Online learning: FAQs

The idea of taking a course online will be a little daunting for some; especially those who exclusively associate organised learning with face-to-face classroom environments. However, online learning is an exciting opportunity and one that allows people from all over the world to advance their skills and improve their career prospects in a convenient and cost-effective way.

With that in mind, we’ve set out to answer some of the most common questions we’re asked related to online learning:

What do I need to complete a distance learning course?
You’ll need regular access to a computer with a reliable internet connection and Microsoft Office for your assignments. With this type of hardware and software at your fingertips, you’ll be able to learn from a variety of places, including home, work, libraries, coffee shops and internet cafes.

As for additional items, may we suggest a notepad, pen, comfortable chair and a healthy supply of refreshments to keep you fuelled!

Can an online student make use of the university if they are in the UK?
Of course! You are a valued student studying a University of Birmingham course. You will have a student ID and will be able to make use of the facilities if you are nearby. Alternatively, all the course materials you will need are accessible online if venturing to campus isn’t for you.

What subjects can I study?
If you’re looking for a 100% online course, you could choose an Online MBA, Online MSc International Business or an Online Masters of Public Administration (MPA). There are also a number of distance learning or blended courses available in various other formats, please browse our directory for more information.

When can I start the programme?
We have three intakes a year. Students can join our programmes in Spring, Summer and Autumn. 

Do you have a detailed syllabus for each module?
Yes, we have all course information available on our website. If you are unable to find the specific details you are looking for, please get in touch with our Admissions Team on +44 (0)800 032 7101 or by email at, who would be happy to direct you to the relevant information.

If the course is 100% online, would I be able to download and print readings out if necessary?
Our innovative online courses are fit for the 21st century student. Course material can certainly be downloaded for reading offline. However, we don’t endorse or offer the ability to print reams of paper for reading offline. In our opinion, it’s not very environmentally friendly and our systems don’t allow it – primarily due to copyright.

How long will my online course take?
All courses 100% online courses take 2.5 years to complete. However if needs be, you can break up your studies and take time out in between completing modules. We allow students to take a maximum of 5 years to finish their online course.

Are there any exams?
Not at the moment, no – all three online degrees are assessed via coursework, group work, class participation, presentations and other types of assignment.

What referencing style do you use?
We use Harvard referencing. For style guidance, please see our university pages.

How are online courses delivered?
In a similar way to traditional classroom-based courses, actually. With most programmes, you’ll be given a course structure at the beginning of your term which details the year ahead. It’ll break everything down into distinct modules so you know what’s coming up and what you might have to prepare for.

The details will depend on the specific course you take. As an example though, on our 100% online courses students can expect to complete 12 taught modules over two years, followed by a research-based dissertation. Each module is worth a specific number of credits, which help to determine your end result.

All of your course materials will be available through the University’s virtual learning environment.

Are there specific times for the online classes?
Yes, you will receive a full timetable of online synchronous tutorials. These generally happen once every two weeks on a Saturday. The lecturer will run two sessions (one in the morning and a repeat session in the afternoon) to take into account the time difference of our international student cohort.

If I am working in a different time zone to where a live lecture is scheduled, could we watch a recording of it at another time?
We have designed our courses so that you are able to attend live lectures wherever you are studying from. Attendance to the synchronous sessions is obligatory. However, extenuating circumstances are treated on an individual basis by our Student Services team.

What is the average cohort size?
Our cohort sizes change with each intake and are different depending on the subject you choose to study. Therefore, we don’t have average cohort sizes. Our cohorts are generally very diverse and international, so you’d be able to network and learn from different cultures from all over the world.

Can I receive private tuition on top of the live lectures?
We don’t offer private tuition as the courses are designed to enable students to learn and study on their own terms and collaborate with others on their course. Feedback and monitoring of our current students shows that learning using the discussion forums, live lectures and various assignments is very effective for student learning and development.

What are the types of networking and collaboration opportunities?
You are able to message fellow students and tutors, use discussion forums, take part in group work and learn via the live lecture sessions. Studying online is a highly interactive environment – you’ll certainly feel part of a community.

While we keep all course communication within the learning environment, often students also choose to use Skype, Whatsapp or even have a Google Hangout with the friends they make whilst studying.

Would I be able to switch from a campus course to an online course half way through my degree?
The short answer is yes. However the optimum approach will be evaluated on a case by case basis and will depend on a variety of factors, such as the similarity of the courses you want to transfer between and at what point you are at in the course. Every case is different. Therefore, if you’d like to discuss switching from campus to online, we suggest that you contact our Admissions Team.

What support will I have as an online student?
You will learn from leading academics and industry figures, have access to community boards and instant messaging services, regular live discussions and support from a dedicated Student Services Coordinator – all to help guide you through your student journey. You will also have access to 24/7 technical support, should you have any issues in accessing the virtual learning environment.

As for materials, the online learning environment contains videos and interactive activities for you to watch and learn from as necessary. You’ll also have access to the university’s online library – including e-textbooks, journal articles and specialist industry reports (for example, Mintel).

Would I be eligible for careers advice?
Of course - we aim to be flexible as many students who study online also study overseas. We adapt our appointments to suit you. If visiting campus isn’t feasible then we have other ways we can offer support. Watch this video (40 seconds in) for more information.

Are these degrees flexible if you are working full-time?

Absolutely! We have designed these degrees so that you can study and work at the same time. In fact, 96% of all our online students work and study at the same time – it’s a great benefit to be able to apply the learning from your studies immediately to the workplace.

How many hours of study is recommended per week?
Generally we recommend 15 hours of study per week. However, the amount of study which is required will depend on your own way of working and the amount of free time you have available.

Does it matter where I am?
No, it really doesn’t – that’s one of the biggest reasons to take an online course. You’re able to study from anywhere in the world; all it takes is a computer and an internet connection.

Are there any face-to-face sessions throughout the programme?
No, these courses are 100% online and contain no campus requirements. That being said, you can visit campus on your own terms if you would like to.

If I am an online student, would I be able to attend graduation?
Of course! You will be invited just the same as any other student. Graduation is held on campus. If you are unable to attend graduation yourself, we will send your degree certificate in the post.

Will my degree certificate say that I studied online?
No, your degree certificate will not specify that you studied an online course, it will simply say the degree that you studied and qualification you achieved.

What are the requirements for overseas students?
Standard English language requirements apply. It is preferred that you provide us with an up-to-date IELTS certificate (6.5 with no less than 6.0 in any band). For specific information related to language requirements for your country, please browse our webpages.

How much are the fees for both UK and international students?
Fees vary depending on which subject you’re choosing to study. If you’d like to study the Online Masters of Public Administration, this costs £12,155 (GBP). The Online MSc International Business is £13,260 and the Online MBA is £19,175. Prices are subject to change each academic year. Our fees are the same for all students, wherever they are studying from.  If you would like more specific information about our fee structure and payment plan options, please contact our admissions team.

For more information on fees and funding, please see our dedicated webpages.

Are there any funding opportunities available?
While we don’t offer specific scholarships for each of our online degrees, other scholarships and funding opportunities may be available. We do offer alumni discounts to previous University of Birmingham students. Please see the University funding pages for more information.

Why should I choose an online course?
There are so many reasons to take an online course that we’ve written a whole feature on them. You get to learn at your own pace and in your own environment – regardless of where you’re based. It’s by far the most flexible way of learning, making it possible for students to overcome geographic and financial constraints, while balancing other professional and personal commitments.

Online learning is the perfect solution for busy professionals who want to learn with us. If you’re interested in studying online at the University of Birmingham, call us today on +44 (0)800 032 7101 to find out more.