I had the mixed experience of using distance learning to obtain my high school diploma after dropping out. I was successful, and it was nice that such an option existed, but to call it a drag on the soul like a million demons trying to yank me into hell would understate it.
Even though it had a positive outcome, it was an overwhelmingly negative experience. It soured me on distance learning like soaking Tangfastics in pickling vinegar.
I thought advances in technology would change my mind, but after becoming more familiar with the ethos of the Open University, I realised I was wrong. It’s less about the medium of communication, and more about the quality. And the structure. And even the intent. Okay, look, it’s that there is communication.
It’s really not appropriate to say why I chose the Open University, as I wouldn’t be doing this without it. The Open University convinced me that I could do this. (Okay, I probably would try it again at some point, as I started in California, but I was dreading it.)
Here’s what helped convince me:
Mostly I mean the tutors. Previously, when I had questions, I basically talked to an administrator who could help insomuch as telling precisely where I could place my study materials.
- Study Materials
Look, I don’t care if they’re online or in a book, what I care about is that I don’t have to go around finding them myself, whether at the bookstore, the library, the school’s office, or lost in the post. People bang on about the quality of the study materials, but I currently don’t know anything about that. All I know is that they provide all of them.
- Part Time Student Financing
Not really anything to do with the Open University, but the UK government allows part-time students to arrange for student loans, now. Okay, it may have been better a few years ago when the tuition fees were a fraction of what they are now. And yes, I could pay out-of-pocket, the fees are definitely low enough. But it’s nice that I can put it into a manageable payment and eliminate a barrier that would otherwise exist for me, but not an 18 year old.
- Everything can be done online
I know a lot of Open University students like that it doesn’t have to be online, that you can go to tutorials and get face-to-face help. But I just want to put my head down and get on with it. I’m pretty anti-social as it is. As in withdrawn and introverted, not as in ASBO and Stella Artois. But I mean TMA submission and such. Aside from 4 day schools if I choose the networking route, I don’t think anything can’t be done online.
Not just structure, but what appears to be a scientifically created one. Each module has a number of credits (typically 30, 60, or 120), which generally map to 10 hours of study, over 8 months. So the recommended 60 credits per year at part time study is 600 hours of study over 8 months (or 36-38 weeks), or about 16 hours per week. The module is then mapped out according to these 16 hour weeks to provide for time to study materials, prepare Tutor Marked Assignments, and so on. So you know exactly how far ahead or behind you are at any point in the module.
Closing the other end of my biggest problem with distance learning is that you get feedback on any assignments within two weeks. And I’ve seen some examples of the feedback. I’m sure it will often be down to the ability of my tutors to convey, but the structure for the feedback is good. It’s useful.
All of that’s great, but it does (of course) still leave the biggest problem of distance learning up to me to solve: Motivation. Finding and keeping that is a constant struggle in distance learning. Many future posts I’m sure deal with this.