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Distance Learning: Make It Work for You

Distance or online learning lets you choose when and where you learn.

You use online, print and/or video resources to study at your own pace, often in your own home. Many employers use self-directed learning modules for on-the-job training.

As this video shows, distance learning isn't new. While the technology has come a long way since Barry took his degree online, many of the benefits to this approach remain the same:

Attending University Online (2:30)

Barry studies online with a distance-based university. He discusses working at your own pace and the other pros and cons of distance learning.

Distance learning is a great option when the classroom is too far or the class time won’t fit your schedule. You can take part in weekly online tutorials, download your readings, and email your assignments. Distance learning also lets you go to school on evenings and weekends, so you don’t have to give up your job.

Distance learning advantages and challenges

When you’re free to manage your own education, you’re also free to do other chores, watch TV, or go out with friends instead of doing your next assignment. Learning on your own takes self-control, planning, and commitment.

1. Set goals.

  • Look for ways to break your learning into small, well-defined tasks.
  • Set deadlines for yourself and include them in your schedule just like any other commitment.
  • Set deadlines for a few days ahead of any assignment or exam due date to reduce stress.
  • Make a contract with yourself after setting your goals. Write it out and sign it
  • Consider a reward for each goal you achieve. It could be listening to a favourite podcast or having a special treat.

2. Organize learning time and space.

  • Use a calendar or organizer to schedule specific learning times and activities.
  • Treat those times as seriously as you would a job.
  • Plan to reduce interruptions and distractions, whether you study at home or in the workplace.
  • Let family members or co-workers know when you’ve scheduled learning time and ask them not to interrupt you.
  • Close the door, turn off your phone and email, and log off social media.
  • Organize and keep all your learning resources in 1 space.
  • Take regular breaks and check in with your family or co-workers at those times.

3. Find support.

  • Tell your friends, family, and co-workers about your learning goals and commitments and ask for their support. Co-workers may be willing to cover some of your workload or take an extra shift. Friends and family might watch your kids, make dinner, take your turn in the carpool, or contribute in other ways that give you time and space for learning.
  • Ask for help with any questions or problems you may have with what you’re learning. In the classroom, instructors can often see when students feel confused, discouraged, or frustrated. Your online instructors or tutors may not be aware of challenges you’re facing unless you tell them.
  • Look for a tutor. They may be available to tutor by phone or online. Or try linking up with another person taking the same course to study together and support each other. If you’re studying on the job, your supervisor or an experienced co-worker may be able to help with your questions or concerns. 

4. Have access to a computer and the internet.

If your program is not completely print-based, you’ll need regular access to a computer with a reliable, and preferably high-speed, Internet connection. 

The more familiar you are with the technology of your program, the more you can focus on learning, rather than on technical challenges.

At minimum you’ll need to know how to:

  • Download and open files.
  • Access and search the internet.
  • Send and receive emails with attachments.
  • Format documents in word-processing and other software programs.

Your program may also use CDs, flash drives, DVDs, online forums, streaming video, and other ways to provide resources. If you’re unfamiliar with these formats or unsure of your computer skills, ask a computer-savvy friend for help. Or sign up for a computer literacy course before you enroll in a distance learning program.

5. Follow through on your goals.

If you find that learning time is getting bumped from your schedule, look for other ways to manage your time and roles. Can you and your employer negotiate a formal commitment that gives you a specific number of hours a week for learning? Can you afford regular babysitting or other support to give you more time for learning?

Think about why you started this study program. Remind yourself how it will help you succeed. If your reasons for learning are still important to you, re-commit to your goals and return to them often. Remember to reward yourself—it helps you stay motivated!

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