Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Distance Education and How I Survive It

You may not know this, but my MBA program is a distance program. I spent a lot of time researching accredited MBA distance programs, because a) I didn't want to get my MBA unless it was credible and recognized (of course!), and b) I still needed to work full-time. Making special arrangements to leave work early on class days and fight traffic to the nearest program I liked (which was an hour away) was not an option.

Distance education wasn't popular when I was an undergrad, so I didn't really understand how it worked. Also, I am a visual learner, and I love classroom settings, so I was slightly apprehensive when I applied to this program. Holding myself accountable would take on new meaning if I didn't have class meetings to attend. Doing distance education is much more suited to self-directed learners, but I don't think it is exclusively for them. Like many other things in school like standardized tests or chemistry, it may just take extra work, especially at the graduate level.

I eased in by taking one class last term, and now I'm doing two per term for the rest of the program (two years). In a nutshell, here are:

My Tips for Surviving Distance Education

1.) As you start each class, carefully review the syllabus and get to know the class format. Even though all my classes are conducted through BlackBoard, my professors use different forums and have different expectations for contributions and deadlines.

2.) Create a study schedule that fits your life. Block school time out of your schedule as if you have to attend lecture. Make the schedule fit your life, so you can still do things you enjoy like going to the gym, yoga classes, church, etc. Mondays through Thursdays are my heavy study days so that I don't fall behind on discussions and group work. (Yes, there is still group work in distance education. It's a special kind of beast!)

3.) Perfect the art of undivided attention. Refrain from internet surfing! And playing with your pets! If you live with others, make it known when you're studying so they know to wait an hour before showing you "the most hilarious Harlem Shake video ever."

4.) Set specific goals for each study session. There is a lot of work every week, and every Monday the list looks overwhelming. Before you get started each night, set a goal. It could be as small as "finish reading these 40 pages" or as big as "make the outline for my final paper."

5.) Rent your books when you can. Hello, savings! I have rented from Campus Book Rentals for 1/3 of the price. I can highlight and write in the book, shipping is free both ways, and I have the option of buying the book at the end of the term if I want to keep it.

6.) Back up your files. For anyone who has ever accidentally deleted an entire paper, you know how important it is to consistently click "Save." Similarly, it would behoove you to back up your files regularly!

7.) Create a study space... or not. You can see my study space in the photo above. The desk is uncluttered (most of the time), I have a candle to cozy it up, and that part of the house is relatively quiet. It's a great little spot to have, but sometimes I study at the dining table, in bed, on the couch, or at Starbucks. Some people prefer to have one designated study space as a physical anchor of sorts, but changing it up can be a good idea too.

Have you considered distance education?
Do you have any questions? 
I'm still a newbie, but I'm happy to help if I can!

And although most wouldn't advocate this, I'm going to say it anyway. Sometimes, you just have to take the night off and not study at all. I mean, let's be real, people. :)


Ley said...

I love this! 80% of my undergrad degree was done through Athabasca University--it's the leading distance university in Canada--and the rest of my classes were on-site while I studied abroad.

I absolutely agree with all of your points--except renting your books. Most of my classes were focused around history, literature, and the French language, so I ended up referencing texts from different classes throughout my studies. It helps that Athabasca sends all of the required texts when you sign up for the class--it's all part of the tuition that you pay per course--so I really didn't notice the price difference. There were quite a few times when I wasn't able to get my hands on books from the library in time to complete an assignment, but I was lucky that I could cite books that I already had. This, of course, will vary from degree to degree since not all paths are as intrinsically connected as my Arts path was.

Katie Price said...

Something I realized all too late into my online masters program is the value forming relationships with your classmates. In a regular class setting you would make friends with the people sitting next to you, but online it's much more difficult. I really encourage setting up Skype dates and IM chats with your cohort-mates. In the long run you'll be glad you did, and it will make it easier to have someone to talk to who is in the same boat!

Devon said...

Not sure this is in my future, but these are good tips, never the less. I'm impressed you're able to tackle so much. I miss school.

Kaitlyn (Bookish Comforts) said...

I'm actually an on-campus student but have taken a few distance courses during my undergrad because of scheduling conflicts. I have to say, I'm not a fan... but only because I cannot seem to get myself onto a schedule. I always seem to miss deadlines- for everything from discussions to essays to smaller assignments. I always seem to feel constantly guilty and stressed when I'm taking a distance course. However, I can totally see how they are great for some people... I just wish I was a better distance student :(

thenerdykatie said...

I did distance ed last year, it worked okay for me, but it was still really hard to do with a toddler underfoot.

applesandglue said...

Great tips! I was offered the opportunity to do an online course (I'm assuming that's similar right?) for one of my grad school courses, but I decided I am definitely not motivated enough for that. Especially my last semester. I'm having a hard enough time focusing when I'm IN class lol.

Jasmine said...

I am presently without a designated study space (still in the process of moving my desk to the new digs and getting the study sorted!) and so my study is really just not happening at the moment.

Throw in a new dog and I'm about the most distracted person in the world.

Also, don't think your use of the word behoove flew under the radar. I appreciate a good behoove.

Whitney said...

You're so awesome for handling all of this so well! This is something I've definitely considered but I don't know how soon it will happen.

Oh hello, Love said...

Being a teacher, I think it's safe to say I thrive on in-class interactions. :) I don't know how well I would do with distance learning but these tips are wonderful. I think you're absolutely right that it is crucial to set the expectation with others that you have certain times that you need to study and that you need to be alone to do so.
Thanks for the tips!

Darby Hawley said...

These are all awesome tips! I'm so glad that you've found your grad school groove!

Michelle said...

You are such a rockstar!

I'm not going to lie. My favorite part of this is that you used the word "behoove.'

Anonymous said...

I'm totally curious about distance
programs. Your tips are helping me decide.. Thanks, Lindsay.-- Any downside?