Distance learning offers high levels of flexibility that allow people to study and gain qualifications when their circumstances won’t allow them to attend college or university classes. However, there are some common pitfalls which many students encounter – recognising and dealing with these potential problems can help to make your distance learning studies go more smoothly and help you get more out of your course.
1. Taking on too much
It’s easy to get carried away in the early stages of a distance learning course – your motivation is high and you’re happy to devote every spare minute to your studies. While it’s a good thing to take advantage of this initial boost to get a good head start on your course, it’s easy to over-commit yourself at this stage. Your motivation levels won’t be this high forever, so don’t bank on being able to keep up this rate of study for a year or more! Give yourself room to ease off the pace a little as your course continues.
2. No routine
Your brain doesn’t respond well to chaos – on the whole, it works best when it knows what’s coming next. Just as we have routines for eating, sleeping, exercising and working, getting into a regular study pattern can help you ‘get in the zone’ for absorbing information, making your study sessions more productive.
Unfortunately, the flexibility that distance learning allows can lead to problems for many students who struggle to stick to a regular study pattern. If your schedule won’t allow you to study at the same time every week, try giving your brain a different set of cues by introducing study ‘rituals’ such as working in the same room, using the same stationery or even playing a particular type of background music. This can have a similar effect, and can help put you in the right frame of mind to learn.
3. Going it alone
While distance learning is an increasingly popular method of study, it can leave you feeling quite isolated, which can lead to problems if you’re struggling to grasp a difficult new concept. At times like these it’s crucially important that you take advantage of the support available to you – whether that’s contacting your tutor for help, discussing the course with other students on a forum or connecting with your college on Facebook for a little moral support. These facilities are provided to help you when the going gets tough, so don’t suffer in silence.
4. Sticking to the textbook
Your official course textbook contains all the information you need to get through your course, and you should know it inside out. However, sticking rigidly to a single source of information isn’t always the best way to work – reading around your topic by looking at alternative sources of information can broaden your knowledge of the subject and help to keep your studies interesting by providing variety.
To find extra sources of information, your first stop should be your course’s recommended reading list. Also try keeping up to date with industry blogs and magazines for relevant news and information.
Studies have shown that cramming before an exam can allow you to retain large amounts of information for long enough to pass. However – did you sign up for your course just for the certificate at the end, or for the knowledge and new skills you’ll pick up along the way?
Leaving everything until the last minute might not necessarily be a recipe for failure, but you certainly won’t get as much long-term benefit from your course as you would by making steady, regular progress over the length of your studies. For the best results, cover topics thoroughly well in advance and then review and revise them in the run-up to your exams.