Distance Learning in Swedish Higher Education

Over the last ten years, the number of course registrations for degree programmes offered as distance learning has increased. Distance learning is more common among women and people with less educated parents. Distance learning students are generally older than students on campus and have more often children living at home.

This shows the important role of distance learning in providing opportunities for lifelong learning, regardless of where you are in life or where you live. Distance education could be part of the answer for improving regional access to expertise in such crucial areas as teaching, nursing and care, says Anette Gröjer, project manager for this government assignment.

In December 2017, the Swedish Higher Education Authority (UKÄ) reported on a government assignment to survey and analyse distance learning at higher education institutions (HEIs) in Sweden. The assignment included analysing the HEIs’ strategies for distance learning and the range of distance learning courses and degree programmes available.

Stronger position for degree programmes

The report shows, among other things, that the number of distance learning courses and programmes offered peaked in the academic year 2010/11 and has since gradually declined, to a total of 7 332 in 2016/17. The decline is mainly due to a reduced number of freestanding courses. Women more often take distance learning courses in health care, while men more often study engineering and technology.

During the same period of time the number of course registrations (individual student registrations for courses) increased considerably for distance learning degree programme courses.

Distance learning students in professional qualification programmes, such as the teacher training and specialist nursing programmes, perform as well as students who take the equivalent courses on campus. For freestanding distance learning courses, however, the student performance indicators are 15 percentage points lower than for campus based freestanding courses.

Some identified challenges

In a UKÄ survey, half of the HEIs indicated that they cooperate with municipalities and regions on education through learning centres. The report concludes that there are challenges both regarding HEIs’ cooperation with the surrounding community and in producing forecasts for future labour market needs.

The analysis of the HEIs’ strategies for distance learning show that education and technological development are important parts of the HEIs’ strategies. UKÄ proposes that the Government provide support for the development of digital pedagogics.

Facts from the report:

  • Annually about 100 000 students are registered for at least one distance course. This equals a quarter of the total number of students in higher education in Sweden.
  • Consistently over time around 67 per cent of the students studying only through distance learning have been women and around 33 per cent have been men. For campus based education the proportion is 60 – 40.
  • Since the academic year 2006/2007, the number of course registrations for degree programme courses has increased by 88 per cent, despite no change in the number of degree programmes.
  • In 2015/16 the achievement level was 89 per cent for women and 77 per cent for men on distance programme courses in the professional qualification degree programmes.