Is distance learning right for you?

29th July 2003, Comments 0 comments

Moving to a foreign country for your partner's job assignment does not have to mean putting your life on hold. If you have been looking for a chance to expand your horizons or change careers, distance learning may be the answer. Cormac Mac Ruairi reports.

Following a partner to a foreign work placement often means making sacrifices. By necessity you may have to put certain elements of your own life on hold.

But this situation can also give you the time to learn new things and even to go back to school from the comfort of your home.

Getting a distance learning education

Distant learning describes the situation when the student is separated from the instructor.

The Open University in Britain ( has allowed students from all over the world to complete recognised academic courses for years. (See below for a list of European OU courses).

All topics and subjects can be done through distance learning these days. For instance, OU's huge selection of BA and Masters degree courses include Art history, Astronomy, Biology, Business and Management and Information.

A number of institutions offer shorter courses, which lead to lesser qualifications. It is up to you to choose, but remember serious courses can last 28 weeks to a few years.

Many courses don't have any formal entry requirements but you have to be confident that you can last the pace. Masters degrees generally have stricter eligibility requirements.

The Internet has spawned hundreds of other online courses, some administered by established educational institutions.

But you have to be careful; some are bogus or just plain crap. Internet communication is great but it's recommended that you phone the college to check them out. If it sounds too easy, be wary.

If you are looking for a professional qualification, you don't want to work your butt off for a degree from the Boss Hogg University of Hazard County.

My own distance learning experience

I moved to the continent to be with my partner in late 1988. I realised early on that it was by no means clear that I had the qualifications to get a proper job here.

I knew I had to brush up my education but did not fancy re-entering a classroom environment. Instead, a search of the web turned up a number of sites offering distant learning courses.

In the end, I chose a basic proof-reading and copy-writing course ( Due to the nature of the subject, the course work was completed on paper but I used email to send questions and comments to the person correcting the material.

Completing the course gave me a little extra confidence for my job search. My first job was as a migrant consultant. Not directly related to proofreading, but I think it helped. When I was hired, the boss said all letters to clients ‘had to be in beautiful English’.

I have regular work now as a freelance journalist but I have toyed with the idea of doing a distance learning course in law. Some of the options I have considered include the Open University, the US-based Kaplan college (, and Concord Law School (

Finally, a chance to pursue your interests

A quick search on the Internet will give you a lot of options, says Joan, who is doing a history course online. She moved to Germany last year because of her boyfriend's company work assignment.

She chose the course because history is something she always wanted to study but never got the chance. "I thought about doing a more practical course but then I decided I want to have fun".

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