Now that you have made a decision to study by the distance learning mode of study, you need some skills on how to study. Although distance learning mode of study may not be suitable for everyone, it has many benefits. It gives you the freedom to study from anywhere, it can be more affordable than studying full-time at a traditional tertiary institution, and it allows you to work while you study, thus enabling you to earn an income while you complete your studies. Distance learning is the most convenient way for busy adults with busy lives that include full-time jobs and family responsibilities but have the desire to get quality education. Fresh students from high school are also increasingly opting for distance learning to overcome challenges of travel and accommodations costs. While there are many benefits to controlling your own timetable and taking your education into your own hands, you also need to remember that you alone are responsible for finding the time, energy and motivation to learn and study. You need to be disciplined and committed to your studies, and you must be able to work independently.
This section attempts to equip you with the study skills you need to succeed as a distance learning student. We shall address the following issues:
- What are the study habits needed by distance learners?
- What is my learning style?
- How do I stay disciplined and motivated?
- How do I manage time?
- How do I communicate with my tutors and fellow learners?
Good study habits
To succeed as a distance learner, you need to cultivate some good study habits that you will follow until completion of your studies. Here are ten habits to guide you:
Set yourself a realistic schedule that will enable you to complete the course within the time you have set for yourself. Markthe deadlines for assignments and course registration on your calendar. This will give you a plan to follow. Check your email account, WhatsApp and any other means being used for communication at least once a day. Planning enables you to manage your time so that you do not let assignments go until the last day.
- Organize your study space
As a distance-learning student, you must make some preparations to facilitate your home study. Here are some tips to help you:
3. Select your study place
A permanent study place at home is important as it puts you in a learning mood. The place selected should be comfortable with good lighting, ventilation and no interruptions. To enhance your learning mood further, arrange all your study materials – pens, notebooks, reference books and self-study modules neatly. Ensure you can access the e-Learning platform either on your phone, tablets or computer.
4. Plan your time
After deducting time for work and leisure you will find that you have about two hours for studying everyday in the semester. Based on this, draw up a timetable allocating time for all your units including time for writing assignments.
5.Seek the cooperation of family and friends
Family and friends are the most likely source of interruptions. Let them know what you are doing and explain why you need the time. If possible try to meet their needs in advance before your scheduled study time.
6.Communicate frequently with your instructor and peers
Reach out when you need help and develop a strong sense of self-awareness. Learners who have a strong sense of self-awareness and good study habits usually have better strategies for understanding new information and are typically more successful in a distance learning environment.
7. Prepare for examinations
The following tips are useful when preparing for examinations:
- Study the objectives/learning outcomes given at the beginning of every lecture carefully. Turn them into questions and attempt to answer them to see whether you have understood the lecture in the first place.
- Revise your notes constantly. NEVERwait until the examination time to revise. Remember, recent information is remembered better.
- Create memory aids and clues from your notes such as mnemonics, mind maps and revisit them frequently.
- Make sure you complete all the prescribed lectures for the units to be examined.
- Plan to complete your studying in advance so that adequate time is left for revision.
- Discover the style and nature of examinations in your subject so that you don’t encounter surprises during the exam.
The biggest question for ODeL leaners is how do I study on my own? The study materials you access will represent the teacher. The unit is designed to talk and communicate with you. The following suggestions will be useful for effective study:
- Scan the unit – This means you skim through the unit to get its overview. This involves reading the unit title and the page of contents carefully. As you do so, try to figure out the logical flow of the content. Now read the introduction to the unit and the introduction and conclusion of every lecture. This will give you an idea of what the unit is all about.
- Study questions in the unit – The second stage is to get an idea of the nature and type of questions to expect in the unit. You will then read the activities and self-assessment questions in the unit. Try to see the connections between the questions posed and the objectives/learning outcomes of the lectures. This is useful because effective studying is about finding answers to questions.
- Reading - After scanning and reading the questions, it is now time to start reading. Scanning will make reading faster, more effective and focused.
- Writing – This involves taking notes as you read. Notes will help you to remember the information you have read and are also very useful later on during revision. You need a notebook by your side.
- Review the unit – To prevent loss of knowledge, review as frequently as possible. Reviewing can be as short as five minutes. A sketch diagram, a graph or a mind map is all you need to remember, not huge chunks of notes. Try to condense your notes by use of codes or mnemonics, which can be memorized.
- Consult other resources – It is not enough to just rely on the unit alone. The unit alone will only give you a minimum pass. High marks are earned by reading beyond the unit, hence read reference materials in libraries such your local public library, libraries of other institutions within your locality, the library at your regional centre and the internet. In short search for extra knowledge.
Note:If after studying a lecture more than twice and you do not understand, discuss it with a colleague. If it is still a problem then discuss with your tutor online, or face to face during tutorial sessions.
Learning styles is a concept in psychology and education which is used to identify how people learn best. The way you prefer to learn new information is called your learning style. There are several models that have been advanced. The VARK model of learning styles advanced by Neil Fleming in 1987 suggests that there are four main types of learners.
Table 1 shows each learning style and preferences. Read through the questions about each style and think about whether they might apply to you. If you responded yes to most of the questions in any one of the four styles then that is your preferred learning style.
Self-Discipline and Motivation
Self-discipline is the ability to make yourself do things you know you should do even when you do not want to. This is the one characteristic that determines success in distance learning. When taking a distance learning course you need to have self-discipline because although you will be assigned a tutor, you may not even be contacted unless you make contact first. Your tutor is there to support you, but independent learning is very much a feature of distance learning. The pressure is therefore on you to read about what is expected of you and to ensure that you complete all the work that will be assessed and count towards your degree or diploma. If you don’t, then you may not realize that an assignment is due or what you have to do to achieve the best marks. As a distance learner, you have to fit in your studies among many other responsibilities such as work and family. Self-discipline comes in handy, as you know what you have to do and how long you are able to spend reading, taking notes and writing essays. This will keep your mind focused on accomplishing all you need to. Without self-discipline, you will start missing assignments and then examinations and before long frustration sets in and you may even drop out.
Ways to promote self-discipline
- Organize your time using a calendar: Schedule time on the calendar to study for an examination, work on assignments, and complete assigned readings. Adhere to your appointed time and stay for the full allotted time. Work from a place dedicated for study free from distractions. Your study area should be quiet and has enough light and space for you to work properly. This arrangement allows you the flexibility to work when it is most convenient for you. It will be your responsibility to remain motivated and engaged. You are responsible for knowing when course activities are due
- Avoid temptations: Self-control is easier when abiding by the old saying, “out of sight, out of mind.” Remove all temptations and distractions from your study environment.
- Eat regularly and healthily: Studies have shown that low blood sugar weakens a person’s decision making and judgment. Hunger affects the ability to concentrate as the brain is not functioning to its highest potential. This is much more likely to lead to lack of self-discipline in all areas of one’s life - diet, exercise, work, relationships and study. In order to stay on track, make sure that you eat healthy meals and snacks regularly to ensure your blood sugar levels are balanced and improve your decision making skills and concentration.
- Be persistent: don’t wait until you feel until it is the right time for you to study. Improve your self-discipline by changing your normal routine. You need to persist until the new behaviour becomes a habit.
- Schedule breaks, treats, and rewards for yourself: Self-discipline does not mean your new routine needs to be entirely work. While practicing self-control, schedule specific breaks, treats, and rewards for yourself. For example, watch a movie, visit a friend or take a walk after completing an assignment. Self-discipline can be hard. Reward your effort.
- Move forward: Sometimes things don’t go according to plan. You will have ups and downs, fabulous successes, and flat out failures. The key is to keep moving forward. When you have a setback, acknowledge what caused it and move on. It is easy to get wrapped up in guilt, anger, or frustration, but these emotions will not help build improve self-discipline. Instead, use the hiccups in your plan as learning experiences for the future.
- Keep good company: Seek the advice of experts by all means and learn from the best, but never accept negativity from people who have not themselves achieved what it is you are set upon achieving. If people say you will not complete your course or sneer at your efforts, do not be deterred by this; rather, use it to fire your energy and strength. Proving others wrong is a greatly underrated pleasure.
5.5 Time Management
Time management is a commitment. As you begin your studies, you will find that distance learning classes require as much time and effort as traditional classes, if not more. It is important not to leave assignments until the last minute. Plan your time to include any potential technical difficulties in software, hardware, or internet connections. Using the course syllabus as a guide and the calendar you developed for self-discipline, will help you better manage your time.
These are other time management strategies that you might find useful in your studies.
- Devote specific hours to your studies
One way to get yourself situated in your distance learning programme is to have a set schedule for yourself, placing specific time slots that are strictly devoted to taking your classes and sitting through online tutorials. Having a strict schedule like this forces you to work your life and activities around your school work; it gives you the feeling that you are enrolled as a student in a traditional classroom. Consider your priorities in advance and be as best prepared as you can.
- Develop timelines for big and small assignments
For many students, there is a habit of doing assignments one after another, basing your work on when their deadlines are. While this may seem like a wise way to work out your assignments, it is actually not the most efficient way to work. Instead, you should consider the amount of labour and time your assignments will take, and then start with the most involving and intense assignments. For example, if you have been assigned an online quiz, a 10-page paper, and a group project, it will probably be wise to start with the group project first, even if it is due last because it is more involving.
- Choose the best time for study
The best time to study depends on your own personal circumstances. Consider when your mind will be in its most active state and when there are very few distractions around you. If you feel that this is in the morning – but you have to go to work – then consider going to bed and getting up earlier. If this does not work for you then make sure you take a break after work, before studying. Being aware of what time of the day suits you best for studying is a key time management skill.
- Frequently self-assess your time management
It is important to regularly ask yourself: “Am I using my time effectively and efficiently?” Sometimes, you may feel as though a whole day has passed you by and you have not done any useful work. This might be because you get distracted easily, or have a tendency to procrastinate. It is a good idea to make to-do lists, either at the end or beginning of each day, and cross each activity out as you go along. This way you will know if you have managed your time effectively and efficiently.
- Keep yourself informed
It is very important to keep up to date because sometimes changes occur unexpectedly. Therefore, check your emails, WhatsApp, Facebook or any other form of communication every morning, afternoon and evening to ensure that you keep abreast of any changes in the semester schedule.
- Dividing Up Your Work
Leaving assignments to the last minute is not good practice. Assignments should be broken up into small chunks, for example, research, outlines, writing, editing and finalising. Each stage requires equal portions of time and effort. It is also important to prioritise tasks.
- Stay Focused
Studying at home means it is a lot easier to become distracted unlike when studying on campus. Some of the ways to stay focused include switching off your phone or keeping it out of sight and earshot as well, turning email and news notifications off and staying logged out of social networking sites unless they are being used for study purposes.
- Plan events around your semester schedule
As a distance learner, you need to balance your academic life with competing needs such as social events. Inform your family and friends so that they can consider your studies in their plans. Tell your employer you are studying. Most of them tend to be supportive and may even give you a day's study leave before your examination while some may refund your fees if you pass. In your study schedule, do not omit work deadlines if you are working. Many working students have access to high speed internet at work, and employers are usually quite open to library research of databases and e-journals during lunchtimes. Carrying out this time-consuming task that eats into study time in shorter bursts during lunchtime at work gives you more time to focus on reading for and writing assignments at home.
- Allow time for preparation/revision for examinations
Being caught up by examinations without adequate preparation can be very distressful for a student. It is ideal to set aside at least three weeks preparation and revision for examinations. As part of preparation, get the books you need from the library early as everyone else in your class is probably looking for the same books! If you are lucky enough to get the book first, use it. Photocopy the pages you need for your reference. You can also request the book again after you have returned it. Know your examination timetable in advance to allow you to see how close together your examinations are and plan accordingly. This also reminds you to inform your employer early enough that you may want leave for study and/or to sit examinations
- Attend Tutorial sessions
Try as much as possible to attend the face to face tutorials offered at the learning centres/campuses. These will give you the opportunity to meet the lecturer(s) in person, work alongside and with other students, some of whom may become friends, and allow you to clarify any problems. This kind of support saves you a lot of time that could have been used unravelling difficult concepts in your courses.
5.6 Class Communication
Successful distance learners interact frequently with instructors and fellow students during course activities. Without the frequent face-to-face contact of a traditional classroom, written communication becomes paramount.
Since written communication lacks the facial expressions, tone of voice and other non- verbal cues seen or heard during face-to-face communication, effective modes of communication in becomes essential to compensate for the lack of face-to-face interaction.
There are many types of media used in distance learning. These range from online and offline discussion forums, Email, WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook and other social networks. In any communication with each other, tutors or the institution, distance students must communicate effectively so that they are understood. Some of the strategies to follow are as follows:
- Always identify yourself in the message. For any written communication, indicate your name, registration number, course code and title, year and semester, and learning centre.
- When asking a question, be specific and provide details about what you are trying to ask and what you do not understand
- Keep it simple - be clear and concise
- Avoid using jargons.
- Use concrete, specific words rather than vague, general words
- Write professionally, but in a conversational style
- Avoid “texting” language, foul language or slang
- Avoid very long sentences
- Write in a positive tone
- Do not respond in anger
- Always edit and proofread your work before submitting.
- Check spelling and grammar
- Avoid plagiarism.