Excerpt: Succeeding as a Distance Learner

By Jason D. Baker
From Chapter 5 of the book Baker's Guide to Christian Distance Education

Once you've decided that you want try distance education, it's important to make every effort to ensure that you will have a profitable learning experience. Many studies have been conducted to determine what makes a successful distance learner and one of the frequent factors is the student's intention to complete a course. In other words, a student who begins a course with a conscious intention of finishing the course is more likely to do so than someone who is more tentative. Once you've set your mind on completing a course, there are a number of other steps that you can take to foster quality learning. The following tips, culled from personal experience as a distance instructor and a distance learner, will help you succeed as a distance learner.

  • Review the Course Syllabus Early
    Spend some time reviewing the course syllabus before the semester begins, preferably before you enroll. This will prevent any surprises along the way.

  • Match Your Learning Style
    Understand your preferred learning style(s) and select courses and programs that match well.

  • Interact with Course Graduates
    Talk to those who have already taken the course and get their tips for course success.

  • Start Swiftly
    Begin working on your coursework just as soon as you receive your materials. You will put yourself in a good position if you get an early jump on your reading and assignments.

  • Resolve Technical Problems Quickly
    If you encounter any computer or technical problems, contact your institution and resolve them at once. A few days lost to e-mail or Web outages can really interrupt your progress.

  • Plan Your Time Well
    Set some interim deadlines so you don't wait until the last minute on major assignments. Establish a regular study schedule and stick to it. Falling behind in your reading or assignments is the quickest way to lose control of a class.

  • Get Organized
    If don't already have a good filing system, start one. You will read and write many papers throughout your program and will save yourself a lot of time if you organize them well. The folder feature in most e-mail packages will help you organize your online interaction.

  • Take Good Notes
    You will read a lot of material, perhaps more than in previous classes because you don't have lectures online. Take the time to highlight and mark-up your book, write up summary notes, do whatever it takes to learn the material.

  • Ask Questions
    Since the professor cannot look at your expression and tell how well you are grasping the material, ask questions of your instructor and classmates.

  • Give One Another the Benefit of the Doubt
    Sometimes it's tough to tell the tone of voice that someone uses in an e-mail message, so don't assume the worst. A little understanding goes a long way.

  • Don't Miss Deadlines
    If you have an unusual situation that hinders your work during the week, let your instructor know immediately.

  • Save Everything You Write
    You never know when you will want to refer to a paper that you wrote during your first class.

  • Perform Regular Self-Assessments
    At select points throughout the course, make an honest assessment of your progress. Don't hesitate to share your thoughts with your instructor and seek feedback. Make any necessary course corrections to ensure that you finish strong.

  • Interact With Your Classmates Outside of Class
    In addition to in-class online or voice/video interaction, drop notes or pick up the phone and call one another outside of class. Recount a recent life experience, inquire about one another's well being, pray for one another, tell a joke, or share your struggles. If you're taking courses with others, remember that you're not alone. Encourage one another throughout the journey.

  • Don't Neglect Your Spiritual or Family Life
    Distance studies are time consuming and difficult; but don't neglect those relationships which are most important. To turn a phrase, what does it profit a distance learner to get an A but lose your soul?

  • Integrate Learning with Practice
    Seek out opportunities to integrate your studies with your vocational, ministry, relationships, or other areas of interest. This will not only make your assignments more fruitful but will likely help you learn better.

  • Take a Sabbath Rest
    Preserving one day a week for worship and rest is a gift from God, so take advantage of it. You will be a better during the other six days if you rest on the seventh.

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