With so many different ways to check out courses – online, by glossy prospectus, on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, through friends, students or work colleagues – it helps to have a checklist of what to look out for before you make your choice. Not all distance learning and home study colleges or centres are the same!
What do you want to study?
First of all: what do you want to study? Are you aiming for a specific qualification – say GCSE Maths or English – or are you trying to decide between, say A Level psychology or sociology? It helps to be clear about why you want to study a particular subject – will it help you get the right number of GCSEs, IGCSEs or A Levels to apply for university or teacher training college? Or do you need, say a science GCSE to get on to a nursing course? Or are you simply curious about a subject and want to know more? If you are aiming to gain qualifications for a course of training, university or college, then you need to be clear about what the entrance requirements are before making your choice.
Where do you want to study?
Once you’ve made up your mind about what subject(s) you want to study, the next question is – what course are you going to study in order to achieve that goal? If you are aiming to gain qualifications for a course of training, university or college, then make sure you choose the right qualification to study. For those thinking about distance learning or home study, the choice between GCSE and IGCSE is critical. Some GCSEs, for example, law, psychology and sociology, are currently assessed by written exam, but most subjects include coursework that is assessed by controlled assessment. While school pupils can do their coursework with controlled assessment in a classroom, home students and distance learners do not have this option. So for those studying at home, IGCSE is the exam of choice for Maths, English, History, Geography, French, Spanish, Business Studies, Economics and Accounting. IGCSE is widely accepted by universities and colleges world-wide, and provides excellent progression to A Level. Check out the details of the course you want to study, and make sure you are not caught out by the limitations of controlled assessment.
Where can you sit your exam(s)?
Another aspect of assessment is: where can you sit your exam? When you contact distance learning and home study colleges, ask whether they will help you find a test centre and complete your exam application form. Is there someone there who is in contact with the exam boards and knows the procedures and deadlines for entering for exams? Can they help you, even if you live on a remote island, are based in the jungle in Borneo, based abroad for six months, away travelling and don’t want to miss a deadline, or are simply concerned to make sure that you have filled in the form properly?
Who will help you?
Studying at home without the support of classmates and friends around you can be hard sometimes, so ask whether the course you want to study includes the support of a tutor. If it does, then ask whether that tutor is a qualfied teacher, and has experience in teaching the subject you want to study. This will be of much more help to you than being assigned a tutor who is not qualified to teach, and has little relevant experience either of teaching or the subject you want to learn.
What other help might you need? Well, apart from a good tutor, you might also want help from a student mentor or adviser who you can call about other aspects of your course than those dealt with by your tutor.
What should the course materials include?
Next, check out the course materials. Whether these are online or in print, the course provider should allow you time to look these over and decide whether this is the course for you. Courses should be developed by experienced teachers, writers and editors to match the qualification specification they set out to teach. Make sure the materials are up to date, include clear sets of aims, well structured and clearly written lesson content, a wide range of activities, practice material, recommendations for further reading, self assessment tests, tutor marked assignments and practice exams.
How long does a course last?
Some students want to fastrack to a qualification, others prefer a gentler pace. Ask how the course you want to study works: is it over a fixed time period, or is it flexible? Can you go at your own pace? Is there a fixed start date, or can you begin as soon as you want to? Can you study for a GCSE or a A Level in one year, instead of two?
Here’s a checklist:
At Oxford Open Learning we ensure that all our students have: