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Many people have their own reasons for choosing to work and study at the same time. It could be financial, as you can maintain an income whilst gaining qualifications (something that is extremely appealing during this cost-of-living crisis), or maybe it is so you can increase your experience and have the opportunity to apply your skills immediately. Perhaps your employer is able to pay the tuition fees and are willing to invest in your development; or maybe your goals have changed, and you decide you want to start studying many years after gaining employment.  For lots of people, the idea of distance learning is appealing, as it was for me when I chose to go down this route back in 2018 with CILEx Law School.


Probably one of the most appealing benefits is flexibility. Distance learning is a route that facilitates students to be able to set their own learning pace and are typically able to join study sessions, mock exams, and pre-recorded webinars and lectures, whenever they want. It doesn’t matter if you join a lecture 25 minutes late because the line at Starbucks was longer than you imagined…. because lectures are usually pre-recorded, there is no set start time.  So you can sit at your desk, sipping your venti pumpkin spice latte with three shots of espresso, seven pumps of pumpkin sauce, and one pump of maple pecan sauce, not having to worry about explaining why you’re late.

Some routes, such as the CILEx paralegal apprenticeship, entitle a student to take 20% of their weekly working hours as study leave – for most employees, that means one whole day’s leave from work which can be split up across the week however they choose. However, employees taking one of the many other routes of distance learning which may not offer the same study time, the flexibility of their courses still offers more freedom to learn and study whilst working. With the introduction of hybrid working following the Covid-19 pandemic, less of your time is taken up with commuting so you can easily transition from work to study more efficiently on a weeknight; and you can study on the weekends if you so choose.

Another appealing benefit is the affordability of distance learning. The most obvious element of the financial savings is the absence of university fees – a three-year course will land you in £27,750 of debt which, although not a financial priority (because we all know that actually being able to pay off 100% of the loans is merely a dream), is not a pleasant thought. Especially when you get your yearly reminders that more interest has been added to the loan that your actual salary deductions have contributed to paying it back. These university loans don’t include the extra maintenance costs a student faces such as travel, rent, food, learning resources etc - distance learning is far lest costly, especially if your employer is able to contribute to or even cover the fees. This leaves you better financial resources to be able to maintain your quality of life, with enough left over for that Starbucks that you’ve been thinking about since you read the words ‘pumpkin spice’.

Accessibility and attendance are both key benefits of distance learning as well. As you can learn from anywhere in the world whilst wearing your fuzzy pyjamas in the comfort of your own home – binge watching Bridgerton in the background – only requiring your average laptop with an internet connection, it eliminates the need to travel (another money saving benefit), and you can fit your studies into your schedule with greater ease. The learning environment of online distance learning programs allows students to access learning resources whenever and wherever they choose and attendance is typically monitored by checking responses to emails, admissions into webinars and lectures, assignment submissions, and general contributions to message boards and forums; therefore, there is less pressure to meet the normal attendance requirements that you face in school or college.


However, for every good reason to choose distance learning, there is a challenge lurking under the surface. A student needs to be very aware of these challenges that will likely present themselves at some point before they make the choice to start their distance learning journey.

Time management is a key challenge for students. Although distance learning offers far more flexibility, a student needs the ability to manage their time properly. According to an article published in 2019[1], many students find it hard to balance their studies, work, and social activities which leads to poor sleep patterns and increased levels of stress. There are resources to help students identify problems in this respect, with solutions that are available[2] It is hard to comprehend any more stress in addition to what we have already faced from the pandemic, so it is extremely important for students to be aware of this and plan how to manage potential stress. Students are challenged with being able to pace themselves appropriately, which is something that comes more naturally in a face-to-face class with peers and friends to help you stay focused. One of the most effective ways to combat this challenge is to create a plan – any student will have heard this 100 times before: creating a study plan is key to keeping you on track. Many school students roll their eyes when they hear this advice for the 23rd time in one day during GCSE revision; but looking back I have to admit that, very possibly, my maths teacher may have been right. There are plenty of free resources online to help a student develop a study plan[3]

Another challenge that students can face is faulty technology. Although you should only need an average laptop that doesn’t cost hundreds of pounds, if your technology suddenly fails you then you could lose not just study resources, but you could be stuck with no access to learning portals or remote exam sessions. Fortunately, CILEx sends several emails in the run up to exam week with links to the remote exam software that needs to be installed and connectivity requirements, so you have some time to prepare. If you choose to start distance learning, make sure you ask questions around what type of technology will be needed and whether your chosen education centre provides hardware like headsets or ergonomic keyboards. There’s not much advice I can offer for when your laptop inevitably breaks down one day, probably one week before your exams start, but I took out gadget insurance when I started studying which included free repairs.

A third (but not final, I have a word limit on this article) challenge is lack of motivation. I am not going to lie to you as a reader and tell you that as soon as I finished work on a Friday morning, to leave the office for my afternoon study leave, that I bounded home with a smile on my face and motivation to open my books. It just didn’t happen, and I really struggled to switch into study-mode because, ultimately, all I wanted to do was sit on the sofa and watch Better Call Saul. Some methods I found to tackle this was to ease myself into my study period – rather than jump straight into a new essay, I logged onto my learning portal and did some easier multiple choice practice tests whilst practicing some positive affirmations, a form of self-help that helps to overcome self-sabotage[4]

Distance Learning: Yay or Nay?

Despite the challenges that distance learning throws at a student, I would still highly recommend it as a learning route if you are looking for next steps to take in your career. Take it from me, it was not the easiest experience (and I had already been in and out of university by that point and faced an entirely different set of challenges), but I would never have had an opportunity to further my education and, in turn, my career without being given the chance to enrol into CILEx Law School. Whether you choose CILEx, University of Law Online, The Open University, or a paralegal apprenticeship that your employer potentially offers, I believe the benefits outweigh the challenges and there are pages and pages of resources on Google if you are considering your education options.