

While distance learning was traditionally favoured by mature students, who slot their course between work and family commitments, both Stone and Rice note an increasing number of younger applicants. At the OU, 25 per cent of this year's intake is under the age of 25. Sclater has a theory: "Increasingly, students have to work to support their studies. They're juggling the two and consequently sometimes miss lectures. Campus universities respond by putting content online." Email contact with tutors, discussion forums between students and social networking are now the norm and this, he suggests, narrows the distinction between online and face-to-face student experiences.

Brendon Fulton gained his first degree on campus and is now completing an online BSc with the University of Derby. "I've got a huge amount out of both," Fulton says. "I absolutely love the degree I'm doing. I mix with students from all over the world via Skype and email, so there is a strong student community. The materials are fantastic, the standards are high and the tutors are supportive".

Could online degrees overtake face-to-face learning altogether? "I think there will still be campus-based experiences for those who can afford them but they will use more technology," predicts Sclater. "Why would you go to a library to search for a journal that may not even be there when you could do a quick Google search from your armchair? These physical things no longer make sense."

News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
i100
Sport
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
boxing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to have a b...

Year 3 Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: KS2 TeacherWould you like ...

Science Teacher

£100 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Are you a qualified science t...

KS2 Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Ofsted said "A good larger...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments