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Athabasca University

All About Distance Education at AU: How Does It Work, Exactly?

What is distance education?

Typically, distance education means that you and your professor (also called tutors or instructors) are physically separated from each other.

Your distance education learning materials may be

  • on-line
  • audio
  • video
  • CD and/or
  • DVD

Like classroom-based students, your learning activities include reading textbooks and articles, completing assignments, projects, and essays, and writing exams.

The only differences between classroom-based and distance learning are that you study from wherever and whenever you happen to be, and your primary contact with your professor (tutor / instructor) is by e-mail and phone. In some online AU courses and programs, you can find yourself participating in group discussions and completing group projects with fellow students.


As a student, you can obtain all kinds of services and support through the University’s myAU portal.

How does it work?

Typically, the BPA programs use an approach called individualized study. This means that you work on your own within a contracted six-month course timeframe. You may start any course on the first of any month (as long as you register by the 10th of the previous month.) Otherwise, there are no deadlines for university enrolment or course registration. You can study full time or part time. You may enroll in one course at a time, or choose to do more than one. If distance education is new to you, we recommend that you start with one course in order to get a sense of how independent study will fit into your regular schedule.

You receive

  • On-line Study Guide and Student Manual
  • your textbook(s)
  •  any other required learning materials, such as videos, audio tapes, or CDs
  • Links and passwords to your course’s online website

You can

  • talk with your professor (tutor / instructor) by e-mail or phone
  • submit your assignments electronically
  • write any exams at a location near you
  • request an extension for course completion, if you need it (refer to the AU Calendar on Course Extensions)

We also offer some courses in a classroom setting at select colleges in Alberta. What are the benefits of distance education? Distance education with Athabasca University enables you to

  • receive personalized one-on-one teaching
  •  receive high-quality Study Guides and learning materials developed by subject matter experts
  • you don't have to worry about taking lecture notes!
  • learn while you earn
  • start at any time (the 1st day of any month)
  • schedule your study times to fit within your lifestyle
  • set your own pace
  • stay at home or in your community
  • study from wherever and whenever you happen to be

It’s a great way to learn!

Updated August 13 2015 by Student & Academic Services

AU, CANADA'S OPEN UNIVERSITY, is an internationally recognized leader in online and distance learning.