How it works

Interested in studying online, but unsure what it means?

First and foremost, as an online student you gain the same qualification and degree certificate as an on-campus student. The academic standard is exactly the same and all students undertake the same (or equivalent) coursework and assessments. Similarly, online students enjoy many of the same support services as on-campus students. However, there are some fundamental differences between studying online and on-campus.

Read on to discover how it works and what resources are available to support online students.

How studying online at Heriot-Watt works

How is studying online different to on-campus?

Online delivery

Course materials for online students are made available online through the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). The VLE links you with our expert academics and course materials through videos, webinars, articles, journals, assessments and discussion boards.

Final Online Assessments

Most online courses are assessed by examination, but some may also combine coursework. Please refer to the course content tab on the specific degree programme webpage for more information.

Final Online Assessment Location

Our courses offer unique, authentic assessment tailored to each course and aligned to its objectives. 
There is no requirement to attend in-person examinations; instead, each course is assessed by a 
Final Online Assessment. These are assessments you take remotely and alone in your own space. 
You will have 24 hours to complete the assessment by downloading the paper and uploading your 
answers. You’ll also have access to your notes, course material, and the internet to consult during the 
assessment. All assessments will be available within the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE).

Pay-as-you-go format

Most online programmes consist of eight taught courses and a dissertation or research projects. You pay for each course, dissertation or research project as you enrol, making payments more manageable.

What resources are available for online students?

Academic Support

Studying via online (distance learning) doesn’t mean you will be left on your own. Tutors will provide you, by phone or email, with academic support similar to that received by our on-campus students.

Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)

Comprehensive course materials are made available through our recently upgraded VLE. Course materials and assignments are delivered using various methods including video lectures, webinars, articles, journals entries, quizzes and discussion boards.

Online library services

You will have 24-hour access to our online library, from which you can access further materials to help you with your studies.

Discussion boards

You will have access to discussion boards which allow you to contact your tutors and collaborate with other students.

Administrative assistance

As well as academic support, Heriot-Watt Online offers dedicated administrative support for all online students. The Online Student Support Team can help you with any non-academic questions you may have.

Career support

Online students have access to careers advice from the Heriot-Watt careers service.

How long does it take to complete?

Our online learning programmes are structured in such a way that they can be completed in a two-and-a-half year period. However, one of the main benefits of our modular programme system is that it can be completed over a longer time to accommodate personal or work commitments of up to eight years. For example:

  • A postgraduate diploma is completed in two to three years on average.
  • An MSc is completed in three to four years on average.

Each taught course (module) takes approximately 150 study hours to complete. A dissertation takes approximately 300 study hours. Based on the time you have available, the following guide may help you make a realistic judgement of the timeframe in which you can expect to complete your MSc programme:

Hours per week Equivalent study blocks per week Time taken to complete your programme
25 Four evenings and one weekend day a week Two-and-a-half years
17 Two evenings and one weekend day a week Three years
13 Three evenings aweek or one weekend day and one evening aweek Four years
What are the technical requirements?

In order to complete a programme online, you must have a computer and access to the internet so that you can access your study materials through Heriot-Watt University's Virtual Learning Environment (VLE).

Frequently asked questions