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What Is Distance Learning?

What does distance learning really mean? We explain a little more about what life as an online student with Northumbria University looks like.

At Northumbria University, we’ve been running distance learning courses in a range of different formats since the 1980s. Deep in our University archives, we hold records of advertisements for courses that stretch back almost 40 years, including this one from 1984: 

Statistics for Librarians - A Distance Learning Course


Times have changed somewhat. Back then, most distance learning courses ran as correspondence courses – where students and the lecturer were in different locations and course reading was sent, and assessments completed, by post.  

These days, the experience is very different. We have over 1,500 students from across the world enrolled on our engaging online learning programmes.  

Join us as we answer some of the questions you may have about distance learning, and the format it takes today.  



What Is Distance Learning? 

Very simply, distance learning means that you don’t have to be based near our campuses in Newcastle, Amsterdam or London to be able to study at Northumbria University. When you choose to study one of our distance learning courses, you can do just that – study at a distance, wherever and whenever suits you best.  

Our distance learning students gain a university-level education without having to ever attend a lecture, a seminar or an exam on campus - instead all our teaching and assessments are conducted online through our eLearning portal, Blackboard Ultra. Unlike the old days of distance learning correspondence courses, our students collaborate with others from across the globe, engage in virtual discussions and can access a wide range of digital resources and media when it’s most practical for their schedule.  

It means that if you choose one of our distance learning programmes, you’ll be free to study your course, your way, while still benefitting from the same excellent teaching and research-based learning that our students who study on campus enjoy.

You can find out more about the benefits of online learning here - from completing your degree in the comfort of your own home, to having the freedom to balance studying with a full-time job or family life. 


How Does Distance Learning Work? 

Once you’ve enrolled on one of our distance learning courses, you’ll be able to login to Blackboard Ultra and have 24/7 access to everything you need over the course of your time with us. Some activities can be scheduled around your existing commitments but otherwise you’ll be able to access and work through content, reading materials and interactive discussion forums when it’s convenient for you.  

All of our learning materials have been designed in partnership with online experts. This means they’ve been structured to help you succeed while studying at home and ensure that the content of the course is of the same quality and level as our equivalent on-campus offerings. 

The recommended study time for most of our online courses is 15 hours a week, and most offer the option of joining us at multiple points throughout the year. 

Click to watch our video about distance learning at Northumbria University.



Who Does Distance Learning Suit Best?  

There’s no such thing as a typical distance learning student. Our community of online learners are made up of individuals from a variety of different backgrounds, including those who want: 

  • To achieve a new qualification to improve their career prospects or chance of promotion  
  • To gain the degree they need to retrain or switch careers 
  • To top up an existing qualification, such as a Higher National Certificate (HNC) or a Higher National Diploma (HND), and graduate with a full degree 
  • To undertake a mode of study that suits the flexibility many require with having a family 
  • To be able to study around work commitments – especially if they work shifts, or need to be geographically mobile (like those who work in the armed forces) 
  • To be able to study from home – especially if they live in a remote area, are concerned about the financial implications of travelling to campus or have a physical disability
  • To follow their passions and undertake a new course that fuels their interests. 

However, whilst our students join us from a broad range of different backgrounds, they are all motivated to succeed and are keen to balance studying with other commitments.  




How Will I Be Supported During My Distance Learning Journey? 

Just because you’ll be based off campus, it doesn’t mean you won’t have access to excellent student support. As a Northumbria University distance learning student, you’ll receive guidance at every step of the way from your module tutors, programme leads, departmental representatives and, for many of our courses, a dedicated Student Success Advisor.  

In addition, our 24/7 service, Ask4Help, is available on the web, by phone and by email, through which you’ll be able to access interactive support services, self-service tasks and advice.  

You’ll also be surrounded by a cohort of other distance learning students who you’ll get to know very well over the duration of the course. Gone are the days of ‘interaction’ meaning sending assignments back and forth by post – instead you’ll be part of a global community that’s rooting for your success, in real-time.  


What Courses Can I Study Online at Northumbria University? 

Our range of online programmes cover everything from Quantity Surveying to Business and Management to Psychology.

You can find a full list of our distance learning courses here. 

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