What does distance learning mean for university students in the UK?

PUBLISHED 27-August-2020 · UPDATED 27-August-2020

It’s come as no surprise to many that most UK universities are offering distanced learning of some description come start of the 2020 academic year. To some, this comes with feelings of relief. To others, it’s a final nail in the coffin of what’s shaped up to be a really disappointing uni experience.

Distanced learning as a concept has been around for a while, relative to education as we know it. The Open University is one of the biggest names in this subsection of higher education and has thrived off the back of the demand for undergraduate and postgraduate courses that can be done off-campus.

Taking many forms, distanced learning encumbers many platforms including recorded or ‘live’ lectures/seminars, virtual 1-1’s with academic/career advisors, online coursework submissions/ presentations, and more.


Pros


I’m going to kick this off with the upsides of distanced learning as I think an optimistic outlook on the future of studying is the only way we’ll come to terms with the rapid and unrelenting change.

Accessibility
Whilst this seems like an obvious one, the ability to engage in higher learning from home means that people from more backgrounds than ever before are able to obtain a degree. Whether it’s single parents, those from challenging socio-economic situations, or carers, these demographics now have many more options to chase their desired fields of study and consequently the respective careers.

Affordability
There’s a whole host of points I’ll discuss later about the benefits of living away from home to study. That said, we can’t neglect to see the mountain of cash that could be saved from being able to study remotely. When we live in unilets or on-campus, we’re throwing money at things like rent, bills, socialising, drinking (if that’s your jam), eating out, societies/sports teams and more. Living at home can eliminate at least a few of these costs, if not reduce them dramatically.

Seeing family/friends
Now, not everybody has a great home situation. Family dynamics, living situations and such can dramatically impact the decision to move away or stay at home. For that reason, I tread lightly on this point and I’m keeping it brief. However, for many would-be students and current students the prospect of seeing family and friends-from-home on more than just Christmas and during summer holidays can be a huge advantage.

Renting woes
One benefit of living at home is the absence of the troubles that come with private renting as a student. That said, from the 5th September you’ll be able to see reviews on student properties across the UK and even leave your own ratings & reviews here on UniletAdvisor.com (totally shameless plug, I know).

Cons


As a recent graduate who undertook 4 years of study whilst living away from home, I’m going to do my best to remain neutral for the purpose of giving balanced information so that you can come to your own conclusions. Though, I think it should be said that there is no replacement for the experience of being thrust into the uni-bubble of other lost and unprepared first-years whilst battling to identify who the heck you are.

Socialising
This doesn’t come naturally to everybody; starting a conversation in the common area of your first year halls is a scenario that fills many with dread. To the social butterflies of the world, most of us envy your involvement in 2/3 different societies, daily nights out and seemingly bottomless pit of confidence and charisma. My personal opening statement for any argument about maintaining on-campus learning is:
Extrovert or introvert, we’re all in this together.
Group coursework tasks, nights out in the student union, scrambling to buy calculators 5 minutes
before your exam, every student no matter the personality can bond over collective challenges.
Regardless of who you were and where you’re from, the readjustment pains of living away at
university acts as a glue that binds us together.

Use of facilities
Every course will demand different things from its students. If you’re studying with a creative focus, accesses to high-end photography/filming/editing/production equipment and licenses are probably going to come in handy. If you’re studying a STEM course, having a physical library is going to be an absolute god-send. When you’re tucked away at home, the reliance on your own and/or local resources can be crippling for your ability to deliver coursework if you can’t access the same level as what’s on offer at the university.

Different learning types
We all know people learn differently to one another. Some will prefer auditory learning, some visual, and so on. Distanced learning presents many challenges but the one I see as the most difficult to overcome is those who need physical interaction to take on information at the same pace as others. Being held to a computer screen, whether it’s written or otherwise, simply isn’t the way that many will benefit most from their course delivery.


I’d be lying if I said I didn’t come into researching this piece with the mindset that distanced
learning would be the hugely detrimental to the future of higher education. However, it’s clear to me now that there’s points to be made on both sides.
Personally, I’d love to see a hybrid approach that gave a tailored experience to giving each student the best chance at the grade they deserve. It’s exciting to see how universities will innovate and harness digital transformation to deliver such a broad spectrum of courses.

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