Is the Virtual College right for me?


Congratulations.

Distance learning courses may work well for your life style, but your answers indicate some apprehension and suggest that you may have additional questions or need to make adjustments in your planning and perspective about distance learning to succeed. We've listed some additional information below to help you succeed.

EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH has linked ten indicators of readiness with successful distance learning. By evaluating yourself on each indicator, you will gain a better sense of your level of readiness for distance learning. More importantly, you will discover specific areas of weakness and strength. Then, by addressing weaknesses and building on strengths, you will be able to position yourself for success.

MOTIVATION LEVEL

  • How high is your motivation to meet your distance learning goals?
  • How important is it for you to complete a distance learning course or program?
  • Do you see any circumstances under which you would not complete your distance learning courses? If so, are they likely to happen?
  • What are the consequences of non-completion?
  • What is your ability to stay on task, work independently and manage time effectively?

READING SKILLS

  • How well do you read college-level textbooks and journal articles?
  • Do you read college-level materials with satisfactory comprehension of the author's ideas?
  • Can you evaluate the author's ideas critically as you read?
  • Are you able to establish a clear purpose for reading and select a reading strategy to meet that purpose (e.g., skimming for main ideas)?

WRITING SKILLS

  • How well do you write on a college level?
  • Have you successfully passed a college-level writing course?
  • Are you able to write well-organized reports, memorandum and project proposals?
  • Can you write a research paper with citations and references?

STUDY SKILLS

  • How strong are your study skills?
  • Can you draw up a plan of learning activities for a three- or four-month period and successfully implement this plan?
  • Are you able to reserve time for studying while managing multiple priorities such as work and family or social responsibilities?
  • Are you able to prepare yourself for and successfully take examinations without undue stress?

PERSONAL ATTRIBUTES

  • Do your personal attributes or characteristics favor success?
  • Do you often feel compelled to finish things you start?
  • How highly do you value education and learning?
  • Are you able to persist in the face of obstacles?
  • Are you flexible and open to new ideas?

SUPPORT NETWORK

  • Do you have a network of people available who will support your distance learning efforts?
  • Are your family and friends aware that you are studying at a distance and why?
  • Do they encourage you to be successful?
  • Have family members and friends agreed to take on specific responsibilities that will provide you with more study time?
  • Are family and friends willing to provide you with undisturbed study time?

TIME MANAGEMENT

  • How well are you likely to manage distance learning along with employment, family and social responsibilities throughout the independent study period?
  • Are your employment and family responsibilities fairly predictable so that you can schedule independent study periods with confidence?
  • How well can you integrate distance learning activities while at work: Is there a place or time to study at work?
  • How much control do you have over your work, home or social schedule?
  • Can you alter your schedule to accommodate study?

PERSONAL HEALTH

  • What is the overall level of your physical and emotional health?
  • Do you have a physical or emotional condition that is likely to prevent you from making progress toward your learning goals?
  • Are you currently experiencing or anticipating one or more stressful life events (e.g., divorce, birth of first child, moving, etc.)?

LEARNING RESOURCES

What learning resources are available for you to use as you study? This includes items such as a computer, Internet access, and library resources. (The Forsyth Library is available to all FHSU students.)

It sure looks easy. Sign up for a distance learning course or degree program, and either from home or on the road, rack up the grades and reap the rewards.

Kay Kohl, Executive Director of the University Continuing Education Association in Washington, D.C., cautions that "not all people find that distance learning is the right educational environment for them. Some students have learning styles that clash with the way a distance learning course is delivered."

"It's not an easy way to go to school," comments Peter Ewell, Senior Associate at the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems in Boulder, Colorado. "Mixed with the high praise that many have for distance learning is the frustration that some feel because they are not well suited to deal with its unique requirements."

"What's your motivation for learning? One of the top mistakes people make is assuming distance education is an instant education," observes Pam Dixon, a columnist and author of seven books, one of which is The Virtual College, published by Peterson's in 1996. "A huge difference exists between what's expected of participants of degree or certification programs and those taking a course in investing money," warns Kohl." Some programs rigorously challenge students with the amount of reading and writing assignments. The perception that distance learning is easy quickly evaporates when the course work comes hard and heavy," she notes.

Will it be a TV show or homework? Distance learning demands that students work independently without a lot of prompting. "We're not in the business of motivating you to learn," says Frank Mayadas, Program Director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation's Asynchronous Learning Networks in New York, New York. Sitting in a classroom with a professor asking questions is a powerful inducement to be prepared. Sitting alone with a pile of assignments--and no professor in sight--affords the temptation to put off doing the work.

"You have to be able to stay on task. It's easy to lose interest when you're not interacting with others," suggests Patricia Sullivan Lynch, a distance learning student. She has a passion for the subject and so is able to squeeze in assignments between caring for her three children and starting a business.

Another distance learner, Dietra Wade, who recently earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, is even more adamant about the rigors of distance education. "You have to be interested. There's no reason to put yourself through this unless you absolutely want to do it," she reflects.

How do you learn best--listening, reading, looking? Distance education is delivered in many ways--by Internet, video, interactive TV, audio, or print--so that whether you're a visual or auditory learner, you'll find a method to complement your learning mode. Students should evaluate ahead of time how they learn best. When learning off-campus, your strengths and weaknesses become amplified, so that knowing how you learn becomes extremely critical.

Do you have what it takes personally? Discipline is the most often mentioned characteristic of successful distance learners. You have a tendency to put things off until tomorrow, you don't have time for distance courses. You must be disciplined enough to commit a substantial amount of time each week to do the necessary work," says Mary Beth Almeda, Director of the Center for Media and Independent Learning at the University of California, Extension in Berkeley. Because distance learning allows so much flexibility for the student, it also requires a much higher level of discipline.

Are you organized enough to handle many things at once? Along with being able to say no to favorite TV programs and yes to watching lectures or doing homework, distance students also must be able to organize their time and resources. Wade, for instance, set weekly and monthly schedules for herself to plot out how much material she had to cover and target dates for completing it. With three children at home and a full-time job as a high school counselor, she had to. The Extended University Services at Washington State University in Pullman (WSU) conducted a survey of distance students and found that discipline and organization were consistent characteristics of successful learners.

Do you have the academic skills you'll need? Paula Peinovich, Vice President of Academic Affairs at Regents College in Albany, New York, also comes in contact with thousands of distance students and notes the need for basic academic proficiencies, such as being able to skim information from texts, write clearly, and think critically. Dixon elaborates on this point by explaining that some people get into a distance learning class and hate it because they don't have good writing skills. Distance learning requires a great deal of written communication, either when submitting homework or "talking" with other students and professors via e-mail.

Will the technical requirements unplug you? Distance education providers are aware that not everyone has the latest technology necessary to access their programs, so the tendency is to deliver their programs in the most uncomplicated manner. "Most colleges post minimal requirements in terms of technology," says Thom Swiss, Director of Web Assisted Curriculum and Professor of English at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. But he also says distance students should be thoroughly comfortable manipulating the Internet and not frustrated by inevitable technical glitches. They should be willing to spend an hour or two a day sitting in front of a screen.

While it might seem like a number of obstacles could impede a distance student's success, the reality is that the benefits outweigh the downsides. Distance education is rapidly developing, and soon some of those negatives will be overcome by technical advances. Perhaps the best way to know if you have what it takes to learn from a distance is to take one class in something you truly enjoy and see how you do.

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