Studying by distance education

Posted October 13, 2011, by Andrea Riddell

Whether you are exploring new opportunities or brushing up on old skills, distance education and flexible learning courses can be a great way to advance your knowledge and career opportunities.

Studying by distance, either part-time or full-time, gives you flexibility to learn in your own time. Gone are the days of fighting for car spots or tutorial spaces, and with distance education you will never be late for a lecture.

Learning in the comfort of your own home (or wherever you choose to study) is ideal for people with erratic or busy work hours or commitments, like looking after children, or those with restricted mobility. Distance learning can also be a great alternative for people living in remote or difficult-to-reach areas – or even overseas – with limited access to education programs and facilities.

Karen Hill chose to study a Certificate III in Aged Care with Open Colleges (formerly known as Cengage Education) from her home in Goulburn, in order to continue working while she pursued a tertiary education.

‘I saw ads for Open Colleges courses on television and thought I would give it a try. It’s a great way to get a qualification while working full-time – I’d recommend it to anyone,’ says Hill.

What is distance education?

Distance education refers to the method of studying by distance. You are empowered with the flexibility of receiving your study materials via the Internet or through the mail, and you can choose your hours to study each week, from any location.

While differing from regular university courses in terms of delivery, distance education offers a similar range of courses from traditional education providers. From management and nursing courses to education and engineering courses, distance education will give you the same qualification as if you had studied on campus. Most courses offered through distance education, from certificates to postgraduate qualifications, are nationally recognised and government-accredited.

Despite the lack of face-to-face contact with lecturers and tutors, distance courses offer alternative methods of communication to provide top-notch student support. Students and staff are connected through phone, email, live chat and online forums.

Hill found the support offered for her distance education course helpful and often utilised the student forum to connect with fellow students.

‘The support was great whenever you needed it. I also asked some questions and posted some replies on the student forum,’ says Hill. ‘It was good to get some feedback and know that you weren’t the only one out there with that particular problem.’

Flexible learning

Some distance education providers offer the choice of a mixture of learning modes such as online, correspondence or face-to-face. You may prefer to mix things up by studying part online and partly by attending on-campus classes.

For some distance education courses you may be required to attend some components in person. Residential or summer schools are offered at specific times to give students a chance to undertake practical elements of their course as well as meet fellow students and lecturers in the flesh.

Work placements are also mandatory for some of the more practical courses.

If on-campus components are compulsory for the course you are interested in, you need to make sure that you can take time away from your commitments and can meet the associated financial costs, such as travel, meals and accommodation.

Take control of your learning

While there are many benefits to controlling your own timetable and taking your education into your own hands, you also need to remember that you alone are responsible for finding the time and motivation to learn and study.

‘Sometimes it was difficult to juggle working with studying, but you just need to be organised, look at your schedule and plan when you have some free time,’ says Hill.

Studying by distance also means that you miss out on the campus atmosphere, and it may be difficult to make friends with fellow students without face-to-face contact.

Public Relations student Libby Mackenzie chose not only to study on campus but also to live on campus at Charles Sturt University, in order to gain some independence and experience new things.

‘It’s obviously an individual decision, but I loved living on campus. It broadens your life in so many different ways, and it’s not just an education, academic-wise,’ says Mackenzie.

You need to ask what method of learning is most effective and attractive to you in light of your personal circumstances. Some people may find the lack of regulation in distance education challenging. Other people may relish the responsibility and flexibility of distance learning.

However you choose to study, your success will be a product of your determination and passion.

‘It is really easy to get distracted living on campus, but I already had that problem before coming to uni so I probably would also have trouble studying by distance education,’ says Mackenzie.

And with online and correspondence courses providing you with the same qualification as an on-campus education, it is up to you to tailor your experiences and knowledge to better serve your career.

‘As long as you do all the hands-on work placements and assessments you will come away with a great education. After studying by distance I was able to get a job in aged care,’ says Hill.

If you are interested in studying by distance, we have a course to suit almost every subject area and level of qualification – from beauty therapy to education, nursing to IT. See all courses here.

Andrea Riddell

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