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Should I do a distance learning or online masters course?

Monday 1 April 2019 Choosing postgraduate study

If you are starting to think about masters courses, you may already be wondering whether a distance learning or online course is for you.

If you are thinking about this type of course, you may find these ideas helpful:

1. What is the difference between a distance or online course and a campus based course?

On a distance or online learning course, you will generally work from home for all or most of the time. The main parts of the course, and the academic support, will either happen online or some may be by email, post, or combination of all those. You will also have additional private study to do at home.

A campus based masters course usually means exactly that, with the main parts of the masters course delivered on campus, for example in lectures and seminars. You would generally expect to be on campus to access those elements, as well as doing your own study either on campus or at home.

2. Is it better to do a distance or online course, or a campus based?

There are many distance and online learning masters courses delivered across the UK of a high quality, so often the answer to this question depends on your circumstances: if you like the content of a course that is only delivered online, OR if you like the content of a course but are unable to move and so need to do the course online or via distance learning because of that.

3. Is there more flexibility with an online or distance learning masters course?

Many people choose to study an online or distance learning course because it fits in better round their home life, allowing them to study when they have time or want to, and that can be a big advantage of these types of courses. However that does mean that you have to be very self motivated to make sure you set the time aside. You may also find that individual course elements still have to be completed at particular times and to specific deadlines, so there may be a limit to the flexibility.

4. What kind of study and other support is offered for distance and online masters courses?

Support may be offered by the tutor, or sometimes the course administrator, online - but it may not be available all day every day, so if that is important to you, you would need to check with the university the levels of support and when they are available. You could also ask current students how good the response times are if they have questions or difficulties, and what types of support are offered, whether they are one to one or in groups, and how much is by messaging online, or by face time.

5. Will I save money with a distance learning or online masters course?

The course fees for these courses are often the same as or similar to comparable campus based masters courses. You may save on travel and accommodation, and other living costs you might have had with a campus based course. It's wise to check out the full costs of the courses you are considering as there may still be times when you are required to stay on campus or elsewhere to complete the course - is this included in the course fees?

6. Is there funding available for this type of course?

The good news for many UK and EU students is that that Postgraduate Masters Loan Scheme, introduced in the summer of 2016, covers this type of course, so if you are eligible for the loan you would be able to use it to help you cover the cost for this course. Individual universities may also make bursaries or scholarships available for these courses but it would be on a course by course basis.

To sign up for the latest updates on the Postgraduate Masters Loan and other funding in your subject area, please see here

7. Will I have contact with other students on a distance learning or masters course?

This is likely to depend on how the course is run and what types of contact are made available to you, which is likely to be online. If taking part in debate and discussion in seminars is important to you, it's a good thing to find out how each course handles this aspect - it will vary from course to course.

8. Finding a course

MastersCompare have put together a selection of distance learning and online Masters courses . Take a look if there is something for you, or simply see what kinds of courses are available.

You can then compare the courses you are interested in, using our special comparison tool, before finding out more detail from the University course website. We would always recommend you contact the course convenor or course administrator, as well as current students.

9. Questions to ask the university:

How is this course delivered? Is it all online, or is some of the content delivered by post or even on campus?

How is academic and other support offered during the course, and who by?

How is academic and social contact with other students managed during the course?

What kind of jobs have students who have done this course gone on to do?

Check out the social media presence of these courses or student groups as well, and see if you can access them before applying.


READ a student's advice on studying a masters via distance learning .

KEEP up to date with new courses as they are added to MastersCompare, and new funding added to PostgraduateStudentships-  register and sign up for updates in your subject area.