A growing number of LLM programs can be studied by distance learning and online learning, where instructors and students communicate online rather than face to face. A wide variety of educational media and modes of communication and teaching are used. One of the hallmarks of many distance online learning llm programs is that, via flexible, modular class offerings, students can progress through them at their own pace. Distance online learning programs have a longer duration than their full time equivalents. For LLMs, these typically usually last two to five years instead of one year full time. Some distance learning courses require a combination of online and physical communication, where students attend residential sessions.
Why consider an LLM distance/online learning program?
You want to get on
In this increasingly competitive legal world, maintaining a good skills base has never been more important as a way of getting on. A distance online learning program can help you to acquire those professional and transferable skills necessary for career advancement without having to take an enforced break from your legal career. Distance learning can also be a solution if you want to move sideways into a new area of law that requires the acquisition of new knowledge and skills.
You have to fit study around your commitments
If you have work and/or family commitments or need to be able to fit your studies around your other commitments, distance learning could be the answer as these courses tend to be highly flexible, allowing participants control over study schedules, to study at a pace and at times best suited to their needs, and to study when and where they choose, as well as how they will be assessed.
You want a wider choice
Distance learning can substantially increase the choice of law courses open to you simply because you are not tied to one location; attendance at a particular campus is often not required. This means you could have law schools around the world to choose from which can be attractive if you don't want to leave your home town, but don't like what's on offer locally.
You want financial security or to keep the costs down
Being at work and studying at home will mean that you will not have to forgo your salary, and also your living costs will remain the same. This is an important consideration when most distance learning courses are much longer then their full-time equivalents.
You want to improve your chances of getting onto a course
Distance-learning courses have fewer constraints on the number of places they can offer, which in turn means a greater chance of being accepted on to them.
Although distance learning is a common method of instruction for business, information technology and various other subjects, it remains relatively uncommon for law. Law is a conservative profession, so perhaps it is unsurprising that legal education lags in distance learning opportunities. Nevertheless, a growing number of distance-learning LLM programs are available. The University of London’s External Program offers a well-established LLM that can be completed in as little as one year or as many as five years. Institutions around the world offer distance-learning LLMs in a wide variety of subjects, from International Business Law at the University of Aberdeen and Commercial Law at the University of Derby, as well as the five distance learning LLM programs on offer at the University of Edinburgh, all based in the UK, through to Prosecutorial Science at Chapman University in the US, Intellectual Property at the University of Turin in Italy, Environmental Law and International Environmental Law at Macquarie University in Australia, People’s Republic of China Law at the Open University of Hong Kong, and an Executive LLM at the Instituto de Empresa Business School in Spain.
This type of studying does have different requirements and pressures from full time study, which you should be aware of. The institution will agree with you a timetable of study and deadlines for supplying essays and assignments, with videos, audio tapes and written materials sent regularly by post or available online to give you the raw materials for your studies. You can keep in regular contact with your tutor via e-mail or telephone and it is usual to e-mail your essays to them. However in order to be successful in this mode of study read the following checklist:
You will need to be self-motivated or a self-starter. Even though you are not on a campus, you will still have to undertake study and provide essays to an agreed timetable. Without the structure of full-time study, it will be up to you to ensure that you keep the ball rolling. Your institution and tutor can give you advice and support, but ultimately it is your responsibilty.
You will also need dedication and discipline as a distance learning program can be a long haul (usually twice as long as the full time equivalent). It might be daunting, after a long day at work, to then have to undertake several hours of study, but persevere – this is the only way you will attain your goal of gaining a qualification.
You must also be organised and be able to multi-task in order to ensure that your other commitments (often the reason for distance learning in the first place) do not impinge on the time you need for study. Some students spend up to 15 hours a week studying and preparing assignments, so you will have to find a way of fitting this in. If you are able to establish a routine and settle into a rhythm, then this will become easier. Although this may sound daunting, many distance learning students go on to successfully complete their courses. Once you get the knack, there will be no stopping you.
Your institution will also give you as much support as you need. By making yourself known to other people on the course (by networking online, giving permission for your name and contact details to be passed on to other students, or by meeting them at summer schools or compulsory course attendance at the institution), you can set up a network of learners, which can also be another source of support, advice and encouragement. It is possible to undertake a distance-learning program without a tutor and many institutions will offer you this option. Although some distance learners study their programs independently, many do opt to have a tutor. If you do have a tutor, your relationship with them will be very important. Making this work will make your distance-learning experience easier. Some ground rules will be provided at the start of the programme: you will be given written guidance on what you are entitled to expect from your tutor, including how often you can call them, how much time they are prepared to give you and how your work will be marked, including timescales and to what standards. The key consideration is that access to your tutor will be limited, so you should plan this carefully to make the most of what they can offer you.
1. Contact the tutor at a time that is convenient to them (particularly important if they are in a different time zone).
2. Keep to your deadlines.
3. Stick to arrangements you have made with them.
4. Monitor your progress (this is your job, not the tutor’s).
5. Give them honest and constructive feedback, both during and at the end of the course; don’t be afraid to compliment them!
If you follow these basic guidelines, in return you should find your tutor accommodating, understanding and flexible. They can be very helpful should circumstances, such as sudden work pressure or a family crisis, affect your ability to study or the progress of your program. They will help you manage the impact on your time, for instance by arranging the postponement of examinations to give you the extra time you might need. It is important to involve them from the start of a major problem. That said, a useful tip is not to contact them every time you have difficulties, but to make a note of them as they happen over a time period, say a week, and then bring them all up on one occasion with the tutor in order of difficulty. Time with them is precious, so make the best use of it.
When choosing a distance-learning LLM there are several things you need to consider:
1. The reputation of the course and the law school.
2. Admission requirements.
3. The cost and convenience of the course.
4. What the course will cover, including its main aims.
5. Teaching methods, including who the teachers are.
6. Course materials provided.
7. Assessment methods, including responsibility for setting and marking the exams.
8. What support is available.
9. The amount of time you can spare.
10. Whether the final qualification is suitable for your personal or career development.