Thoughts On Distance Learning

The decision to embark on a home learning course was not one I took lightly. After a year on a BA Film production programme, a change of heart determined that I wanted to involve myself in a subject more grounded in academics but my previous A-levels prevented me from embarking on new direction in higher education. After a significant period of decision making and research, distance learning appeared to be the best option. I discontinued my studies in film and took a gap year in which I was to work (part-time) and complete an English Literature A-level, whilst re-applying through UCAS for a BA in English Literature. After applying to various higher education institutions, it soon became apparent that I needed an A grade in English Literature to gain admittance to a degree in my chosen subject. I faced a difficult challenge in attempting to achieve such a high grade in a single year.

At times being on a online course can feel very isolating and confusing. Without knowing how well you are performing and without having a perspective on the amount of work you should be covering means it is hard to know if you are doing enough. There is no real answer to these concerns. Your tutor will give you an idea of the level you are performing but at times these messages may be purposefully cryptic, due to the fact not knowing your level of performance can improve your work ethic. So the only real answer is to work hard. Yet juggling paid work and studying can compromise attention on a subject. I found it necessary to inform my employer of my studies and come to agreements about time off concerning my studies. Prior to each exam I drastically decreased the hours a week I was spending at work as to accommodate sufficient revision time.

Time management is perhaps the most important aspect of distance learning. Good time management comes with good organisation and planning. Every week should allow significant time allocated solely to the subject, much like traditional school lessons. As one of the advantages of distance learning is the ability to work exactly at your own pace, I found it easier to allow long periods for study, almost extended lessons of up to three hours, so that my concentration wasn’t disrupted after I had begun to get into the swing of things.

As the source for your feedback your tutor is one of the most important facets of your learning during a correspondence course. The degree to which they can help you however, is entirely up to you as the student. A tutor can only give feedback on the work they are presented, they can only answer questions that you ask them. Simply, the more you communicate with your tutor, the more useful they will prove in improving your grades. I found that the more I wrote with my tutor, the more interested my tutor became regarding my plans and future, and in turn, the advice given by them acquired further significance and value.

Although the course notes provided by Oxford College are written by qualified professionals and are invaluable to obtaining a high grade, they are but one of many aspects to distance learning and in order to became a high achiever other methods of study will also need to be considered. One of the most useful tools in the passing of exams is the information provided by the exam boards on their respective websites. AQA (the exam board for my English Literature A – level) provided a plethora of information, all of which proved invaluable. Particularly useful were the exam reports on past examination papers, meant for the teachers but very useful to a distance learning student who perhaps will not have the same exposure to a conventional teacher. Although expensive, the course books exclusively endorsed by the exam board are highly useful in providing advice that can be used alongside the course notes provided by Oxford College. Furthermore I found it encouraging to read around the syllabus as well as covering the standard course materials; wider reading can increase a scholarly attitude and can enhance your perspective on your regular course material. My course notes did provide a practice exam paper for every unit that was exam tested but I would advise every student to acquire as many past questions as possible. If you familiarise yourself with the exam, when the big day comes it will seem a lot less intimidating.

Finally and most importantly it is imperative to establish a support network of friends and family that will encourage sustained interest in your subject. The more you inform those around you, the more they will try and help you and you may be surprised by what those around you know regarding your subject. If a valued network of people is established I found that the work was no longer intimidating. I recommend embarking on a distance learning programme with a friend, as then you may help each other and push each other that little bit further into higher grades. Making contact with a friend who has previously studied the subject can prove equally as valuable, as you be able to talk to them on a different level from your formal tutor. Oxford College offer a chat room and a forum for students to communicate.

Through the help of Oxford College and by working hard and maintaining my enthusiasm for the subject, I managed to pass my A-level with a score of 98.5%, giving me an A* grade overall and enabling me to galvanise my interest in English Literature at degree level.

Distance learning is a gift. It is a wonderful thing to really engage with a new interest and really explore a subject new to you on an academic level. If a combination of enthusiasm and discipline in maintained then distance learning can prove to be far more rewarding and successful than conventional classroom study.

Jack Thacker