Distance learning - Is it for me?
Training and education is an important part of ongoing professional development. However, in the hustle and bustle of working life it can be difficult to find time to learn, particularly in professions with irregular work schedules involved in the industry of close protection.
Thankfully, the days where the only way to get a qualification is to attend a college once or twice a week are gone. There are now lots of more flexible learning options available, and distance learning in particular is gaining popularity. But, what is distance learning and how do you know if it is for you?
What is distance learning?
Distance learning is a formal teaching method specifically designed to deliver learning remotely. Distance learning can be as effective as traditional face-to-face teaching when delivered correctly; this includes good quality learning materials, a high standard of support from tutors, and appropriate and timely feedback on assignments. Distance learning is used for a wide range of training from short courses taking a few hours to complete to postgraduate qualifications lasting a few years. Distance learning via e-learning, in particular, is increasingly in demand as all the relevant course materials and contact with tutors can be accessed using the internet.
Benefits of distance learning
The central benefit of distance learning is flexibility. Distance learning allows people to study wherever they choose, at their own pace, and without the need to attend a college or university. As such it allows learners to join courses delivered in different cities, regions, or even countries facilitating access to the top quality courses in their chosen field. Traditionally, distance learning has been delivered via CD-ROMs, however, the move to internet-based learning is ongoing offering even more flexibility to learners.
Quick and easy access to learning materials and flexible means of submitting coursework (e.g. via online learning environments or email) are just a few features that add to the flexibility of distance learning. Furthermore, the nature of distance learning courses means learners can continue to work alongside studying which is a big advantage for those who need to continue earning.
Whilst it is true that there are some challenges in distance learning (e.g. no face-to-face contact with tutors, a less social learning environment), many learners find that distance learning suits their needs as it allows them to build education into their existing routine. The key to distance learning is to choose the right course for you (it must be in line with your long-term professional development aims), and to set time aside to study.
Top tips for distance learning
If you do decide to embark on distance learning, here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your course.
- Choose the right course – As discussed in an earlier edition of The Circuit magazine (No’14 published January 2012), choosing the right course is instrumental to success. The course needs to be directly linked to your aims and objectives and concentrate on developing real skills.
- Set time aside to study – Setting aside dedicated time to study is essential. It is important to understand the level of commitment needed, at the outset and plan your time accordingly. This might be challenging if you have an irregular work schedule, however, most courses can be fitted in around your availability(i.e. lots of work for a few weeks then none for a few weeks).
- Choose the right training provider – It is important to choose a training provider that understands the challenges you face in terms of the time you have available to study. Remember there are lots of different options for training providers from Universities and Higher Education Colleges to commercial training companies. Research carefully when choosing your course to understand how flexible the training provider is.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help – We all need support sometimes. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, as the old adage says “there are no stupid questions”. When you are researching the training provider ask them what support systems are in place for students (e.g. tutors) and make sure you know how to access this support when you start the course.
- Ensure you have the right equipment – For example a fast enough internet connection, especially if you plan to study abroad and/or in a hostile environment. This will ensure you always have access to your learning materials.
- Know what your assignment deadlines are - If the training provider sets assignment deadlines, ask for these at the start of the course so you can plan your study around them. If there are no set deadlines, make sure you set some yourself. This will keep you motivated and keep you on track to complete your course.
- Submit on time if possible – Submitting assignments on time means you’ll get your feedback in time to act on it before next assignment is due. Most training providers will recognise that this is not always possible and will work with you to set alternative deadlines. It is important to keep lines of communication open with the training provider so they know when to expect your work and make plans to get this marked for you as quickly as possible.
- Utilise your feedback – This will help you to enhance your knowledge and skills as you progress through the course, and ultimately boost grades.
Distance learning is not new. However, it is becoming more and more accessible as online learning environments become more user-friendly, and more courses gain formal academic certification and recognition. The development of tailor-made courses for specific industries are playing a key role in providing professionals with the opportunity to expand their knowledge and gain formal recognition of their skills and abilities.
Amy Burrell, Training Consultant
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