Distance learning is a method of remote education without regular face-to-face tutor contact. There are different levels of distance learning. At one end are courses delivered entirely online. You never meet your tutor or fellow students face-to-face and may have online tutorials instead. You communicate with your tutor by email or telephone and you learn from textbooks and online resources. Other courses offer a slightly more blended approach with a few face-to-face tutorials.

In this blog post, you’ll discover:

  • 5 benefits of distance learning compared to traditional campus-based education
  • 5 key skills distance learning students need to develop
  • 33 top tips and resources to help distance learners excel in their studies.

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Benefits of Distance Learning:

Study anywhere

You can study wherever you are in the world and don’t have to stay in one location for the duration of your degree

Flexible study

You can build your study schedule around other commitments such as work and family

More choice for learning providers

You’re not constrained by the choice of universities in your area

Lower costs

Distance learning is often cheaper than traditional ‘brick’ universities

Learn while working

As distance learning can be completed around your other responsibilities it is often possible to work full or part time.

Skills Distance Learning Students Need to Develop

Self-motivation

Distance learning can be isolating at times. Studying by yourself and rarely (if at all) meeting other students can be a lonely experience. A successful distance learning student is able to motivate themselves to study, even when they don’t want to

Perseverance

A successful distance learning student pushes forward even when they experience challenges. They understand achieving a degree is a long process and they will make mistakes. When they’re tired they learn to rest, not quit

Ask for help

A successful distance learning student understands asking for help is a strength not a weakness. They try to solve a problem themselves first but aren’t afraid to ask for help so they can learn and make progress

Independent learner

Any university-level course is a step up from school learning. You won’t get told off for handing in poor work or by not turning up to tutorials. Your tutors want you to do well but most won’t actively push you to do better. Successful distance learning students are independent learners and take initiative in their education. They seek help from other resources, other students and their tutor. They read outside the core materials to understand topics and they actively try to improve their study skills

Engagement

Successful distance learning students are engaged in their studies. They participate in online discussions and activities. They speak up in tutorials and ask questions to further their knowledge. They read, watch and listen to outside sources to deepen and broaden their understanding of their subject.

Top Tips for Distance Learning Students

1. Boast about your achievements

Feel pride in every good mark and productive study session. Share your achievements on social media or message your friends and family. Share when you’ve worked hard so others can celebrate with you.

2. Create a study space

While I recommend studying in different places sometimes, you need a dedicated study space where you can get shit done. Some of you may already have a desk area, others might not. If you struggle for space could you build a very simple folding desk somewhere? Buy a fold up chair and you have a desk that can almost be removed when you’re not using it.

Organise the desk you have. Get a nice cushion for your chair, a lamp and some cool stationery. You could even print some photos or motivational quotes to stick around your desk.

Keep your desk as clear as possible so you can easily find everything you need. Keep a box next to your desk and put in anything you don’t need for this study session.

3. Find other students

Distance learning can be so lonely at times. In the 4 years I studied with the Open University I only came across a handful of students a second time. I have a few Facebook acquaintances and 1 real life friend from my studies. This is very different to the experiences of a lot of traditional, ‘brick’ university students.

Does your university have official or unofficial forums or groups for you to connect with other students? Are there any Facebook groups for your course or meet ups in your local area? Try and find a few students whom you can share your successes and problems with.

4. Make sure you have support

Get your friends and family behind you and your studying decision. There will be times when you need a pep talk, some space to rant or someone to take your mind off a stressful situation. Not everyone will understand why you’re studying but as long as you have one person around that supports you it will really help.

5. Reward yourself

Every study session should end in a reward. This doesn’t have to be big but be intentional about celebrating your hard work. Download my study planner to record your tasks but also your achievements and rewards.

Plan some fun treats for after a big essay, exam or end of module. Having something to look forward to can really help keep you motivated.

6. Define your reasons for studying

Do this simple 5 minute exercise to help get you through the tough times when your motivation is low and there’s part of you that wants to give up.

Take a sticky note or piece of paper and come up with 1 to 3 reasons why you’re studying. Why did you start studying? What are you hoping to get out of it? How will your life improve from your studying? Write these down and then keep this sheet where you can see it. I kept mine above my desk.

Here’s the 3 reasons I came up with at the start of my studies:

· I love learning new things and talking to my friends and family about what I’ve discovered

· I want to prove to myself I can do this. I’m stronger than I think

· I can’t wait to see what opportunities come from this but also where my new knowledge and confidence takes me.

7. Schedule in your studying

Traditional brick universities scheduled tutorials you should attend. As a distance learner you need to schedule your studies yourself and be disciplined enough to stick to it.

Every Sunday spend 5-10 minutes planning what you need to study the following week and add some study sessions to your schedule. It’s too easy to ‘wing it’ and suddenly realise a week has gone past and you haven’t done any studying.

8. Know your workload

Your course may give you a calendar with rough guidelines of what readings, activities and assignments you should complete each week or month. If not, work this out from your assignment dates. Record all important submission dates so none spring up and overwhelm you. Again, spend 5-10 minutes on a Sunday working out your priorities for the week, checking you’re on track and taking action if you’re not. Staying aware of your workload is key for distance learning students so you don’t fall behind.

9. Take breaks

One of my weaknesses is trying to work solidly for a few hours without breaks. But this normally ends in forgetting to drink and getting twitchy computer eyes and a numb bum! The beauty of the Pomodoro studying technique is it prompts you to take breaks. You study hard for 25 minutes without distractions then take 5 minutes to refresh and stretch. This technique tends to result in you achieving more as 25 minutes is a manageable time to stay focused.

10. Control procrastination

As a distance learning student you probably study along with other commitments. You may have a job, be raising a family, or both! This means you don’t have time to procrastinate. Now, I’m not saying you have to be perfect as we all procrastinate at times. What you do need is a toolkit of anti-procrastination techniques to help you make the most of your (often scarce) study time so you can get shit done and have time for your other responsibilities. Check out this post for 15 ways to overcome studying procrastination.

11. Embrace just doing it

If you had to eat two frogs, you’d eat the ugly one first to get it over with. So identify that task you have been putting off or don’t want to start and just do it! You’ll feel so much better and will gain the momentum to keep going.

“When there’s a hill to climb don’t think waiting will make it smaller”.

12. Create a focused study routine

Create a quick and simple routine for your studies to help you get focused and get more done. Check out these posts on the first and last steps to great study sessions. Clear your desk, get some snacks, put on some instrumental music and get rid of distractions. It’s not always possible to study without distractions but there are things you can do. Turn off your mobile phone, put it on airplane mode or move it away. Keep a procrastination list of your distractions/random thoughts and stay away from the Internet. Download my study planner to help you stay focused and get more done with your precious study time.

13. Ask for help

There is value in trying to work through a problem by yourself. But if you’ve spent a lot of time on an issue or you still don’t know what your next essay requires – ask for help! Your university fees pay for your tutors to help you. It’s harder for distance learning students as you can’t just go to your tutor’s office or catch them after a tutorial. Email or phone them instead when you have questions or need a concept explaining. A little bit more understanding can lead to a lot more marks.

14. Build a good relationship with your tutor

As a distance learning student you may not meet your tutor at all, or only see them once or twice. So it’s important to build a positive relationship where you can.

· Tell them your learning goals

· Contact them when you need help

· Thank them for their support

· Listen to their feedback and act on it so you don’t make the same mistakes

· Let them know if you can’t attend a tutorial

· Ask questions and engage in tutorials/discussions

· Don’t submit assignments with simple errors.

15. Contribute to collaborative projects or online activities

You course may have group projects or online activities and discussions. Some of these have marks allocated to them which are relatively easy marks to get in comparison to an essay or exam. Even if these activities don’t have marks, get involved. You can learn from others, these activities can help you place your learning in wider contexts, and your involvement shows your tutor you are engaged.

16. Organise your work

Save your work in a sensible folder structure with sensible file names so you don’t lose files or waste time searching for them.

You could set up folders on your computer like this: university > module title/code > notes or > assignments or > revision.

Your file names for assignments could be name/student ID_module code_essay number_ version number. For example, Chloe Burroughs_B345_Essay1_V01.

17. Be flexible with WHERE you study

A change of scenery can work wonders for your focus and productivity. Try to get away from your desk every so often. Try out some different cafes nearby, go to your local library or even study outside (difficult in the UK I know!). One of my coaching clients studies in the caravan on her driveway when she needs some quiet time!

18. Be flexible with WHEN you study

Being flexible about your study time has two benefits. Firstly, you’ll start finding new slots to study in which can help you get more done without really realising. Secondly, you’ll soon discover the times of day you work best in. Trial studying as soon as you wake up, at work before your day starts, on your lunch break, on your commute, as soon as you get home before dinner, before bed, during nap time…etc.

19. Be flexible with HOW you study

There is not 1 perfect study method for every student and every course. Try out different methods of note taking, planning and writing essays and revising for exams. Your note taking methods might differ depending on the subject and whether or not there’s an exam to revise for.

20. Work with your energy levels

I’m sure you can tell me whether you’re an early bird or a night owl. Do you seem to learn better in the morning or could you study late into the night and stay focused? Though you should be flexible with when you study and try to fit in short bursts throughout your day and week, try not to fight your natural energy levels. Instead, make the most of them. See if you can rearrange your schedule a little to match studying with when you have the most energy. Check out this blog post for other tips for studying when you’re tired.

21. Stay positive!

It’s unlikely you’re a beaming, skipping unicorn every time you sit down to study. There will be times when you’re hating life and wonder why on earth you thought university was a good idea. As a distance learning student it can be hard to break out of this funk. But it’s important you keep your self-talk in check. Accept that studying is hard work, you will be fed up at times and that you will sometimes wish Hermione Granger would swoop in and do the work for you. But don’t let these temporary negative thoughts become your permanent identity. Develop a growth mindset – the belief your intelligence is changeable and you can become smarter over time with hard work. Download my worksheet to transform your thinking to transform your grades.

Repeat this mantra when time you’re struggling.

“I am tired. This is hard. I am struggling. But I CAN do this and I WILL do this. I am persevering. I am getting stronger. I will put one foot in front of the other until I’m there”.

22. Back up everything

Anyone who’s ever lost their work knows the helpless, tear-inducing pain of starting again. Make sure this never happens by setting up this simple system. Create a new version of an essay every time you work on it so you can’t lose all your work if you lose one file. Sign up for a free DropBox account and save your essays there. Or email your essay to yourself every few hours. I created a folder in Outlook to keep all these essay emails. I only ever had to use this system once but thank goodness I had it in place!

If you take notes by hand you can still back these up. I almost left an entire module of notes on the bus once – so I started scanning all of them after that. Even simpler than using a computer, you can use your phone to scan your notes. Download a free scanning app such as Scannable and take a quick, clear picture of each page of notes.

23. Attend all course elements

Tutorials are opportunities to ask questions, get further insight on assignments or exams, deepen your understanding of the material, and get to know your fellow students (if you have face-to-face tutorials). One of my tutors told me that, on average, students who attender her tutorials achieved 10% higher marks. I know some tutorials can be a little pointless but this is where you as a distance learning student need to take initiative. Tell your tutor what you want and need out of the tutorial. Ask questions about the next assignment to make sure the topic is clear to you and everyone else.

24. Record your successes

It’s easy to keep looking forward with your studies and forget to look back at how far you’ve come. As a distance learning student it can feel like as soon as you’ve submitted one assignment it’s time to start the next one. But, it’s important to recognise your progress so you can feel proud of your journey so far. Download my study planner to record your achievements as you study.

25. Juggle your priorities.

As a distance learning student you probable have to fit study around the other commitments in your busy schedule. It’s important to record all your responsibilities in one place, so you can see where there may be clashes e.g. an important is essay is due on your anniversary or child’s birthday. Find the method that works for you. This could be an app on your phone or computer, a physical planner/diary or a large wall planner.

26. Start your essay early

One disadvantage of distance learning is the delay in communication between you and your tutor. You might have to wait for email replies or free slots for a phone call. I recommend starting each essay a little earlier than you think so you have time to ask questions (and get answers) to improve your understanding. The clearer the assignment is in your head, the more likely you are to write a great answer and get higher marks.

27. Build in some slack

As a distance learning student, there’s a danger of issues cropping up in your non-study life which could affect your education. For example, you or your child could catch the flu, you may have to go away with work or a family issue might crop up that needs your attention. I know it’s difficult sometimes just to keep up with your workload but see if you can get a little ahead. Build in a few days space around submission dates so when shit happens (inevitably), you wont fall behind and be at risk of not submitting something on time.

28. Embrace technology

There are so many apps and tools out there to help you with your studying. Learning new technology can be overwhelming but here’s some simple ones I use that you could try today to speed up or improve your studying.

· BeFocused pomodoro timer > this app is only for Apple devices but an Android option is Clockwork Tomato

· Evernote > great for storing quick to do lists and writing down essay ideas when you’re out and about

· Scannable > I use this to scan my handwritten notes but also any bits of paper I need

· iDrated > to record my water intake as I struggle to drink enough through out the day

· F.lux > for reducing the blue light of my screens in the evening to help me sleep better

· Dropbox > for saving back ups of my files

· One Tab extension > during essay research when you have a million Internet tabs open – things can get a little chaotic. This free extension organises your tabs into a list you can easily access

· Cite Me extension > if you need to reference online articles or websites, this extension can quickly create a reference for you in the various academic styles. Don’t forget to check the style and format yourself too, but this can save you time.

29. Talk to your employer

If you are a working student, there may be opportunities for your employer to lighten the load a little. Even if you’ve been studying for awhile or you really don’t think it will work, try speaking to your manager. Talk to them about your course and why you’re doing it and how the skills and/or knowledge you’re developing are useful to the company.

Ask your employer if they would be able to offer any of the following:

· Sponsorship > some companies may be able to fund or even partial-fund your studies if your learning benefits them

· Study leave > would they be willing to give you any free days off? Perhaps 1 or 2 days off a month or even just for exams or big assignments?

· Flexible working > your work may have a work from home policy which could allow you to use your saved commuting time to study

· Unpaid leave > this may not be an option for your finances but your company may be able to offer a few unpaid leave days if you need them to fit in your studying.

30. Make the most of your university’s services

Your university probably has a whole heap of services and resources designed to help you throughout your studies. Have a look around your student website or contact your university to find out what help is available to you.

You university's services could include:

· Student support for help choosing your next module, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or need to escalate a problem

· Career and employability resources e.g. help with writing a CV or choosing a career path

· Help for students with disabilities

· Resources to help you learn the technology skills your course requires

· Resources to improve your study skills

31. Be careful with online etiquette

As a distance learning student, a lot of your communication with your tutor and other students may be online. One of the problems with online communication is the potential for misunderstandings and incorrect interpretations. A quick reply to a fellow student may come across as rude, or an email to your tutor may incorrectly sound like you’re being ungrateful.

So here’s some tips for online etiquette:

· Don’t use capital letters as IT ALWAYS MAKES YOU SOUND ANGRY

· The same with exclamation marks!!!

· Always say please and thank you if you’re asking for help

· Respect the opinions of others. If you do want to express disagreement do so politely and acknowledge their points

· Don’t write something angry or sarcastic – even as a joke. Without hearing the tone, someone may not realise you’re joking

· Read your post out loud before pressing send. You’ll be able to check for simple errors but also if your tone sounds inappropriate.

32. Apply what you’ve learned to the real world

One advantage of being a distance learning student is you can work and study at the same time. If you’re job is in a somehow related field to your study then try to relate your learning to real life experience. Look at your work experiences and see if they can be explained by what you’re learning or if there are any improvements you could make or suggest at work from what you’ve been learning. Placing your learning in a real world context can deepen your knowledge which could lead to higher grades. But also, you could use your learning to ask for a promotion at work or seek opportunities to develop yourself.

33. Small steps

Obtaining a degree is a mammoth task. It takes even longer if you’re studying part time, which a lot of distance learning students have to do. Focusing on the end goal can be a little demotivating, so concentrate on your small steps and short term goals. Every day, week, month and year you study is a step towards getting your degree certificate. Try and develop your ability to study in short bursts you can fit around other commitments. Break down large tasks into smaller activities and remember, “little by little, a little becomes a lot”.

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