Studying online by distance learning

Green sticky note reading "essay due wednesday" on laptop

What is distance learning?

Everything you need to know, including how it works and how to prepare for studying online

Want to get a university-level qualification but need the flexibility to study in your own time at home or work? If so, studying online by distance learning could be for you.

Distance learning means you study at a location that suits you, at a time that fits with your schedule and other commitments. On most courses, all you need is a computer or tablet with Internet access, and you're good to go.

You get a similar level of support as campus-based students, with interactive digital course material, and streamed lectures and seminars on some courses. Plus access to teaching, support staff and a personal tutor via email, phone and video calls.

At the end of your course, you'll graduate with a respected and recognised qualification with similar skills as students who study on campus.

There are around 300,000 students studying through distance learning at UK universities including about 2,500 studying online with us.

Browse distance learning courses

How distance learning works

Distance learning works like any other course, it's just that everything takes place online.

Instead of heading to lecture halls, you attend online lectures and seminars, or get access to interactive reading material you can read in your own time.

Discussion forums and online chat sessions give you a place to connect with lecturers and peers.

Using a VLE

As with campus-based courses, coursework, assignments and support from lecturers and staff is available in a virtual learning environment (VLE).

On our VLE, each course module has its own section where you'll find key reading, research papers and reports, and video and audio resources.

Extra help and support

You can also use the University Library's extensive electronic library and services for distance learners. This includes book loans by post for students based in the UK and Ireland and a scanning service, which means we can email you copies of journal articles and book chapters.

Although you're based off campus, you still get access to learning and academic support and health and wellbeing support via email, phone, online chat or video call.

The Academic Skills Unit (ASK) can help you with all aspects of studying at university level, while Faculty Learning Support Tutors offer subject-specific help. There's IT support if you have questions about working online or accessing course materials remotely.

If you're new to academia or returning to study after a break, you'll get the support you need to make the transition to university-level learning.

Visiting campus

You usually don't need to attend campus when you're studying online, but you're welcome to visit and use our facilities if you can get to Portsmouth.

Some of our distance learning courses include induction days and study events on campus. These are optional.

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Advantages of distance learning

There are several advantages to studying online by distance learning instead of completing a campus-based course:

  • You decide when and where you study
  • You can study in your own time – we recommend studying at least 35 hours a week on a full-time course and 12–15 hours a week on a part-time course
  • You can study anywhere in the world with an Internet connection
  • You get to develop and practice time management, planning and independent study skills, which you can use in other areas of your life and career
  • Tuition fees for distance learning courses often cost less than campus-based degrees

Disadvantages of distance learning

Despite the advantages, distance learning study doesn't suit everyone. Some of the challenges you might face include:

  • Feeling isolated and disconnected from your peers and teachers – so make time to stay in touch with friends and family and make sure you take advantage of opportunities to connect with course mates and teaching staff
  • Lack of motivation – the Academic Skills Unit (ASK) can help you develop these skills
  • Lack of immediate feedback on work some types of online course – so you'll need to give your teachers some time to get back to you
  • Limited Internet access
  • Difficulty balancing study and your other commitments – again, our Academic Skills Unit (ASK) can help you develop your time management skills

Assessment

A big difference with studying online compared to being on campus is there are fewer or no exams.

Most assessments are submission based – usually essays, reports and blogs. Some courses may have quizzes or presentations, which you can do remotely.

You can usually test your skills and knowledge informally and get feedback before you do assessments that count towards your final mark.

See course pages for information on how you'll be assessed on specific distance learning courses.

Entry requirements

Before you apply for a distance learning course, you need to check you meet the entry requirements. These are on each course page.

We judge each application on its own merit so you don't necessarily need formal educational qualifications.

Using recognition of prior learning (RPL)

If you have university-level knowledge, skills and experience, you can use recognition of prior learning (RPL) to convert this into credits you can put towards a qualification.

This means you can start your course at the appropriate level and reduce the amount of credits you need to study to gain a qualification.

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Student loans for distance learning courses

As a distance learning student, there are 3 types of loans you may be eligible for – tuition fee and maintenance loans for undergraduates and the Master's Loan.

Loans for undergraduate courses

Tuition fee loan

A tuition fee loan covers your course tuition fees if you're a UK or EU student. It's paid directly to the University.

You can get a tuition fee loan if you’re studying at least 25% of a full-time course (30 credits a year). Ask us if you’re not sure how many credits you’re studying.

Maintenance loan

A maintenance loan helps cover your living costs, up to £9,203 a year on full-time courses. It’s paid directly into your bank account in 3 instalments throughout the year.

As a distance learner on a part-time course, you can only apply for a maintenance loan if you can't attend your course in person due to a disability.

Maintenance loans aren't available to non-UK students.

More about undergraduate student loans

Loans for postgraduate courses

Master's loan

If you're studying a distance learning Master's course that's worth at least 180 credits, you could get a Master's Loan to help with course fees and living costs.

To be eligible, you need to be living in England on the first day of the first academic year of your course. If you're a non-UK EU student, you also need to live in England for the whole of your course. If you're a non-UK and non-EU student, you need to live in the UK for the whole of your course.

If you or your spouse or civil partner are serving in the armed forces, or you're a dependent parent living with a serving member of the armed forces, it usually doesn't matter where you live.

More about funding a Master's degree

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Preparing for distance learning

Whether you're unfamiliar with studying online or are returning to study after a long break, there are a few things you can do to prepare yourself for studying online by distance learning.

Have a healthy support network

When you're a distance learner it's important to stay connected with other people while you're studying.

Talk to your work colleagues, family and friends about your goals and how you're doing. Share your achievements, and don't be afraid to talk about your challenges.

Engage with teaching staff and peers

Find a study partner you can sit down and have a session with – virtually or face-to-face.

And, make use of VLE forums and course chat sessions, which are usually scheduled at times when most people can join in – often in the evenings.

Get organised

Set up a personal go-to space that gets you in a study mindset. Create a coursework and study calendar to manage your workload.

Set up to work anywhere

You can study from anywhere as long as you have a suitable Internet-connected device.

You can chip away at your studies at the local library, a coffee shop or on the train. A tablet or phone is handy if you have 'dead time' during your daily commute or break times to read over coursework and pre-downloaded PDFs.

Using cloud-based programs like Google Docs or Microsoft OneNote lets you edit and update your work across all your devices.

Unless you're comfortable typing on a screen, we recommend you have access to a device that has a keyboard so you can complete assignments easily.

Explore our tips for studying online.

If your course needs a specific device or software, we'll let you know before you apply.

Keep up with the work you've missed

Online seminars and chat sessions are usually recorded, and forum posts are always there for you to see.

So if you can't make it to an online learning event, you're still able to catch up.

Find a distance learning course

You can choose from more than 30 online distance learning courses at undergraduate and postgraduate level.

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