Distance learning courses are those programmes, modules or short courses that are offered to students who study entirely at a distance. That is, they need never physically attend the Queen Mary campus in order to successfully complete their studies.
This mode of study is particularly beneficial to students who value the flexibility it allows to fit study around work, family and location. Distance learning courses often attract a global audience since high travel, accommodation and visa costs are largely avoided.
MOOC stands for “Massive Open Online Course” and is a particular kind of distance learning course developed for very large cohorts of students stretching into the tens of thousands, and delivered free from any fees. MOOCs are typically delivered via custom-built platforms designed to handle large numbers of students, and the main players include Coursera, EdX and FutureLearn. Currently Queen Mary does not run any MOOCs and does not have a partnership with any MOOC providers. There are however a number of traditional distance learning courses run at Queen Mary and this page provides some support for these.
Whilst offering a distance learning programme is a good way to attract students, and can be equally rewarding for staff, it does present particular challenges that need to be considered from the outset. If you are thinking of developing a distance learning course, you will need to consider how the teaching, learning, assessment and administration will work when students will never, or very rarely, be on campus.
As this area of the website develops, you will find guidance documents to support you; case studies of those at QM already engaged in distance learning; and resources you can use with your students. For now, please find below our pointers for success that should get you thinking.
- Put effort into the online learning environment
The online environment is particularly important for distance learning courses. If you are using QMplus, you will find that that becomes your students’ campus and it is crucial that it helps and doesn’t hinder students as they progress through the course. The course area must be well designed, resources must be well signposted and relevant, activities must be authentic. The fact that students are at a distance, means that their contexts are likely to be more varied than an on-campus cohort – think about how you might use this variety in real-life assessments or learning tasks facilitated online.
- Foster a supportive student community
Students on your course will not bump into each other in lectures or in the library, so you have to deliberately design social interaction into your curriculum. The support and different perspectives offered by their colleagues is enormously beneficial to student learning, so build in as many opportunities for students to act with each other and with yourself from the start – don’t leave this just for group work exercises.
- Introduce the course team
Since students will not meet you face to face, the teaching team should consider recording a short video introduction to yourself and the course. This is not only welcoming, it helps students put faces to names and removes a few barriers if they should need to contact later with a problem.
- Help students stay on track
Much of the material and activity on your course will be self-directed and students will not attend lectures and seminars each week. However, it is still important that they progress at an acceptable pace, as if a distance learning student falls behind, it can be more difficult to bring them back on track than a campus student. You will need to design progress checks into the curriculum so that students know where they should be and you can identify early any that are falling behind. Good courses incorporate a mixture of online tutorials, time-released readings and materials, formative and summative assessments, and so on as progress markers on distance learning courses.
- Stay engaged and interact live
A distance learning course does not run itself and students must not get the impression that you have set everything up and left. Show that you are engaged in the course and modify your online teaching in response to feedback or data you receive from students – just as you would in a traditional course. Schedule live chat or video sessions where students can ask questions, ask students to submit questions and record a video lecture to respond to them, give group feedback on assessments – these are also ways to encourage students to keep up and stay engaged.
- Support students with the admin as well as the learning
As students of Queen Mary, your distance learning students have access to various services – IT, library etc – along with campus-based students. Of course, these aren’t so easy to find, so use your online area to point students to the relevant resources. Think carefully about what a student needs to be able to study on your course. You will need to speak to Registry and IT Services about how students will they register, pay fees, get ID cards and usernames etc and pass all this information on to them at the earliest possible moment. You might also set up a help forum specifically for these administrative questions which can cause great anxiety early on in a course.