No strict deadlines, no moaning teachers and lots of lie-ins, right? If the idea of studying from home appeals to you, read on to find out what's really involved.
What is it?
The name says it all, really; it's a way of studying for recognised qualifications, such as GCSEs, A-levels and degrees in your own home at your own pace. Sometimes known as distance or open learning, it offers an alternative to studying at a set time in a set place, like a school, college or university.
How does it work?
Once you have selected and registered for your chosen course you'll be paired up with a tutor. Although it's unlikely you'll meet up with them in person, they are contactable via phone or email and provide feedback on your work. You'll be sent your course materials, such as printed materials, CD-ROMs, DVDs, set books and assignment tasks and then the hard work is up to you. Most courses provide charts and advice to help you structure your study and organise your time.
Richard Totman finished his A-levels at school two years ago, but he didn't get the results he wanted so he put uni on hold and went to work for his dad's business. He's now decided to study A-levels in Economics and Physics with distance learning packs from the National Extension College (NEC) so he can get better grades and go to uni.
"I'm keen to come back and work for my dad in the future but I want to learn more about business so I've got the theory as well as the practical knowledge," he says. "When my mark comes back after an assignment I get a feedback report telling me what it's lacking and what I need to improve on," he explains. "The course is very well laid out so I haven't needed to contact them so far, but it's good to know I can if I need to."
How does it compare to traditional study?
The most obvious difference is the lack of a teacher. Your tutor will be an expert in your subject matter and they are there to offer guidance, but the actual learning bit is down to you.
"The course is very well laid out so I haven't needed to contact my tutors so far, but it's good to know I can if I need to," says Richard.
How do I know I'm suited to home studying?
Ask yourself: Am I self-motivated? Can I work on my own? Do I have access to a computer and the internet? Would I be happy chatting to my tutor by email or phone? Can I fit it into my working life or caring requirements? If you answer yes to most of these questions, it could well be for you.
Can I work at the same time?
Absolutely. Many of the courses are designed to compliment your work, to help you qualify for the next level, or to get you onto the course you want. The beauty of home study is that you fit it in around your work or study needs.
What about if I've got kids?
Home studying is especially good for fitting around children. Doing something for yourself can boost your self-esteem, stimulate your brain and bring you back into the world of employment with extra skills and confidence.
What if I don't have a computer?
You can still do a course, but you will have to plan a bit more. Most local libraries have computers which you can book in hourly slots you can build up a good routine this way. But make sure that the course gives you telephone access to your tutor, too.
- Flexible: You may have 'cut-off dates' for assignments or set dates for exams but how and when you study is up to you. If you want to study on Tuesday and Thursday nights one week and all day Sunday the next, that's fine.
- Course materials: "At school, if you miss out on what the teachers have said it's hard to pick up what you've missed. With home study it's really useful being able to read back through the module I've just done," says Richard.
- Location: "Distance learning is very convenient if you live in a remote place," says Pete Giesinger of the Open University. "It's also ideal if you have to relocate during your study as you can continue to study as normal."
- Cost: Although you have to pay for distance learning, the fees are usually quite reasonable, you don't have travel and living costs on top of full-time study, and you can work at the same time. The Open University†say that the average cost of a standard BA degree, including all fees and study costs is £3390 - £4535, and the average time to complete a degree is six years. Shorter courses are significantly less; Richard is paying around £370 per A-level.
- Lack of interaction: If you're the kind of person that enjoys bouncing ideas around with teachers and other students you may find it hard to study alone.
- Motivation: "The benefit of having a teacher is that they are there to motivate you. Then again, if you've chosen to do this course you should be pretty self-motivated anyway," says Richard.
- Time management: All this freedom can leave you feeling like you have forever to do your work - which can be hard if you thrive under pressure. You'll need to set your own targets and put enough pressure on yourself to make sure you stick to them.
- Distance learning must be accredited. There are many colleges that are not accredited and their courses are not legitimate, so make sure you check this out before enrolling.
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