In praise of distance learning

In today’s Guardian, Jonathan Woolf reviews the history of distance learning in the UK and the article has been given the somewhat misleading heading:

‘Distance learning: good on costs, not so good for social cohesion’

The sub-heading is also an inaccurate summary of the article that follows:

‘The danger of distance learning is that it may make second-class citizens of students who choose it’

On the contrary, Woolf’s article celebrates much that is good in the history of open learning, notably the contribution of London University’s external degrees. As one who taught on one of these distance learning programmes (via Wolsey Hall, one of its long-lasting agents), I can vouch for their importance in helping learners, in a wide variety of personal situations, rise the social and academic ladder.

Nelson Mandela was one such student in an earlier era but by the 1980s, the London degrees were very much in decline, at least in the UK. The reason was simple – the programmes were not funded in the same way as the Open University.  The latter’s operation was hugely subsidised by the state while London’s far-flung students were generally in receipt of no financial support at all and generally having to pay the full market rate for whatever teaching and textual support they could find.  As far as HE distance learning was concerned, the Open University was granted a virtual monopoly and they have done a great job with that opportunity.

Social isolation is a relative term and these days distance learning is a much less isolated affair if only because technology enables easy and speedy contact between students who are geographically separated.  Distance learners are encouraged by organisations like Oxford Home Schooling and Oxford Open Learning to integrate themselves into the wider community of learners and to share their learning experiences. There are chatrooms and blogs and virtual learning environments where friendships can be made and common interests shared.

Of course, the opportunities could be better still. We hope that the government will embrace the ethos of distance learning, and not just at a Higher Education level.  At modest cost to the state, huge improvements could be made in the infratructure and affordability of distance learning and lead to a revival of the idea of lifelong learning.

Distance learning can help to make first class students of us all.

Wimbledon is upon us!  Here at Oxford Home Schooling we have a number of young high performance tennis players who are studying our KS3, GCSE and A level courses, hoping that they too will one day be Wimbledon players. As members of the LTA, they receive a 10% discount on all our materials.

With high demands made upon their time, studying by distance learning is often the only option flexible enough to accommodate the players’ coaching commitments and tournament schedules, as well as being able to achieve formal academic qualifications. At some stage in their future, whether due to injury or retirement, it may be important to have qualifications to fall back on.

Currently 18 High Performance Centres (HPC’s) and 4 International HPCs such as Gosling Sports Park, Welwyn Garden City provide a high quality performance training environment for players predominantly aged 16 and under. These ensure they have access to tools needed to fulfil their potential, which includes being able to combine education and full time tennis. There are also a number of Independent Tennis Academies that provide a combination of an intensive tennis programme and academic study.

Players often study through distance-learning programmes offered by Oxford Home Schooling. They may benefit from a dedicated study environment at the tennis centre, with sessions carefully structured into their weekly schedule. An academic mentor or manager may oversee the programme.

The tennis players study the structured course materials (predominantly KS3, GCSE and IGCSE’s) provided by Oxford Home Schooling and will also have the advice and support of their subject based tutors, who can be contacted by telephone and email and who mark assignments on a regular basis. There is also ample support and guidance given on any coursework requirements and the examination procedures. Summer exams can prove difficult if they clash with tournaments, but IGCSE exams can also be taken in January.

Laura Robson has studied and taken her English GCSE through Oxford Home Schooling. Yesterday, the 16-year-old gave Jelena Jankovic, the World Number 3, one heck of a game, banging down numerous aces and coming within a couple of points of taking the second set. We feel sure she will be a star in years to come but a well-rounded education will also help her career.

A number of other students who excel in specialist areas such as drama, dance, music, golf, swimming and show-jumping, also study through Oxford Home Schooling as they do not have time to attend full time education. Distance learning offers them the most flexible option.

Sue Ray
Home Education Co-ordinator
Oxford Home Schooling
01865 798022

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