The thought of school conjures up images of
blackboards, desks, pencils and pens. Classrooms, or lecture
halls to the “academically elite” are the core
of learning. At least they were in my mind until recently.
All my institutionalized learning has taken place in such
rooms. This spring I broke down the third wall so to speak
and experienced a whole new form of learning. Naturally many
of life’s lessons are learned in the home; I was just
not accustomed to earning credits in my home. Some people
swear by distance courses; a friend of mine who consistently
takes five distance courses each term comes to mind. The logic
behind this is simply that for some people, making it to class
and campus or rather not making it to class and campus is
too much of an ordeal. Not something that I understand but
something that can be avoided if you sign up for a correspondence
or Web based course.
There is a level of uncertainty with distance courses. Some
people have pet peeves. One of mine is being unorganized with
my time. Sure sweaters and cords can pile up in my bedroom
with not the slightest amount of stress falling on my shoulders,
but if I wake up to an unplanned day the uncertainty stresses
me out. I like knowing that when I get up I have class at
nine or eleven or what have you. When I make a commitment
by signing up for a course I feel guilty when I don’t
show up. The problem is that distance courses don’t
offer you class times. There was no designated slot on my
calendar to go to the political science wing and listen to
lectures from a Power Point presentation. In fact there is
no PowerPoint presentation at all, only a large course handbook
and a few small texts. When faced with the beginning of this
course I felt overwhelmed and afraid that I wouldn’t
put the work in because it was not predetermined for me to
Naturally this type of problem leads one to begin to think
about time management. The outline for my course is so detailed
that it breaks down when you need to read which chapters,
books and articles. This is something that is rarely found
on the standard one page course syllabus of an on-campus course.
I decided to follow it. (Yeah I know how brilliant of me).
However after a few weeks I fell behind as the course came
second to work and lazing around. Luckily, unlike during a
regular term, there were no other papers to write or courses
to worry about so completing the readings meant only having
to spend a few hours on the couch with a neon pink highlighter
in hand. If anyone considers doing a distance course, the
most important thing is to manage your time so that you can
teach yourself the material within a reasonable time period.
Distance courses may seem to bog you down in time management
tasks but ultimately they are very convenient. They allow
students to make work or volunteering a priority and then
fit in study time between shifts instead of trying to fit
work around class times as is the norm from September to April
for many students. This course in Newfoundland Politics allows
me to work full time and gain a few extra credit hours at
the same time. The hassle of commuting to campus daily is
also a non-existent worry when you move the classroom into
your family room.
The strangest thing about a distance course is the lack of
handwritten lecture notes. A self-confessed note-a-holic I
consider my course notes the most essential learning device
I own. Without lectures to guide the important topics of the
course, I find myself having to analyze the readings on my
own; making decisions about the thesis of the article and
summarizing my own points and conclusions. This is not necessarily
a disadvantage: without someone telling me what the main points
are I feel freer to draw my own conclusions and more independent
in those conclusions.
The freedom that a distance course offers is equally matched
with anxiety. I am unsure of exam formats and key points.
I have to rely more on my own abilities that having someone
reassure me with exam discussions prior to test day. Distance
courses do offer their share of anxiety; anxiety I am experiencing
currently. Talking to other students taking the course has
curbed this anxiety. Networking with my peers has revealed
similar uneasiness in them, something which is oddly reassuring.
My need to talk to others about the material reveals the institutionalized
nature of all my other learning experiences. I have to compare
my learning with others, I need to discuss and analyze topic
with other people, not just with my notebook.
While I sit at home, wishing I could be outside in the sunshine,
studying for my midterm, I feel more independent in my learning.
I have experienced a whole new type of post-secondary education.
I am educating myself in a way that normal on-campus courses
cannot allow for. I recommend distance courses, for the sheer
reason that you get to test yourself and your own learning
abilities. It is a pretty cool feeling. Hopefully my term
mark will back up that optimism.