News Article

Distance Learning: A Panacea for the Periphery? by Charlie Dorr


Distance learning is sometimes seen as a solution in areas of the UK where geographical obstacles make traditional forms of tuition particularly challenging, but research suggests this may suit some learners more than others.

Peripheral areas, like offshore islands, can find it a challenge providing suitable training opportunities to their communities. One such area is the Isles of Scilly, located approximately 30 miles off the coast of Cornwall. 

Organisations hoping to provide training on the islands face a range of challenges including the cost of sourcing tutors from the mainland, the travelling costs of learners who are dispersed across the five inhabitable islands, and the limited resources of employers, who are predominantly microbusinesses.

As SERIO's own research for the Council of the Isles of Scilly has uncovered, many training providers in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland are making use of distance learning techniques to engage 'hard to reach' communities. This includes: the use of video conferencing to link-up communities on the Shetland Islands; and the development of 150 English and Gaelic language videos on the Outer Hebrides. 

However, the research also suggests that distance learning may not be best for everyone and that where it is applied some form of peer support is necessary.  In particular, employers on the Scilly Isles were keen to point out the value that younger learners with a more limited education got from having tutors and peers who could motivate them.  Interestingly, one adult learning provider in the Highlands found it useful to arrange some half-day sessions to overcome issues of isolation amongst its learners. Overall, employer and learner feedback from the Scillys suggested distance learning may be particularly suited to more self-motivated learners doing the more advanced courses.

One possible means of engaging less educated learners with distance learning could be to begin with traditional classroom based tuition before gradually introducing distance learning techniques that are suited to those with more confidence and motivation. Peer to peer interaction could be retained by bringing learners together physically as a class but linking them up with a tutor through video-conferencing, which could be a first introduction to distance learning for some.

While reduced budgets mean distance learning should be a key part of any provision it is no panacea and should be seen as just one component amongst many in training delivery.

SERIO's evaluation of the Progressive Isles Project can be found on the ESF Works website by clicking here.

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