Distance learning is increasingly widening participation in life-long learning, and is directly contributing to the amount of learners progressing to further and higher education in Ireland. However, whilst growing in popularity – it is not always obvious that many courses are certified and accredited by professional or government bodies, like QQI (Quality and Qualifications Ireland). Most Irish distance learning providers have agreed quality assurance policies and procedures with QQI, and therefore are registered to offer validated online courses leading to QQI awards on the National Framework of Qualifications. This extends opportunities for recognition of awards, along with access, transfer and progression for all learners.
National Framework of Qualifications
There are 10 levels on the national framework, 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest. Further education programmes comprise levels 4 through to 6 and students can avail of major or minor awards at these levels. Major awards are usually made up of a number of specified minor awards commonly known as component certificates or modules. Each module can be taken separately or as part of an overall programme incorporating all the required modules for a major award. Learners receive a component certificate for each module they successfully complete. When a learner has successfully completed the required component certificates for a major award they automatically become eligible for the overall certificate. Higher education programmes go from 7 to 8 and postgraduate awards go from 9 up to 10.
Distance learning colleges usually offer QQI courses at Level 5 and Level 6 from the framework. They also offer Level 5 and 6 component certificates which can go towards achieving a major award. As a graduate of such courses, you are eligible, provided you have a major award to apply alongside other standard applicants for a place in a higher education. For example: a QQI level 5 childcare award available through distance learning will allow students the opportunity to apply for a place on a Childcare or Social Studies degree programme (Level 7 or 8 on the national awards framework and is subject to the universities entry requirements). The distance learning Healthcare Support Certificate QQI Level 5 will allow students the opportunity to apply for a place on degree nursing programmes, if five distinctions are achieved in specific modules. A QQI award can also be converted into points to compete alongside standard applicants for non-related CAO courses.
Some online learning colleges, like Griffin College, have courses that are certified by NCFE, City and Guilds and The Institute of Leadership and Management (amongst others). The Northern Council for Further Education is recognised as an Awarding Organisation by the qualification regulators for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. They provide an extensive range of vocational qualifications and awards that contribute to the success of millions of learners. City & Guilds operate in over 80 countries worldwide and as a result offer worldwide recognition of your skills combined with qualifications that are based on
A Distance Learning course can also stand to you if you want to enter college as a mature student; it will go towards your RPL (recognition of prior learning). Recognition of Prior Learning is defined as recognising learning that has already taken place prior to enrolment on the particular programme of study. Learning is defined as the acquisition of knowledge and skills that has resulted from a successful learning process. This learning process may have taken place formally through a further or higher education provider or informally or non-formally through work/life experiences. Learning (whether from personal experiences, work experience or courses undertaken) is assessed by the relevant assessor (s) and this assessment may lead to academic credits, exemptions from subjects on intended course of study or places on particular courses of study. Accredited/Non- Accredited learning constitutes RPL.
Distance learning does offer a stepping stone to higher education but some higher education institutes offer distance learning courses also.
Open University is a non-campus university. Over 200 of their qualifications are QQI approved and are aligned to the National Framework of Qualifications. They also accredit their own degrees and they comply to the same standards as any other university.
There are other Higher Education Institutes that provide adults with access to third level education regardless of location, employment, domestic or personal circumstances, or prior qualifications. They offer people the chance to achieve an Irish university qualification without changing their current lifestyle. For example, UCD Quinn School of Business offers undergraduate and postgraduate degree courses in Business Studies and Management via Distance Learning. Hibernia College offers a range of programmes in the fields of education, professional development, pharmaceutical medicine, and financial management. OSCAIL, (DCU Distance Education Department), provides flexible access to third level education and all of their programmes are accredited by Dublin City University.
There are distance learning colleges that award their own certificates on completion of a distance learning course. There is a level of credibility attached to such certificates, when they are awarded by credible providers like the International Career Institute, whose courses are recognised and accredited by the International Association of Private Career Colleges (IAPCC). Some courses are also accredited and certified by the relevant professional bodies associated with the course undertaken. Pitman Training, as an example, offer online Management Professional courses which allow you to develop your management career through part-time distance learning, without giving up your job. Most Pitman courses can lead to qualifications from a wide range of professional bodies including AMSPAR, AAT, BTEC, BULATS, Microsoft Academy, CLAIT, CompTIA, OCR (formerly RSA), IAB, CILEx, ITQ, MCSE, MOS and more.
Before you embark on a distance learning course: familiarise yourself with the type of award you will receive on completion and inform yourself of its accreditation (if any). If you are pursuing a distance learning course to up-skill in a certain area and to get employer recognition for your new qualification; make sure it is accredited by a related professional body that your employer will be familiar with. This will guarantee them that the proper training and skills have been delivered and acquired by you.
Distance learning does not require a huge monetary investment but it will require time and dedication and in order to get the most from this investment ensure that you are getting the qualification, certification and accreditation you need and require.