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Studying a Masters Online

Written by Mark Bennett

Online Masters degrees are a flexible way of gaining a postgraduate qualification, allowing you to fit your studies around the rest of your life. This can be ideal if you work full-time or you have busy family commitments.

The Open University pioneered online learning, but more and more traditional universities are beginning to offer online Masters programmes. If you’re unsure whether one of these courses would be suitable for you, we’ve put together a guide to the essential information you need to know about online Masters degrees.

You can also use to search for your perfect online Masters course right now.

What is an online Masters degree?

An online Masters degree does what it says on the tin – it’s the academic equivalent of a traditional Masters course, except you can complete it from the comfort of your own home. The precise nature of these courses differ from program to program, but the majority involve a combination of video lectures, online resources and feedback from a personal tutor.

There are online versions of almost every kind of traditional Masters. Some of the postgraduate qualifications you can study online include:

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Our database lists many different examples of online Masters program. Start your search with us and find your perfect course.

Who offers online Masters degrees?

The Open University is the largest provider of online Masters courses in the UK, but many traditional universities also offer a selection of online degrees. These Masters follow the same syllabus as their conventional, physical equivalent, but are designed with the distance learner in mind.

What are the entry requirements for online Masters degrees?

At traditional universities, entry requirements for online Masters degrees are generally the same as they are for the physical counterparts. For more information, check out our page on Masters degree entry requirements.

Meanwhile, the Open University often only asks that you already have an undergraduate degree (in any subject). However, more specialised Masters – for example, MEngs or the MA in Social Work – require a particular academic background (or relevant experience).

How much does an online Masters cost?

The tuition fees for an online Masters degree are usually set at the same level as an on-campus programme. However, it’s still worth bearing in mind that the actual cost of studying an online Masters may well be less than a traditional course, with the added flexibility and the lack of needing to travel to and from university. Studying online also means that you can live where you want – you don’t have to live in an expensive city if you don’t need or want to. For more information, check out our guide to the cost of a Masters.

Can you get student finance for online Masters?

The UK’s Masters loans are available for online Masters programmes. In order to be eligible, you’ll need to be living in the UK for the duration of your course (as well as satisfying the usual residency requirements).

How do online Masters degrees work?

The length, format and assessment methods of an online Masters course depend on the specific type of degree you’re studying, as well as the institution it’s being offered by. However, you can expect them to follow the same broad principles.

Most online Masters emphasise the importance of flexibility, which means you’ll be able to study when it’s convenient for you. Courses at traditional universities are generally completed in around two years, but the Open University takes a different approach. With Open University Masters, some programs give you up to ten years to finish your qualification.

You’ll be able to communicate with fellow students through an online discussion forum, and may have the opportunity to meet your coursemates and tutors in person at tutorials, depending on the institution. However, more often than not these tutorials are optional, so there’s no barrier to completing your course if circumstances stop you attending them.

Electronic access to the university library resources is an important part of these courses, giving you every opportunity to immerse yourself in world-class academic materials.

How are online Masters degrees assessed?

Despite its flexibility, you should expect an online Masters course to be every bit as challenging as a bricks-and-mortar counterpart. The teaching methods might be different, but there will be similar written assignments on which you’ll be assessed and receive feedback on from an academic tutor.

Most online Masters degrees also culminate in a dissertation or an extended research project. If you need advice on writing one of these, we’ve written a handy guide to researching and writing a Masters dissertation.

Distance Learning Courses

In principal, an online Masters degree is much the same as a distance learning course. However, online Masters are less likely to feature elements that require occasional physical attendance, unlike some distance learning qualifications. This can make them a more attractive option for international students.

What are the benefits of an online Masters degree?

If you’re thinking about applying for an online Masters degree, you might be worried that it won’t be viewed as a credible qualification by potential employers or academic figures.

But fear not: as long as the course is accredited, your Masters will be worth exactly the same as an on-campus version.

In fact, there are plenty of reasons to study an online Masters degree. Here are just a few:

  • Earning your Masters degree online is a sign of determination and independence – If you’ve been successful with an online Masters program while balancing your studies with other commitments, prospective employers will be impressed.
  • Online Masters degrees are a cheaper way of studying than traditional routes to a Masters – Tuition fees may be comparable to those of physical Masters, but the format of an online Masters means that it’s easier to work and earn as you study.
  • Flexibility – Without lectures and seminars to attend, you’re free to arrange your studies around your life, and not the other way round.
  • You don’t have to relocate – Online Masters are a way of accessing education from world-class universities without footing the cost of the often-expensive cities in which they’re based.

Are online Masters taken seriously?

As long as your online Masters degree is awarded by a reputable, accredited university, it is worth the same as a conventional Masters, and will be respected as such by employers. This means that your qualification will be globally recognised.

However, you do need to be careful when looking for an online Masters that you’re not duped by a phony university. Make sure that you check their credentials thoroughly (don’t worry, all the courses listed on are fully accredited!).

If in doubt, check with a relevant accreditation body, such as the UK’s Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), an independent organisation that monitors the country’s higher education industry.

Studying a Masters by distance learning

Distance learning programmes allow students to complete postgraduate courses without necessarily being based on or near a university campus, attending timetabled lectures and seminars.

If you have busy work or family commitments, this can be a great way to study a Masters, giving you the flexibility to fit your studies around the rest of your life.

Distance learning doesn’t have a set definition, and many institutions will use it interchangeably with online learning.

It’s an alternative to the face-to-face, campus-based learning of traditional university degrees.

Rather than attending physical lectures and seminars, distance learning students will use a combination of the following media and methods to study their chosen subject:

  • Internet resources
  • Email and post correspondence with tutors
  • DVDs/online videos

The emphasis with distance learning is usually on independent study – you’re free to go at your own pace, without having to worry about regular deadlines or exams.

What’s the difference between distance learning and online learning?

It’s not always easy to tell the difference between distance learning and online learning courses, with many institutions using the terms interchangeably. But there are a couple of key differences between the two concepts that may matter when you’re choosing a qualification.

Firstly, distance learning implies that the student doesn’t have to be based near the institution offering the course. Many online Masters courses may involve visiting the university in question for a series of conferences, for example, but this is less likely to be the case with a distance learning Masters.

Secondly, distance learning courses sometimes have less interaction between student and lecturer. You may only have contact with your tutor when it comes to submitting assignments, for example. Similarly, distance learning Masters might not give you the opportunity to interact with fellow students, especially if it’s a ‘correspondence course’ conducted via post.

Studying a Masters by blended learning

Blended learning Masters degrees are an innovative way of gaining a top-class postgraduate qualification. Emphasising the importance of flexibility, these courses typically combine classroom-based teaching methods with elements of online learning.

Blended learning is an increasingly popular way of studying for a Masters, striking a useful balance between the convenience of an online Masters and the face-to-face benefits of a traditional degree.

What is blended learning?

The use of technology to supplement education is nothing new, but blended learning is a relatively recent phenomenon. Mixing face-to-face tuition with the opportunities afforded by online platforms, blended learning is becoming part of more and more university courses in today’s globalised market.

You might have seen a few different terms used to refer to blended learning models, but they all refer to the same technique: ‘hybrid learning’, ‘flipped classroom’ and ‘mixed-mode instruction’ are a few examples of the terminology.

How does a blended learning Masters work?

What sets a blended learning Masters apart from distance learning or purely online courses is the fact that it gives you the opportunity to meet your tutors and fellow students face-to-face. Often, these meetings aren’t compulsory, but they can be an important part of immersing yourself in the course.

Blended learning Masters attempt to bridge the gap between online and traditional education in a number of ways. These methods differ from course to course, but some of the most popular technology-based ones include:

  • Collaborative online forums
  • Interactive resources
  • Podcasts
  • Video lectures
  • Virtual learning environments
  • Web conferencing

Online blended education typically combines these online approaches with occasional face-to-face meetings with academic staff or coursemates.

This might involve an evening seminar every two weeks or a weekend conference once a year, but all such ‘on-campus’ study will be scheduled to make it as accessible as possible for full-time workers or international students. Attendance of these meetings isn’t always a requirement, depending on the course and institution.

What’s the difference between blended learning and distance learning?

There isn’t always a clear distinction between blended learning and distance learning. The concept of blended learning doesn’t have a set definition and, as such, can mean different things to different universities. Some education providers may use the terminology of distance learning to describe elements of a blended learning programme, for example.

However, the main thing that sets the two approaches apart is the ability for students to meet each other and their tutors in person over the course of the programme. This is a unique selling point for most blended learning qualifications, whereas distance learning and 100% online Masters are designed for people that can’t attend the university campus, for whatever reason.

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Last updated - 18/01/2018

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