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Distance Learning: Make It Work for You

There are so many distance learning options available. Online learning is an option for students all the way from elementary school through university graduate studies.

Beyond school, a lot of employers use self-directed learning modules for their on-the-job training needs. It’s convenient and can be a cost-effective way to advance staff skills or get professional certifications.

Depending on your needs, you can complete 1 course or an entire program online.

Distance learning isn’t new, as this video shows. The technology has come a long way since Barry took his degree online, but 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 takes commitment

Distance learning offers a lot of flexibility.

It is a great option when the classroom is too far away or the class time won’t fit your schedule. Many distance learning courses allow you to do your school work any time, anywhere. You can schedule your studies around other priorities—like your job and family.

It’s great to have the freedom to manage your own study schedule, but freedom comes with responsibility. Other chores, video games, or fun with friends can distract you from doing your next assignment. Learning on your own takes self-discipline, planning, and commitment. Here are some tips to help you stay focused.

1. Build your digital literacy

If your program is not 100% print-based, you’ll need regular access to a computer with a reliable—and preferably high-speed—internet connection.

Get to know the technology that will be used in your program ahead of time. Then you can focus on your studies instead of technical challenges.

At minimum, you’ll need to know how to:

  • Watch pre-recorded videos or join live webinars and video conferences
  • Download and open files
  • Access and search the internet
  • Send and receive emails with attachments
  • Format documents in word-processing and other software programs

If you’re unsure of your computer skill level, consider signing up for a computer literacy course before you enrol in a distance learning program.

2. Set goals

  • Find ways to organize your learning into small, clear tasks.
  • Set deadlines for a few days ahead of assignment due dates or exams to reduce stress.
  • Make a contract with yourself after setting your goals. Write it out and sign it. Commit.
  • Consider rewarding yourself for each goal you achieve. Make it something small but meaningful, like a walk outdoors or listening to a favourite podcast.

3. Organize your time and space

  • Use a calendar or organizer to schedule specific learning times and activities.
  • Treat your study schedule 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, roommates, 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.
  • Keep all your learning resources well organized in 1 place.
  • Take regular breaks and use that time to check in with your family or co-workers.

4. 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.
  • Reach out for help with any questions or problems you may have related to your studies. Your online instructors or tutors are remote. They cannot read your body language the way they could in a typical classroom setting. Tell them of any challenges you’re having so they can help you.
  • Look for a tutor. They may be available to work with you over the 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.

5. Follow through on your goals

If you find that your studies keep getting postponed in 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 arrange for regular babysitting or other support to give you more time?

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, recommit to your goals and return to them often. Remember to reward yourself—it helps you stay motivated!

If you’re organized and motivated, distance education can be an effective learning option.

Where to find distance learning courses

A quick internet search will uncover online learning opportunities for almost any skill imaginable. However, the depth and quality of online courses can vary widely. Employers will often prefer courses that are provided by accredited learning providers. Here are some ways to find those sorts of courses.

Distance education in Alberta and across Canada

Check out these resources to find a variety of distance learning courses available from accredited learning providers in Alberta and other provinces:

  • OCCinfo allows you to search by program or by school for information on distance learning programs in Alberta and across Western Canada.
  • Athabasca University offers a wide range of programs and courses created specifically for online spaces. These include undergraduate and graduate degree programs in the humanities, sciences, business, and health disciplines, as well as professional development programs, courses, and micro-credentials.
  • Schoolfinder includes comprehensive information on distance education opportunities in Canada and abroad.
  • Ontario Learn lets you access courses, programs, and services offered by all of Ontario’s publicly funded colleges.

Distance education in the United States

You have access to an entire world of learning. Just remember—context is important. The lessons you learn from a foreign training provider may not always align with the needs and expectations of employers here at home. Make sure you’re investing in education that employers will value. Once you’ve done your homework, here are some resources to help you research distance learning providers in the United States to get you started:

  • EDSmart ranks the top non-profit online colleges and universities in the United States.
  • OnlineU lets you research accredited online colleges and universities in the United States.
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