With all eyes directed at 2020’s first-year students as they start their journeys at various tertiary and higher education institutions across South Africa, it is also important to remember those tens of thousands of students who are starting out on a learning journey of another kind — studying from home via distance learning, an education expert says.
“Studying via distance learning brings unique rewards but also challenges of its own. But while the route to success might be different from that of studying at a contact institution, the rewards and sense of achievement when you reach your goals are just as significant,” says Sonia Magni, Academic Manager at Oxbridge Academy, a private college that serves more than 20 000 South African distance learning students every year.
Magni says that for many people who want to further their education, contact study simply isn’t an option, due to personal circumstances, finances, disabilities, needing to work full-time, lack of proximity to institutions, and various other reasons.
“For these students, distance learning provides the perfect vehicle to realise their career aspirations, without having to take time off from real life for several years. However, these students need all the support they can get, as distance learning can be a lonely and frustrating endeavour if you go about it the wrong way,” she says.
Magni says there are a number of distance learning study strategies, which, if applied, will help ensure student success:
DO YOUR HOMEWORK BEFORE YOU SIGN UP FOR ANYTHING
Arguably, the biggest determinant for distance learning success is ensuring that you sign up with an institution with a reputation for accreditation compliance, academic excellence and outstanding student support services, says Magni.
“There are countless distance learning institutions and qualifications out there, but they are definitely not all created equal. Make sure that you ask the right questions of a prospective institution, speak to student advisors, speak to current students, and do your research.
“The last thing you want to do is go through all the effort of registering, only to find that materials are dumped on you — if they even arrive whatsoever — with no support during your actual studies. An institution must be legally registered and accredited with the relevant regulatory bodies, and it must offer tutor support with a quick turnaround time, so be sure to confirm that yours will,” she says.
BE DISCIPLINED AND ON THE BALL
Keeping several balls in the air is an innate feature of distance learning, Magni says, so it is crucial that students are disciplined and organised.
“As soon as you’ve received your schedules or timetables, consolidate all the information on a big calendar on the wall where you’ll be studying. Mark all your exam dates and assignment due dates in red, and then work backwards to schedule your learning and revision times in a different colour.”
Magni says distance learning students should also develop an effective filing system so they don’t lose track of things.
“Be sure to file your notes in a logical manner, keeping different subjects grouped together. If your materials are organised, you’ll be able to focus on the actual learning, instead of trying to find what you need to get started.”
BE RUTHLESS WITH YOUR TIME
In general, distance learning students won’t only have their studies to focus on, but also potentially a family, a job, and even sometimes a second job. So they should commit to using any time not dedicated to their existing responsibilities, to their studies.
“During your studies, you are going to have to say no to some things that don’t serve you at the moment. Social media? Best to start limiting your time spent mindlessly scrolling. Late nights out? Time better spent doing some revision and getting enough sleep,” notes Magni.
“This is why it is important to always keep your goal in mind during your studies, so that you don’t lose sight of the reason why you started studying in the first place. Yes, things could very likely start getting tough, and you might start thinking that throwing in the towel is the easier option. But remember, time will pass anyway, and if you commit now you will, after a few months or years of staying the course, be in a much more empowered space in your life. Your future self will thank your current self if you do.”
THERE IS A LOT OF HELP OUT THERE — USE IT
“There is so much information out there specifically designed to assist distance learning students,” Magni points out.
“If you feel lonely or isolated, visit the blog of your institution. No matter what your issue, someone else has also been there, and you’ll find the advice you need.”
Magni says it is also helpful to get a study buddy or to form a study group, as this will help banish any resentment or anxiety about going it alone.
“It is natural to feel that you are the only one going through this and having to deal with life and studies at the same time, but that is obviously not the case. So connect with your fellow distance learning students, so that you can help each other not only master the materials, but also your distance learning journey.”