The first experience with a distance learning course can be both exhilarating in its sense of freedom and overwhelming in its sense of dread over figuring out how to work within the stucture of this newfound open educational forum. If you had good study habits in your traditional days as a student, you should have little trouble transitioning those skills over to the distance learning format. If you feel your study habits left something to be desired in the past, you may have to establish some strict guidelines for yourself.
1) No later than the first day of class, take time to review the syllabus. Get an idea how much reading is going to be required, how long you will have to do it and how difficult the texts will be. If you must purchase or download textbooks for the class, do it immediately. Don’t let time slip away from you. If you wait until the second or third week of class you will find yourself almost hopelessly left behind. Many distance learning courses post the course syllabus several days or a week before the start of class to give you time to do this very thing.
2) Introduce yourself to the instructor and the other students in the class in your online chat room. The sooner you make your presence known to those with whom you will be working, the better off you will be when it comes time to ask questions, discuss course material or present assignments, projects and exams.
3) Sure, you have all week to read the weekly assignments, take the quiz or turn in your question and answer sheets, but that doesn’t mean you should wait until the end of the week to start working. Just as with traditional educational pursuits, life has a way of getting in the way and disrupting the best intentions. Divide you work into several blocks that you will tackle at predetermined times throughout your week.
4) Make it a habit of posting questions to your instructor about the course material. This way, he or she will be able to monitor your level of understanding of the coursework and intercept you before you veer too far off course. If you wait until the week before the final exam to realize you were approaching the subject matter incorrectly, it will be too late for you to salvage the course.
5) Start researching projects and term papers early on. Since you aren’t sitting in a traditional classroom, you may feel less pressure to maintain a steady level of progress throughout the semester. Distance learning requires a great deal of self-motivation and self-discipline. No one will give that to you. You have to bring that to the table yourself.
The distance learning educational model is a wonderful way for students from every walk of life to pursue educational goals or personal interests while being able to maintain a job, manage family concerns and continue living life as usual. It also teaches or reinforces the strong character attributes of self-determination and the ability to be a self-directed learner.