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Distance Learning Lowdown

Distance Learning LowdownThere is a growing number of distance learning programs available, including online MAs, online MScs and even online PhDs.

With distance learning courses, rather then communication face to face, instructors and students communicate using a variety of educational media and modes of communication and teaching. Via flexible, modular class offerings, students can progress at their own pace and fit the rest of their life in around their studies.

Distance learning postgraduate programs have a longer duration than their full-time equivalents – typically between two and five years instead of one year. Some distance-learning courses require a combination of online and physical communication, where students attend residential sessions for one two weeks at a time.

With distance learning, it's not simply a case of getting a postgraduate qualification from your bed! Distance learning courses have their own set of pressures. Your institution will agree with you a timetable of study and deadlines for essays and assignments, with videos, audio tapes and written materials sent regularly by post or available online to give you the raw materials for your distance learning masters program. You can keep in contact with your tutor via email or telephone.


Top tips for success at distance learning study

  1. To successfully complete a distance learning postgraduate program you need to be self-motivated and a self-starter. Without the structure of full-time on-campus study, it will be up to you to ensure that you keep the ball rolling, although you'll be given advice and support throughout.
  2. You must be organised and able to multi-task, to ensure your other commitments (often the reason for distance postgraduate learning) do not impinge on the time you need for study, so you can get the right balance.
  3. You'll need dedication and discipline as a distance postgraduate learning program can be a long haul. It might be daunting, after a day at work, to have to undertake several hours of study, but this is the only way you will attain your goal of gaining a qualification.

Although this may sound daunting, many distance-learning students go on to successfully complete their courses. Once you get the knack, there will be no stopping you!

What support will you have?

Your institution will also give you as much student support as you need. By making yourself known to other people on the course (by networking online, giving permission for your name and contact details to be passed on to other students, or by meeting them at summer schools or compulsory course attendance at the institution), you can set up a network of learners, which can also be another source of support, advice and encouragement.

What about a tutor?

It is possible to undertake a postgraduate distance learning masters degree without a tutor, and many institutions will offer you this option. Although some distance learners study their programs independently, many do opt to have a tutor. If you do have a tutor, your relationship with them will be very important. Making this work will make your distance-learning experience easier. Some ground rules will be provided at the start of the program: you will be given written guidance on what you are entitled to expect from your tutor, including how often you can call them, how much time they are prepared to give you and how your work will be marked. The key consideration is that access to your tutor will be limited, so you should plan this carefully to make the most of what they can offer you.

How to get the most from your distance learning tutor

  1. Contact them at a time that is convenient to them (particularly important if they are in a different time zone).
  2. Keep to your deadlines.
  3. Stick to arrangements.
  4. Monitor your progress (as this is your job, not the tutor’s).
  5. Give them honest and constructive feedback, and don’t be afraid to compliment them if they deserve it!

In return, you should find your tutor accommodating, understanding and flexible. They can be very helpful should circumstances, such as sudden work pressure or a family crisis, affect your ability to study or the progress of your distance learning porgram. It is important to involve them from the start of a major problem. That said, a useful tip is not to contact them every time you have difficulties, but to make a note of them as they happen over a time period, say a week, and then bring them all up on one occasion with the tutor in order of difficulty. Time with them is precious, so make the best use of it.


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