How distance learning works

Just like any course of study, distance learning involves a series of lectures supplemented by further reading material, periodic tests, coursework assignments and regular tutorials. The difference is that all of this activity takes place online.

All of our distance learning courses are assessed fully online – so you don’t need to attend the University to sit your exams. You’ll find more details of the exact methods of assessment on each individual course profile, but they generally involve a mix of coursework and online assignments.

However, studying remotely does not mean you need to study alone. For each course unit you will be part of a small group of fellow students who can be contacted through our online communities. You will also be assigned an academic tutor and a course advisor who will be available to answer any questions, provide feedback on your progress and advise you on scheduling your studies.

Choose from the list below to learn more about how distance learning works.

Teaching methods

Much of your teaching will be in the form of video lectures and we break these down into relatively short episodes to help you to be flexible in planning your studies. All of the videos are available when you start your course and you can watch and re-watch them whenever you wish.

Most courses will involve online quizzes or self-tests so that you and your tutor can keep track of how you’re getting on, and you’ll have regular contact with your tutor through online video-conferenced tutorials. Any coursework assignments can be submitted online through the University’s virtual learning environment and you’ll receive your grades and feedback through the same platform.


Distance learning course durations vary according to the type of course, the qualifications gained and whether you’re studying part-time or full-time.

MOOCs are shorter online courses that typically last between six to eight weeks.

Online postgraduate courses, however, can last anywhere between one and five years, depending on how much time you can commit to your studies. Generally, however, a good rule of thumb for each qualification is:

  • PGCert: one year part-time study
  • PGDip: two years part-time study
  • MSc: three to five years part-time study
  • MA: two to three years part-time study

Several of our distance learning courses also allow you to study full-time and complete the course within one year. These courses are:

  • Dental Public Health MSc
  • Evidence-Based Health Care MSc
  • Public Health MPH/MRes

Please note that full-time study requires a commitment of 30 or more hours per week and is often why some distance learners prefer to pursue part-time study over two to five years.

Since timescales vary depending on the course, qualification and subject matter, you should check the specifics of your chosen course. 

Practical considerations

You’ll need to provide some equipment yourself, a PC or a Mac, of course – though a machine of moderate specification is sufficient.

We ensure that all of our teaching materials are mobile-friendly – so you’ll be able to watch videos, etc on your smartphone or tablet. However, you’re likely to need a proper keyboard for completing assignments.

You’ll also need to provide a headset and webcam to participate in online tutorials and other group activities.

We do expect you to have access to standard office software – such as Microsoft Word and Excel, plus any standard browser, such as Chrome, Explorer or Firefox.

If your course requires any specialist software, then we’ll provide you with copies of this and a licence that lasts throughout your studies.

Your commitment

Your most important commitment to your distance learning course will be time – the time to work through, reflect on and understand all of your teaching materials. Typically, this will mean around 15 hours per week of part-time study for the duration of a course unit, but you can schedule this however you wish.

This time may be spent watching video lectures, reading papers or book chapters, completing online assignments or participating in discussions with your tutor or tutor group. In the latter part of a unit, most of your study time will probably be spent completing your final assessments.


At Manchester, distance learning students receive the same level of teaching and support as our students on campus. You’ll be a fully registered student of the University and all of the support and services that we provide will be available to you – though you may access them in a different way to on-campus students.

For example, all the papers and textbooks referred to in our distance learning courses are available in digital format from The University of Manchester Library for you to read online, or print if you prefer. Some courses also include workbooks or similar materials that you can complete online or download and keep.

We invest heavily in online and interactive technologies to allow you to connect easily with fellow staff and students. As a distance learner, you’ll join a group of fellow students who you can contact through our online communities. In terms of academic support, you will be assigned an academic tutor and a course adviser who will be available to answer any questions, provide feedback on your progress and advise you on scheduling your studies.

We’ll give you technical support if you have difficulty setting up any equipment or software, and your course adviser will give you one-to-one training on how to use our virtual learning environment, video conferencing and community platforms when you first start your course.