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 by Ben Taylor
, posted on 2 Apr '20

Distance vs On-Campus Learning – What are the Differences (and Similarities)?

The coronavirus outbreak means that more students and universities are currently considering online and distance learning courses. These are less likely to be affected by the availability of campus facilities and they’re also easier to study internationally (you don’t need a visa, or travel for a distance learning degree).

The good news is that online programmes actually work really well for Masters study as students are already expected to work more flexibly and independently. Still, you may not have any experience of distance learning and could be wondering what these courses actually involve.

In this blog, we’re going to explore some of the key differences between studying a Masters online and on-campus, as well as a few surprising similarities between the two.


The flexibility of online Masters degrees is one of their main advantages over traditional on-campus postgraduate programmes. These courses are designed to be completed in the comfort of your own home and are usually structured so that you can study while continuing to work full-time.

In practice, this means that you can study at any time of the day and aren’t limited to the rigid timetable of a university-based Masters. Want to catch up on that video lecture after you’ve had your dinner? No problem!

Somewhat importantly, studying online also means that your university could be anywhere. No need to relocate to a new city (or a new country) — simply find and apply for a distance learning Masters that appeals to your interests and career plans.


This is one area where online Masters and traditional degrees are largely the same. Online courses are just as academically rigorous as their on-campus counterparts and subject to the same accreditation standards.

So, if you’re worried that a distance learning Masters might not command the same respect as a traditional programme — don’t be! In fact, many employers will recognise that successfully completing an online degree requires a unique set of skills in time management and organisation, along with plenty of commitment (particularly right now). This is certainly something you’ll be able to mention in any future job applications.


Tuition fees for on-campus and distance learning Masters are often similar, so you shouldn’t necessarily expect to pay much less for an online postgraduate degree. After all, as we’ve already covered, these are fully-accredited qualifications that are equal to their traditional equivalents.

It’s more common to study online on a part-time basis, however. This means that tuition fees are split over two (or more) years, potentially making it a more affordable option. For example, instead of paying £8,000 per year for a one-year, full-time Masters, you’d pay £4,000 per year for a two-year, part-time programme.

Even though tuition fees aren’t normally lower for an online Masters, you should bear in mind that your other costs won’t be as high as they might have been if you were studying on-campus in a new city.

Contact hours

Contact hours are a bit more complicated than they’d first appear. It’s true that studying a distance learning Masters means that you won’t have face-to-face contact through lectures, seminars and workshops.

However, this doesn’t mean that you won’t have plenty of regular online contact with your lecturers and fellow students via virtual forums, video lectures and other forms of e-learning. In fact, you can expect to have a similar number of contact hours as a traditional Masters — you just have to remember that it’s a slightly different kind of contact!


Online Masters are usually assessed in a similar manner to their on-campus equivalents. So, if you’re studying an MA in an Arts and Humanities subject, you can expect to submit a series of written assignments and eventually complete a dissertation with the support of a supervisor.

MScs — both online and traditional — are more likely to involve examinations along with written assignments and research projects. Some universities may ask that distance learners take tests at an examination centre towards the end of a course, while others design the programme so that exams can be taken at home. When choosing your online Masters, this is one of the most important factors to take into account.


The UK Government’s postgraduate loans are available for online Masters programmes as well as traditional campus-based degrees. If you’re eligible, you could receive the following amounts towards your tuition fees and living costs:

With the exception of the funding from the Welsh Government, these loans are non-means-tested, so if you’re earning money while studying, it won’t have any effect on the amount you’re entitled to.

Other countries also offer their own funding and there’s no reason why most of this wouldn’t be available to online students. Check out our international funding guides for more information.

Whether you’re a home student or an international student, it’s also worth checking with the universities themselves to see if they offer scholarships for distance learning Masters. We’ve written a guide to university funding for Masters, which should be helpful.

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