Is your money well spent? Distance learning in today’s market place

A recent edition of the BBC’s Money Programme reported on a sharp rise in complaints about distance learning courses. Students are increasingly turning to distance learning courses as a means to achieve new qualifications and skills both to enter, and re-enter, many sectors of employment.  For many, the decision to study for qualifications is a key investment in their future, and they rightly expect a course to deliver on its aims.

What’s going wrong?

Over the past year, however, Citizen’s Advice has received over 4,000 complaints about distance learning courses, a 61% increase over the previous year.  In many cases training providers’ claims to deliver high quality learning but the opportunity to achieve good results is not borne out by the course materials or tutor support.  The Trading Standards Institute has investigated complaints including instances of plagiarism – where course materials are simply cheaply produced copies of self-study books sold over the internet for exorbitant prices -, and others where tutor support is either poor or non-existent.  Dissatisfied students are being encouraged to take action under the Supply of Goods and Services Act, and educational charities are now calling for government regulation of private training providers.

Why is the problem getting worse?

In the current employment market many are keen to broaden their range of employable skills and therefore the demand for training is increasing.  To meet this demand, there is a mass of information available online about training courses, some of it accessible via a helpline on the BBC’s own website.  The databases of training courses that can be consulted online, for example, the government-funded database at  allows all private, as well as, public sector training providers to upload details of their courses but the sites themselves offer no indication as to the quality of the training provision, provider,  course materials, or tutor support.  The information provided is not moderated, nor are there any onsite reviews or evaluation of the courses described.  Is this helpful?  How can users distinguish the good from the bad?

What can you do?

If you are thinking about signing up to a distance learning course, look carefully at training providers’ organisations, course descriptions, materials and tutor support. Ask lots of questions before you sign on the dotted line.  Read the previous blog on this site ‘How to choose a course’ : this gives advice on how to ensure that you are choosing the right course for you.  Make sure that the course you sign up to offers:

  • high quality materials (at Oxford Open Learning you can look through the entire course and return it to us if you are not satisfied, and we will refund you your money);
  • fully qualified, experienced teachers to support you in your learning (all our tutors are fully qualified, experienced teachers of their subject);
  • help with finding a test centre and applying for exams (at OOL we have a dedicated exams officer)
  • someone to turn to when you need advice about your course (at OOL we have a team of student advisers)
  • help with submitting coursework for assessment (at OOL our exams officer and her team will check that all your papers are in order)

At Oxford Open Learning we have over twenty years’ experience in delivering high quality, successful courses to both adults and younger learners.  For more information contact us, or visit Oxford Open Learning.  We trust you won’t have cause to complain!

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