Distance learning is a wonderful opportunity for working people, stay-at-home parents and others seeking a flexible mode of study, to upskill in their own space and at their own pace. However, come exam and assessment time, distance learning students face challenges that are quite different to those of their peers attending classes at contact institutions, and their strategy for performing optimally must take this different reality into account, an expert says.
“Distance learning requires discipline and self-motivation, and at no time are these two qualities as important as during preparation for exams,” says Nomawabo May, Team Leader: Student Advisor Department at Oxbridge Academy
She says that because distance learning students are physically removed from lecturers and fellow students, they may feel a sense of isolation, particularly when the demands of exam preparation set in.
“It is therefore of the utmost importance that before you start your preparations, you get in the right frame of mind again, and recall why you are doing this, and what your end goal is. It is also at this time that you need to make full use of the resources good distance learning institutions must have in place, such as tutors and student support systems,” she says.
May says loss of motivation can threaten to become the Achilles heel of many a distance learning student, and can set in when you don’t have other students around you, and you don’t have lecturers checking up on you all the time. So step one is to recognise if you are losing motivation, and then to do something about it.
“Keep your end goal in mind every day, and visualise how you will feel and what you will do when you have achieved your goal. Set short-term targets and chart your progress with each new assignment. Talk about what you’re learning with friends and family, and reward yourself when you do well.”
May says planning, strategy and discipline are the best ways for distance learning students – particularly those who have substantial obligations outside of their studies – to take charge during assessment times.
“While preparing for an exam as a working student can be ridiculously stressful, ensuring that you don’t get overwhelmed and that you stay on top of your studies will ultimately be so worth it for you and your life, that it is worth sticking it out to reap the sweet rewards down the line.”
She says distance learning students can make exam time less stressful and more successful by:
SCHEDULING SHORTER STUDY SESSIONS
Don’t aim for marathon study sessions when you can find a block of several hours during the week or weekend. Instead, divide your work into smaller sections, and have more sessions more often. A little bit of studying every day, for half an hour here and an hour there, is often more effective for distance learning students, as the learning gets integrated into their daily lives in a way that isn’t overwhelming and doesn’t cause despondency as the hour of having to face a mountain of work nears.
SCHEDULING STUDY TIME IN YOUR DIARY
A diary (paper or electronic) is crucial for a distance learning student who has to keep several unrelated balls in the air at all times. So, firstly, ensure that you have noted your exams and assignment dates correctly, and then schedule your study times in your diary around your other commitments. That way you will neither forget to study, nor to arrive for your exam or submit your assignment.
USING YOUR TIME OPTIMALLY
If you commute to work by bus or train, that provides a good hour or two that you can use to study. When revising, record yourself reading your notes and play them back to yourself while doing activities such as exercising or cooking. Every little bit helps.
FINDING OPPORTUNITIES TO APPLY WHAT YOU HAVE LEARNED
As you acquire new knowledge through your studies, you might start seeing situations in which you can apply that knowledge. This is a great exercise to help you absorb new material, consolidate past material and, importantly, build confidence and highlight the fact that you are a valuable contribution to your team. Stretching yourself may even open doors to new and better opportunities sooner rather than later.
Although challenges are different for contact and distance students, one thing that they have in common is the need for balance. Rest, reflection and exercise are crucial components supporting successful study (and for that matter, work), and distance learning students in particular need to ensure they don’t burn the candle too much at both ends.
“If you are smart and disciplined about your strategy, you won’t need to overwork your body and mind,” says May.
“Find your work-life-study balance, stick to your schedule, and maintain your focus. And remember that although you may feel alone, you are not. You have a team of people whose entire jobs revolve around ensuring your success, so go ahead and call on them when the going gets tough.”