Alternative Learning

Alt Learning

There are many different names for learning away from the traditional classroom environment. These include distance learning, open learning and flexible learning.

Distance learning

Distance learning is where you study at home. You may be sent course materials by post or access them on the internet and receive support from a tutor by phone, e-mail or post. Correspondence courses and home study are generally the same as distance learning.

Open learning

On an open learning course there could be a mixture of study methods – studying at home, using a resource centre, residential short courses and face-to-face tuition.

Flexible learning

Flexible learning usually involves attending a college, adult education centre or other course provider on a flexible basis to suit you and the provider.

Why study from home?

 Open and distance learning can be helpful if:

  • your work or domestic schedule is irregular and you can’t commit to a course at a certain time each week

  • you look after children or relatives at home

  • you prefer to work at your own pace

  • you didn’t like school and the whole ‘classroom experience’

  • there’s no college nearby, or the course you want to do is not running locally

  • the social aspect of working in a group is less important for you

  • your mobility is impaired and you find it difficult leaving the house

  • you want to start a course as soon as possible

One of the biggest advantages of studying from home is the cost comparative to studying full time. Also, some students can access help with course fees, study materials and other costs. The Open University for example offers financial assistance for students with disabilities, medical conditions or specific learning difficulties. In addition, part time distance learning students will often work while studying towards their qualification.

Is it for me?

 On most open and distance learning courses you work at your own pace and set your own deadlines. Although you may be motivated to learn and want the qualification, imagine if you are working full-time and studying in the evening. You must remember that  you have to be motivated and have self-discipline and it is essential that you set yourself targets and stick to them.

Working at their own pace suits some people. This may be because they can only spare three hours study one week but can make 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 can work through the material more quickly.

Which subjects are available?

There are many subjects available to study. There are a few exceptions, for example studying to be a nurse or plumbing. These types of courses require  work placements to achieve the practical parts of the course. You may be able to study the theory but will need to complete the practical assessments to be fully qualified. It is because of this that it isn’t feasible to study these types of course as a distance learner.

Links and further information

There are a few providers that offer a large range of subjects – academic courses such as GCSEs, vocational courses such as computing, professional courses such as banking. These are some of the more commonly known large providers:

The Open University (OU)

Courses offered: first degrees, postgraduate and professional training, and special-interest subjects.

Features: For many courses you don’t need any previous qualifications. A world-leading blend of distance learning and innovative study materials. They provide financial help and advice, and support with the study skills.

Learn Direct

Courses offered: English, Maths, IT, Job Search Skills, Business and Administration,Customer Service, Health and Social Care, Team Leading, Management and Languages.

Features: Many courses are free of charge. If you’re aged 24 or over you may be able to take advantage of a 24+ Advanced Learning Loan

 ICS Learn

Courses offered: International Correspondence Schools provides a wide range of distance learning courses including GCSEs & A Levels, BTEC, AAT etc.

Features: Courses are designed in partnership with nationally recognised awarding bodies such as CIPD, AAT, BTEC & NCFE.  Flexible payment options with most courses.

NCC Home Learning

Courses offered:Over 350 distance learning courses in a vast range of subject areas from Acrylic Nails to Zoology.

Features:  Part of the National Consortium of Colleges: NCC has links with colleges of further education across the UK.  Flexible interest free finance options.  Majority of courses offer personal tutor support.  Courses are accredited by established Awarding Bodies including Ascentis, EDI, Edexcel, ICB, NCFE and Sage.

National Extension College (NEC)

Courses offered: GCSEs and IGCSEs, A Levels, professional courses in Book-keeping, Childcare and Early Years, Counselling, Teaching and Training, Business and Management, Creativity and the Arts.

Features:  None of the courses require you to have any previous qualifications, but for some it is recommended that you have already studied the subject to some extent. You won’t need to have a GCSE in Maths to study A level Maths, for instance, but it is recommended that you do. Assessment for some courses (e.g. childcare) uses real experience in the workplace, so you must be working in a suitable setting when you enrol. You can enrol at any time.

University of London External Programme

Courses offered: University of London degrees

Features: Qualifications for both internal and external students are of the same standard. Some courses require students to spend a short time in London or at recognised classes.

Open Learning Foundation (OLF)

Courses offered: Social Work, Business Studies and Health & Nursing

Features:  Provides a range of courses in Social Work, Business Studies and Health & Nursing suitable for students (A-Level, foundation, undergraduate and postgraduate) and employees in these fields. Mainly for use by colleges and employers but individuals can enrol too.

Checking accreditation

The following organisations are good sources to check the validity of many providers and their courses.

Association of British Correspondence College

Open and Distance Learning Quality Council (ODLQC)

For further information, advice and guidance please contact the Careers and Employability team