You might be thinking of doing your Master’s online or distance learning. Some universities are offering this option for more courses as a way of limiting potential disruption to on-campus teaching and actually at the postgrad level lots of students prefer to study this way anyway.
It’s a great way to balance study with other obligations like work or family, especially if you’re returning to a master’s program after a break, but what exactly does online learning include, and what is the difference between online and distance learning, and what does it all mean in practice?
Online or distance learning Masters?
Let’s define a few terminologies related to online or remote learning that you might come across. To begin with, there isn’t always a significant difference between distance and online learning. Distance learning used to imply studying remotely via correspondence, which sometimes meant physically sending materials back and forth through the mail. Because everything is now done online, an online master’s degree and a distance learning master’s degree are virtually the same things.
You might also come across references to something called blended learning. blended learning, as it suggests, is a blend of online and on-campus learning so it’s a really good way of doing some Masters courses where students can study independently for a lot of the course but they do sometimes need to be in a specific place with specific people and specific facilities you know for practical training, group workshops, presentations and so on.
Universities are also using blended learning to transition students from an online study in the first semester to on-campus study in the second semester when it is safe to do so.
How different is studying online from studying on campus?
If you’re used to studying for your undergraduate degree on campus, an online master’s degree will be a whole different experience, but here’s the thing: it won’t necessarily be that different. This is because all postgraduate degrees are substantially more self-contained.
You will of course still have timetabled seminars and classes and so on but you’ll spend much more of your time preparing for these independently, doing independent self-directed study and research and that process is kind of the same whether or not your class eventually takes place in a physical seminar room or an online discussion platform.
Working online can benefit master’s degrees in some ways as well. One of the best things about the postgraduate study is the opportunity to connect more directly with your peers and tutors, you know, more frequently discussing their ideas, their current academic work, and your ideas, and having the option to do so asynchronously rather than always needing to be in a classroom can be beneficial. This is something that a lot of online programs are geared to do.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that all Masters degrees involve a substantial amount of independent research. So even taught Masters courses like MAs and MSCs will end with a big dissertation project and they research Masters courses like MRes qualifications and then MPhil degrees that are primarily about independent project work and it doesn’t matter where you are when you research that, provided you’ve got access to the resources and materials you need the experience is going to be very similar whether you know, you’re living 10 minutes from your campus or perhaps a few hours away.
How different is funding for an online or distance learning Master?
The short answer it’s pretty much the same. However, you should keep in mind that your course will not necessarily be less expensive. Because universities must still provide the same teaching expertise, many of the same facilities, and some additional resources to allow you to study more freely, this is the case.
Spend some time comparing courses and get a sense of what things cost but don’t automatically assume it will be less. The very excellent news is that your online Master’s degree will be eligible for almost all of the same financial aid as an on-campus program. This covers student loans for postgraduate studies. One thing to keep in mind, for the time being, is that when applying for a postgraduate loan for a distance learning or online master’s program, you must still be a resident of the nation from where you are applying at the commencement of your program.
Needless to say, an online master’s degree is much easier to accommodate around other obligations, such as work. So it may be more inexpensive, even though it does not cost less.
Tips about an online or distance learning Masters
Here are a few tips if you’re thinking about an online or distance learning Master.
check the details for the course you’re considering
In different settings and at different colleges, the terms “online” and “distance learning” might indicate slightly different things. Recognize what is required of you and how the course will proceed.
look at the timetable as well
You may still have scheduled lessons for which you must log on and be available. It’s a good idea to be aware of them ahead of time.
do look at other flexible study options
Online and distance learning can be a great way to do a Masters’s, but blended learning could also be useful if there’s a course that has some practical elements you’d like to take advantage of.
don’t overstretch yourself
Just because a course takes place online doesn’t mean it’s not going to be very demanding. You’ll need to do a lot of independent studies, you’ll need to be able to balance that potentially alongside other commitments, so think about how your week is going to look before you commit to it.