Alternative methods of study
Not all graduates are able to pursue a postgraduate qualification through the traditional method of full-time study on campus, so many institutions now offer alternatives. The majority of institutions recognise the need to support 'lifelong learning' and will offer at least part-time modes of study so that graduates can continue academic or professional development. These options are particularly popular for those students who want to combine studying with other commitments. Practical subjects such as visual arts or professional work-based qualifications are less likely to be offered through distance learning alone; this is due to the need for access to specialist facilities or assessment in a work environment. Traditional academic subjects such as history or literature can be offered through all modes of study.
Types of study methods
Part-time study expects regular attendance at lectures and tutorials during teaching time (one or two evenings or one full day per week). You could complete the same qualification as full-time students but select fewer modules each year and spread your achievement over a longer time.
Distance learning or open learning means you study course materials, follow exercises, and write and submit assignments on your own at home or wherever suits you. Additional arrangements provide supported learning, ie help from tutors, student services staff, or centralised facilities such as libraries.
A virtual learning environment (VLE) enables contact with other students through online conferencing systems, tutorials and informal study groups. This enables you to research, source, study and communicate with your institution at a time and place suited to your needs and circumstances – at home and sometimes abroad (however, you may need to interact at agreed times with other students and/or lecturers).
Flexible learning students often follow a conventional qualification but negotiate with their tutor an individual path to completion (this could even include the time taken to complete the qualification). Study can stop and start according to time available for a student to pursue independent study.
The pros and cons
- you have the flexibility to study using your own computer and the internet, wherever your location
- you can study at your own pace, within agreed timeframes
- you can combine study with family or employment commitments.
However, you should be aware that having greater flexibility means you'll need to be particularly well motivated, self-disciplined and organised. At times you could feel isolated, for example when you have questions and need to find solutions using only resources available to you. Many institutions have developed online and paper-based quizzes designed to show you whether you have the skills needed to follow this route successfully.
Issues to consider
- Who awards the qualification? Is it recognised by employers, other institutions or a professional body?
- How long will it take: are there time limits to completion?
- What course materials are provided (books, DVDs, online resources, etc)?
- What tutorial support is available?
- Are there residentials/study schools?
- Is assessment by coursework alone?
- Where and how do you sit examinations?