Questions to ask when shopping around for distance learning courses

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Yellow taped note with question marks sketched on it using blue marker

As Autumn is now here, many people are currently looking for the right courses for them. Are you one of these people looking at shopping around?

It can often be difficult to know what types of questions to ask so we’ve put together a series of questions we recommend you to ask other distance learning providers when shopping around for information and guidance. Here are our answers to some of the questions you need to ask:

1. How many assignments does the course have?
This question will help you establish how many opportunities there are to get feedback from your tutor. If you’re looking for a lot of input from your tutor to help you track progress, the more assignments the merrier!

Our answer: It depends on the course. All new gold star A levels have 10 assignments (one for each section) plus an introductory assignment and a marked past paper.

Other courses vary depending on the course and qualification. For example our CMI Management courses have 2 or more assignments per unit which includes an NEC assignment and a CMI assignment.

2. Will I have a named, personal tutor and what qualifications will they have?
This will help you to establish whether you will have an expert guiding you through the course or whether work is marked by a pool of tutors. We think it’s important to have the opportunity to build up a rapport with your tutor, but you may not be looking for this.

Our answer: Yes. Once you’ve enrolled, we will assign a personal tutor for you who will be able to help provide guidance where needed. You’ll receive an email from us with the name of your tutor and they will also introduce themselves. When you log in to learn@nec you can view their profile to look at their experience, background and qualifications. Our tutors are experts in the subject, so you will have one for each course you study with NEC.

Majority of our tutors have a degree in the subject area they are teaching as well as a teaching qualification. All of our tutors have a profile on our learn@nec platform where you can find out more about them. You can also meet some on our website.

3. How can I contact my tutor?
You may have a preference for phone or email, this will help you to establish whether the contact methods on offer will work for you.

Our answer: Tutors are available to contact through the messaging service of learn@nec, email, or by phone. They will let you know their availability for calling and you’ll also be made aware of any dates they’re on holiday.

4. How is coursework dealt with?
This is critical if you are choosing a subject that has coursework. If the course provider cannot deal with the coursework, you might find it difficult to find someone who will and it will almost certainly carry an additional cost.

Our answer: If your course includes a non exam assessment (coursework), there are procedures you need to follow which are laid down in your course materials regarding deadlines, word length and format of work. You must also keep hard copies of all the work you have produced and the assignments you have submitted. This will protect you if your work is lost in the post, or as a result of computer failure. We deal with your coursework internally so we’ll let you know how we need you to submit it.

5. Can you guarantee an exam place and help me to book an exam?
It can sometimes prove difficult to find an exam centre as a private candidate. It can also take quite a lot of time to investigate and look around for a centre, not to mention the admin involved!

Our answer: We have 10 partnership exam centres across the UK where you can sit your exams. You can go to our website to find a list of these centres. If there aren’t any that are convenient for you, we can direct you to a list of other centres which may be able to help. If you choose to sit at one of our partnership centres we’ll take care of the admin. If you book an exam independently we’ll give you guidance on how to do this.

6. Can I see a sample of the course materials? Who writes you course materials?
It’s nice to know what you’re getting and seeing some of the course materials in advance can help you to decide whether distance learning is right for you. Think of your course materials as your ‘teacher’ guiding you through the course.

Our answer: Yes. You can download a course sample from our website. The course samples include the specification details, sample pages from the course materials and an introduction to the course, providing you with information you need to know before enrolling with us.

Our course materials are written by subject matter experts ranging from teachers to examiners and they are designed specifically for independent study. Our course materials are also used by other teaching professionals in the delivery of their own courses.

7. Are there any additional services that NEC provide?

Our answer: We provide a Young Learner’s Service for students who are under 18. Some of the features that are included are; Communication to parent and student to be decided by the parent and learner, a personal course coordinator, a learning plan and a three week deadline for completing the introductory assignment. Other additional services include financial help. We offer students an installment plan to help spread the costs into monthly payments, for a duration of six months. The requirements are you need to be a UK resident, are over 18 and working more than 16 hours per week.

8. Can you provide predicted grades for UCAS applications?
This is an important question if you are studying with the intention of going on to university. Particularly now that A levels are being reformed to be linear, universities will look at predicted grades as a way of making an offer of a place.

Our answer: Yes providing you have completed enough assignments for the tutor to work out a predicted grade.

9. Are there any additional costs that I should be aware of?
You’ll want to know what the overall cost of studying is so that you can make a realistic comparison between services. You also don’t want any nasty surprises later on.

Our answer: Our courses don’t include exam fees, these are separate to the course fee and are paid to the exam centre, or NEC if you sit through one of our partnership centres. Some professional courses require you to register with a professional organisation. NEC will help you with the registration process, but any registration costs are not included in your course fee. These costs will be clearly communicated before you enrol.

10. What are your pass rates?
This will give you an indication of how successful the provider is and maybe an important factor in making your decision.

Our answer: We have a very high pass rate. To give you an example, for the summer 2016 exam session, we received a 100% pass rate for our IGCSEs and GCSEs.

11. How long have you been providing distance learning?
A long history might give you the reassurance that you’re in a safe pair of hands.

Our answer: We’ve been providing distance learning for over 50 years and in 2014 our CEO, Ros Morpeth won an FE Leader of the year award and was also awarded an OBE by Prince Charles for Services to Education in 2015. You can read more about our history and contribution to lifelong learning in the back of our guide to courses.

12. Are your tutors DBS checked? Do you have a safeguarding policy and e-safety advice?
This is something you might be concerned about if you are looking at enrolling your child or children on a distance learning programme to support home education.

Our answer: Tutors who work with young learners are DBS checked. Yes, we have a safeguarding policy and e-safety advice. The e-safety advice is provided to students on learn@nec where there’s a section for you to read about how to stay safe online and the rules of using the forums. We have a safeguarding officer at NEC who’s in charge of making sure safeguarding procedures are put in place and that all staff are trained so they know what to do in the case of an issue. We take this matter very seriously and aim to help our students.

We hope this list will be helpful if you’re shopping around this Autumn. If you’d like to find out more about NEC and the courses that we offer, take a look at our brand new Guide to Courses.

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