What is Distance Learning?
It is not unusual for busy professionals or parents to want to continue their education. However, if you don’t live near a university, this seems like an impossible dream. Fortunately, there is an option called distance learning.
Distance learning is a variation of online learning. While many of the requirements of online learning are the same as distance learning, there are specific aspects to distance learning that make it more challenging.
If a student is taking courses on campus and taking online courses, they still have easy access to all the resources on campus: instructor office hours, the library, student union, administrative offices, advisors, and so on.
However, if a student is using distance learning, they are taking the courses from their home, which could be hundreds to thousands of miles away from campus. This makes in-person contact with the instructor problematic. The student could also be limited in access to resources if they live in a rural area.
But, sometimes distance learning is the only option for a student. It is a decision that must be made after a great deal of research into the university program of choice, the resources in the student’s immediate area, and the student’s access to the internet.
Oftentimes, students don’t consider their computer options and Wi-Fi access when signing up for distance learning courses. This can lead to the student dropping a course if they don’t have excellent internet access.
What to Expect from Distance Learning
Students who engage in distance learning have the same responsibilities as those who are taking online courses but still on campus: obtain your books and all necessary materials prior to the class beginning; make certain your internet connection is solid; log in every day; be aware of the instructor’s process for running the course; and keep in contact with your fellow students.
Be aware: you may be learning from a distance, but your course could also be populated with students who take courses on campus. They will have the advantage of increased access to the instructor and other resources on campus.
Regardless of your location, the instructor will still expect you to participate regularly, do high quality work, and ask questions as needed. A great chance for having a meeting with a learning distance instructor is a video chat. Most instructors who teach distance learning are familiar with Skype, FaceTime, and other video chat applications. They also understand that being a distance learning student can be more complicated than being an on-campus student.
How to Succeed in Distance Learning
To be successful at distance learning, you must first and foremost be committed to the process. Students who don’t take into consideration the amount of time they will be online, the readings, the homework, etc., will not succeed at distance learning. There is also a popular misconception that distance or online learning means the student turns all assignments in at the end of the semester. This is far from the truth.
Stay on Track with Assignments
Instructors who post module assignments will give you a folder filled with assignments that are usually due all at once, at the end of an extended period (4-6 weeks). When your instructor uses modules, it is critical that you keep track of where you are in the process of each assignment so that you don’t find yourself spending hours and hours the day before the module is due, completing assignments.
It is essential that you are fully aware of your required assignments and their respective due dates every week. Most instructors will either penalize you for late submissions (one letter grade off per day, for example) or not accept late submissions at all (resulting in a grade of zero for that assignment).
When I begin a distance learning or online course, I ensure that my students have access to the entire course day one. That way, they can see how all of the assignments are designed, when they are due, and what they can work ahead on.
Not every instructor will do this. You may be in a position where the instructor posts assignments on Sunday evenings, for example, for the upcoming week. In this case, it is nearly impossible to work ahead. Others will use modules and will only allow students to work on one module at a time.
Maintain a Work-Life Balance
Finally, make sure you have a support system in place, especially if you are a working parent. It is very hard to prioritize your schoolwork if you are constantly worrying about making it to work on time, allowing for overtime, taking the kids to school, helping them with their homework or extracurricular activities, and running a household.
Enlist friends and relatives to be your babysitters on call. Make sure everyone knows your schedule, so they can all be available to help when needed.
Finally, make certain your spouse or partner is fully on board. This is the person you will need the most during your distance learning journey. Have a discussion regarding how your partner can help you when you are stressed, what they can do on a daily basis to lighten your load, and how they can make sure you are taking care of yourself, so you don’t burn out.
To simplify, successful distance learning students will have solid, secure access to the internet, a commitment to the course, a willingness to work hard, and a support system to help them achieve their goals.