In this article, you’ll find answers to key questions you would have to ask yourself while considering doing a course at an overseas university through distance learning.
More and more of us are now talking about ‘studying with a foreign country’ while discussing study options abroad. The official site of Education New Zealand, for instance, calls itself a platform with information on studying with New Zealand. This novel way of phrasing indicates that you can now start your New Zealand education from wherever you are in the world; you don’t need to be in New Zealand anymore in order to get a New Zealand education!
Welcome to the world of distance learning, where boundaries don’t limit your study options.
About distance learning
So, what does distance learning actually mean? Also known as digital learning, online learning, virtual learning, remote learning or e-learning, the concept of distance learning hasn’t been around for too long. It was in 1999 that the term e-learning was first used by Elliott Masie at the TeachLearn conference at Disneyworld. An expert in educational technology, he defined it at the time as ‘the use of network technology to design, distribute, select, administer and share learning’.
Ever since, distance learning has grown rapidly, thanks to significant advances in information technology and the growing need for flexibility among learners. Today many people perceive it as the future of education, and it’s easy to see why. Distance learning is a convenient, interactive and low-cost process compared to the conventional classroom method. Most importantly, it’s a unique opportunity for many people who would otherwise have to give up on their dream of getting a formal education.
Finally, if you cannot fund your own studies, you stand a good chance of being able to convince your employer to cover the costs. Since such courses can be done from the convenience of your home or office, companies are increasingly saying yes to employees who seek financial aid to learn remotely.
Myths about distance learning
There’s no doubt that distance learning is an accessible education option that will help you save on costs associated with travel, relocation and visas. However, you would still want to make sure that this delivery mode will allow you to gain the knowledge and skills that a conventional, in-person academic programme offers.
Here are some myths that we’d like to dispel straight away so that you do not get put off by the idea of e-learning at a later stage:
Distance learning can only work for you if you’re exceptionally good at using technology.
False! If you can use social media channels, and can send and receive information, you have everything you need to make a start. You’ll learn about the more detailed aspects of the e-learning platform you use on the way. And remember, e-learning platforms the world over are always trying to improve the user experience so learners are able to get their money’s worth.
This mode of learning is not for everyone.
False! It’s currently one of the most effective modes of learning available to learners. The online learning industry is growing rapidly and is expected to be worth $350 billion by the year 2025 (Forbes, 2020). This is perhaps the only option available to you if you’re unable to relocate for studies, or if you need flexible timings to be able to do a course.
You don’t get to work together with your classmates.
False! The fact that learners can connect with each other any time means that e-learning is an excellent mode that allows plenty of room for group work via chats and forums. In fact, most courses now have collaborative online learning activities to facilitate active learning and shared knowledge.
There is little interaction with teachers.
False! The teacher on an e-learning course usually assumes a different role to that of one in a classroom. They create a stimulating environment that ensures student participation, lead discussions, monitor proceedings, answer questions if required and carry out evaluations.
Doing an online course is like attending a conference.
Of course not! Unlike a conference, e-learning provides regular opportunities for you to interact with other learners and with e-learning tools, both of which are engaging and stimulating.
Virtual courses are easier, so they tend to be less valued than classroom-based courses.
Absolutely not! In fact, distance learning allows you to study with many of the world’s top-ranked institutions. If you enrol with an accredited course provider, the qualification you’ll earn at the end of the course will be globally recognised, enabling you to reap the rewards of all your hard work.
You can’t socialise and build networks when you’re on an e-learning course.
False! You'll have the opportunity to meet and work with a variety of individuals from all across the globe. Remember, a good e-learning programme can offer unparalleled opportunity for networking.
Employers don’t value such qualifications.
False! The growing popularity of online learning has led to a shift in how both people and organisations perceive qualifications earned through this mode. Today, companies are increasingly using virtual learning to help employees continue their education or upgrade their skills. Naturally, an online degree is considered to be as good as an on-campus one. Of course, where you receive your online degree from will, to a large extent, determine how employers rate it.
Groundwork for doing a distance learning course
To make the most of your distance learning course and to achieve the best outcome, it is important that you do some preparation beforehand.
- Have well-defined goals so that your progress becomes measurable.
- Confirm that the chosen course provider is officially accredited in their country and in your home country; in this way, you can ensure your qualification will have wide recognition.
- Know how to manage your time effectively; learn to prioritise your time.
- Plan your study timetable in advance so it fits perfectly into your routine.
- Strengthen your online communication skills, both spoken and written. It’s very important to know how to treat others on forums with respect.
- Give yourself some speaking practice, if needed, so that you’re able to actively take part in online discussions and debates with peers and teachers. Sometimes these meetings do not take place in real time because of the time differences, which means that communication can be in written form.
- Take an international language proficiency test such as IELTS to bring your English skills up to scratch. The IELTS Academic test, for instance, measures if you are ready to begin studying in an English-speaking environment. So, preparing for the test will help you get familiar with the type of language used in an academic setting.
Benefits of studying via distance learning
The increasing popularity of distance learning as a mode of education is sufficient proof that learners stand to benefit from it. Here are some benefits of studying online:
- Flexibility is, without doubt, the greatest benefit of being on a distance learning course. You can study anytime, anywhere, provided you have access to a computer and the internet.
- As far as study options go, nothing can beat e-learning. You can choose from a wide range of skill-based courses, degrees, course providers and countries. Conventional in-person learning can never match up to the amount of choices distance learning offers.
- Using an e-learning platform helps you save time. Instead of spending time travelling to and from an educational institution, you could invest it in more productive tasks.
- Distance learning is cost-effective, making education accessible to a wider segment of people. When you learn online, you successfully avoid several types of expenses – such as travel, housing, meals – that you have to bear if you were to opt for in-person learning. Besides, the tuition fee for online courses tend to be lower because of the lower overheads – e.g. rent, electricity, staff salaries – needed to run them.
- Compared to classroom learning, e-learning courses tend to offer more content, mainly because learners are able to take in more when they learn at their convenience. Such content is also updated regularly as it is in digital form.
- While you are learning about the subject you’re interested in via distance learning, you’re also gaining technical skills, which is the key to success in today’s world.
Popular distance learning platforms
Online course providers build information systems that provide a stimulating learning environment where learners can acquire knowledge, upgrade existing skills and learn new skills.
Below is a short list of popular online platforms/course providers that offer top-notch e-learning courses.
Created by two Stanford University computer science professors, Coursera is a virtual learning platform that offers the opportunity to study from any country free of charge.
Coursera lets you earn undergraduate, postgraduate and master’s degree programmes via online learning. At the last count around 150 universities were offering over 4,000 courses through Coursera.
edX is a massive open online course (MOOC) platform founded by two of the biggest names in education: the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University.
The university-level courses that it offers cover a broad spectrum of subjects. The platform’s objective is to reach everyone free of charge to encourage higher education and research.
IUBH, or International University of Applied Sciences, is located in Germany. It offers both distance and in-person learning programmes, taught in English and German. Hybrid courses – a mix of online and on-campus learning – are also offered by the university.
The platform offers accredited bachelor’s, master’s and MBA degree courses online. As a learner, you’ll also have the option of spending your final term on campus in Germany.
With Stanford Online, you gain access to a world of education created by Stanford University, one of the world's leading research and teaching institutions.
It offers an extensive catalogue of credit-bearing, professional, and free and open content developed by Stanford faculty across the university.
American Andragogy University
AAU, or American Andragogy University, in Hawaii offers distance learning programmes such as courses, diplomas, undergraduate degrees, master’s degrees and doctorates.
The university offers its students the use of various virtual libraries, where they can access books and e-publications, and a study platform, which can be used to receive information in an organised manner and have direct consultations with academic advisors.
Requirements for distance learning
The requirements for studying online vary, depending on the course provider. That said, the entry requirements set by online course providers are generally similar to those for in-person courses. We’ve put together a list of basic requirements:
- If you’re going to do an undergraduate course, you need your high school diploma or equivalent to enrol.
- Generally speaking, for postgraduate degrees, you’ll need a previous degree in the same subject area.
- Always check with the university/course provider to see if they have specific entry requirements.
- Some institutions let you apply and begin studying any time during the year, whereas others have fixed dates. Make sure you have enough time to submit your application.
- Finally, make sure that you sit an international language test as well regarded as IELTS Academic, which demonstrates your English proficiency and ability to cope in the virtual classroom. Broadly speaking, the minimum required score varies between bands 6.5 and 7, depending on the institution, but you should find out about this beforehand to avoid any unpleasant surprises.
Tips for doing well on a distance learning course
If you don’t have prior experience of learning online, the experience could perhaps leave you overwhelmed. To avoid such a situation, all you really need to do is to get the simple things right. Following these tips will go a long way towards making your journey smooth.
- Ideally, you should have a convenient workspace with adequate lighting and without distractions; this will function as your classroom throughout the course.
- It’s important that you have access to a computer with high-speed internet connection.
- Always make a backup of your work – assignments, documents and tasks. You could back up your files onto a memory stick or hard drive, or store them in the cloud.
- You must be highly disciplined and organised. Remember, distance learning courses allow you a great degree of freedom, which means you need to demonstrate exceptional commitment to make steady progress.
- Use study techniques that help you to make the most of your time.
- Set a study timetable and stick to it. You’ll need to allocate time for attending online sessions; you must also set aside much more time for studying, reviewing and doing homework.
- Never lose sight of your objective; focus on your goals and visualise your success.
Preparing for the IELTS test
Achieving great IELTS scores takes effort and planning. Successful test takers usually make a study timetable to help them improve everything they need to before test day. The British Council Take IELTS website has a range of high-quality study materials and resources that will help you practise your IELTS skills. You’ll find IELTS online practice tests (free), IELTS preparation courses (both free and paid), IELTS Facebook Live sessions with experts (free), IELTS mobile apps (free), IELTS Progress Check (paid) and much more.
It’s evident that distance learning is a great way to receive a world-class education from the convenience of your home and earn qualifications that are globally recognised. If lack of time, shortage of funds, personal responsibilities or anything else is stopping you from pursuing your dream of studying in a foreign country, this is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for.
Take IELTS and enrol on a distance learning course; make sure your future turns out to be just the way you’ve always pictured it.