Study Strategies for Distance Learning: How to Earn Your Online Certificate, Associates, Bachelors or Masters Degree.

Are you thinking about an online education, or perhaps you’re currently enrolled?  There’s no doubt that distance learning has revolutionized higher education – and you can enjoy all the benefits of this dynamic new educational paradigm.  But you must be prepared

Distance learning as explained by Lorraine Sherry (2001) is a “separation of the teacher and the learner in space or time, the volitional control of learning by the student rather than the distant instructor and noncontiguous communication between student and teacher, mediated by print or some form of technology.”

OK, that’s a mouthful!  Here’s what that really means: You – the student – has the power (and the obligation) for your own learning.  You need to be accountable enough to help yourself learn what has to be learned. Your instructor is only there to provide guidance.  Ultimately you will control the learning process.

Just like any college or university, studying will be critical to your success.  Finding the time, initiative, and yes, sometimes the willpower to keep powering through texts, notes and lectures will determine whether you have “The Right Stuff.”  But it doesn’t have to be drudgery!  We’ll explore some helpful hints that’ll make studying easier, more enjoyable, and more beneficial to your online education.

Become a Time Manager

There are only 24 hours in a day.  Perhaps you have a job, family, social obligations, and now, college!  You can do it all – but it will take planning and preparation.  Know when all your assignments are due, and post a chart or calendar in a highly visible place (like the refrigerator.)  Maybe go out with the gang one night a week – not three.  Maybe wake up one hour earlier each day and enjoy some quiet reading time.  Know when to say “No” to friends and family for non-essential get-togethers. Develop – and stick to – a schedule.

Earn Your Degree by Degrees

Imagine your college education as a block of marble.  You know there’s a beautiful sculpture in there, but you’ll have to reveal it bit by bit.  One chip at a time.  Like great art, learning is best done slowly, methodically, and with purpose.  Take a little time everyday to study; reading early in the morning over a cup of coffee.  Maybe at lunchtime you open up your laptop and watch an online lecture, or listen to a lesson. In the evening, when the house is quiet, maybe start to draft your next paper, outline it, don’t try to write it in one sitting!

Don’t Procrastinate

Let’s face it; we all procrastinate at one time or another.  It’s natural to want to avoid big tasks, or seemingly unpleasant ones.  As a student, however, this bad habit can become your undoing.  As stated above, maybe one solution is dividing the task (studying, a term paper, etc) into smaller, more doable chunks.  Here are some other ideas from

  • Make up your own rewards. For example, promise yourself a piece of tasty flapjack at lunchtime if you've completed a certain task.
  • Ask someone else to check up on you. Peer pressure works! This is the principle behind slimming and other self-help groups, and it is widely recognized as a highly effective approach.
  • Identify the unpleasant consequences of NOT doing the task.

Work as a Team

Even though you may feel all alone studying late at night, remember there are others in your class whom you can reach out to, and your professor is available online as well.  In fact, maybe online classes require “class participation” in the form of online posts and responses from the class.  This creates a virtual community, and gives you a valuable resource for feedback and support from your fellow students.  Your professor too, is interested in your success, and would much rather you email a “silly” question, than have you venture down the wrong path.  Maybe you too, can be helpful to others in your class by volunteering some insights.

In another article we profile an adult online learner, who has not only formed a community of fellow students, but has learned some important formatting tips for papers, from a colleague:

Elise also comments that the online atmosphere is quite congenial and personal, something you might not expect.  “We email back and forth, and check in on each other’s progress,” she says.  “One fellow student showed me an amazing feature in Microsoft Word that assists with bibliography citations.”  She’s also enjoying the feedback she receives on her own posts, and the camaraderie is very positive and encouraging. 

One online student from Stanford University has seen the value of collaborative learning and states:

 “Of course the convenience of viewing lectures according to my schedule has been great. I always prefer taking courses with at least one other coworker. And if that's not possible I try to hook up with at least one other student in a similar position. I think the interaction makes the difference in learning, in keeping motivated. Even when I view a lecture, I prefer to do it with someone else, to talk about problems presented in the class, and collaborate on projects.”

Motivation is Your Salvation

Remember why you applied to college in the first place.  Was it to get a better job?  To get your own apartment?  To make more of yourself?  Whatever brought you to this point can carry you forward – if you keep it in mind.  Motivating yourself is critical to achieving your long-term goals – not only in college, but beyond.  Make a practice of “jump-starting” yourself when feel your interest flagging.  Here are some handy tactics to  help you stay on course: 

A University of Miami online student, Wayne Odesnik speaks to the motivation component of his student experience:

“Adjusting my learning skills to studying online, has taken a lot of discipline and self-motivation, which in turn has helped me mature, and has assisted me in coping with the high level of stress and pressure that I am faced with in my tennis career.”

Online learning is a fantastic new way to study and advance yourself.  But it is not for everyone.  You’ll need discipline, motivation, and time management skills to succeed.  Here’s the good news: When you’ve mastered these skills – they will continue to serve you throughout your personal and professional life!

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