Arguably, distance learning requires more of the learner than standard educational situations. This new learning environment requires a new type of learner; this type of learner is called “self directed learner." For you to take full advantage of the learning experience, you need to be doing the most work. This is the belief behind being a self-directed learner.
Think back to projects you have engaged in. What was your role?
- Did you sit back passively, or actively take charge of the learning?
- Do you work well with others?
- If assigned a role outside of your comfort level by your assigned group, are you flexible with adapting to that role for the betterment of your group?
- Are you good at setting deadlines for completion of projects and meeting those deadlines?
- When confused by an assignment do you seek out a teacher or professor for clarification?
- Do you read all educational material when it is handed out because you know it’s important?
If you answered yes to most, or all, of these questions then you have the characteristics of a successful, self-directed learner. If not, distance learning still could be for you. Most research on distance learning states that effort and desire to learn can allow a student to be successful in distance learning, even if he does not currently display these innovative characteristics. Being a self-directed learner is just one piece to the puzzle.
There are two types of learning: asynchronous and synchronous.
Asynchronous learning is the type of learning most people envision when thinking about online or distance learning. In our mind’s eye, we see someone in his pajamas sitting at a keyboard typing at 2:00 a.m. This type of learning does happen in online/distance learning. However, there is more involved than just typing. Asynchronous learning means you can access the lessons online whenever they are convenient for you. For instance, your professor gives you a lesson and an assignment using a distance learning software interface, (Springboard). This lesson can be in the form of a PowerPoint (or other multimedia software application), an e-article, a streaming video, or a discussion posting. Whatever the method of delivery, the student may be required to post a response. The response can be in the form of a discussion posting, or submitted as a word processing document. Your response will be due by a pre-designated time. These times may found in the calendar the professor has previously given out, or on the calendar posted on the Springboard! site. After completing the assignment, your professor will issue you a grade and in most cases, provide feedback on the assignment page. It is important to note that unlike a regular classroom, the majority of the work, organization, and goal setting falls on the learner. In many cases, distance learning students report spending more time on assignments as compared to their conventional counterparts.
Synchronous Learning is unknown to most people. Synchronous learning is real-time learning across a distance. Although the students are not sitting in the same room, they are hearing the same material at the same time. This can be learners discussing a project via an internet chat session, or listening to an instructor’s lesson. Another form that synchronous learning can take is through distance learning classrooms. This type of learning looks very similar to standard classroom experience. For example, if you are in Columbus you may access a University of Akron class while it is in progress through the use of real-time video and audio.
After hardware and software diagnostics have been taken, students must also think about their home learning environment. Students must make sure they are physically comfortable with a soft supportive chair, well-placed monitor, and finger friendly keyboard. They will be spending many hours at their computers, so comfort is a key to success. Next, make sure the computer is in a place that is out of the way of home traffic, and free from distraction. Additionally, make sure the room is an enjoyable place to be. It is vitally important to set the ground rules with spouses, children, or roommates. Distance learning is still learning so explain to others that the classes being taken are academically as rigorous, if not more rigorous, as a traditional classroom setting.