Skip To Content

Student Handbook

How Distance Learning Works

How Distance Learning Works

Distance education is different from conventional classroom-based education in that it allows you as a student to complete courses and programs without attending scheduled group classes in a central location, such as a university campus. As an AU distance education student, you can

  • work from anywhere, such as your home or workplace
  • work at your own pace, on a schedule that suits your individual needs
  • register for a single course or enrol in an undergraduate or graduate degree, diploma or certificate program

Delivery Methods

AU employs a broad spectrum of distance learning methods and relies on a variety of information technologies to deliver course materials and instruction to students. These include the use of a  multi-media online activities, print materials, web, e-mail, Internet, CD-Rom, computer software, audio/video conferencing, audio/video tapes and TV or radio. Any particular course might use a combination of delivery methods. If you register for an online course, you will need access to a computer with an Internet connection. Learn more about course delivery.

Individualized Study

Most AU courses are offered as individualized study courses. As a student in an individualized study course, you will receive a learning resource package in the mail or online and work independently, with support and instruction from your tutor. You will work according to your own schedule, within the six (three-credit course) to 12 (six-credit course) month period allowed to complete the course.

Grouped Study

Some AU courses are also offered as grouped study courses (A small number are available only through grouped study). As a student in a grouped study course, you would be one of a group of students simultaneously receiving instruction from an instructor, as you would in a conventional university setting. Grouped study courses are taught online or in classrooms at collaborating institutions across Canada and abroad and follow a traditional semester system, lasting 13 (three-credit course) or 26 (six-credit course) weeks.

Find grouped study courses.

Student Support

As an AU student, you will benefit from an extensive network of student services including access to one-on-one support from faculty members, academic advisors, counsellors, tutors, IT help-desk personnel and other support staff who will, together, provide you with information, advice, and service.

A range of individualized accommodations and support services are available to students with physical, sensory, psychological or learning disabilities

AU also offers nearly 200 scholarships, leadership awards and bursaries. Awards are available to both graduate and undergraduate students on the basis of academic achievement or financial need. All students are automatically considered for many of the academic scholarships; others are available by application. AU is also committed to facilitating student research and supports students in their research activities through an endowment for scholarships and funding for special research projects.

The Information Centre is the first point of contact for questions or to reach other departments and services. The centre can be reached by phone at 1-800-788-9041 (toll-free in Canada and the U.S.) or at 780-675-6100.


Distance education through AU puts you in control, allowing you to tailor your program to your personal or professional needs and interests and to continue your education without sacrificing personal, family, career or community commitments. Four aspects of distance education make it a particularly attractive option for busy people:


Wherever you are, even if you are hundreds of miles from the nearest town, your AU university campus is right there. For example, AU students have completed courses and degrees while travelling abroad, while stationed in remote arctic outposts, while serving overseas with the Canadian Forces or with humanitarian groups and while competing as professional or Olympic athletes.


Your AU classes take place when it’s convenient for you, at any time of the day or night, and in whatever classroom you please, whether its your bedroom, a hotel room, an airport waiting room or your workplace. AU’s year-round admission and course registration policy allow you to enrol in a program or start a course at any time of the year: you don’t have to wait until the beginning of a term or semester.


AU course fees include the cost of books and most other learning materials, and you can pay as you go: one course at a time, or more—whatever is best for you. Most importantly, undertaking distance study at AU does not require you to leave your job or your home. The greatest cost associated with getting a degree from a conventional university lies not in the cost of the education itself but in lost income from taking time off work and the expense of living away from home for several years. More than 80 per cent of AU students continue to work while they study.


You can complete an AU university certificate or diploma, a three- or four-year bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree or a doctorate; you can take one or more AU courses to transfer to your program at another post-secondary institution; or you can take one or more courses to just to satisfy your own interests or curiosity or for personal or professional development. Whatever your educational goal, you can achieve it at AU.

Am I Ready For Distance Learning?

Studying with a distance learning university requires motivation, commitment, and perseverance. The flexibility to study at your own pace and to set your own time schedule is a definite benefit, but it also means you must be dedicated, organized, and focused. Take the online self-assessment questionaire to find out if you are ready for Athabasca University.

Back to top...

Student & Academic Services - Last Updated October 11, 2012

In this section:


Related Links