Shifting Roles

When I started my career path as a teacher, I opted for the traditional route. I was single, no children, and working from home. It was a great opportunity for me to have the “college experience.” And what an experience! I commuted to campus (over an hour each way), spent ten to fifteen minutes looking for parking, then spent another ten to fifteen minutes walking to my class. I repeated this three to five time per week. Let’s crunch the numbers. I spent anywhere from six to ten hours in my car, forty-five minutes to an hour looking for parking, and another hour and a half to two and a half hours walking back and forth to my car. That’s eight to twelve hours spent BEFORE I even had the privilege of sitting through a lecture. Now let’s talk about lectures! As I look back on my time at Kennesaw State University, I vaguely recall the lectures. The education I received and retained were from the projects, papers, and research.

After graduation, I obtained a position as a public-school teacher. I quickly realized that I needed an advanced degree to make myself more marketable. This time around I knew I couldn’t carve out eight to twelve hours per week to commute to my local college campus. I needed to spend those precious minutes working on my degree.

What’s the difference?
The major difference is the level of education received. I learn best by doing (most people do). Therefore, sitting through lectures did not work for me. Additionally, in my experience, I found that as an online distance learner I receive more individualized attention and guidance from my instructor. In a traditional class setting the instructor meets with his class a few hours per week. Rarely is any of that time spent with individual students. To get support from my instructor, I had to make my way back to campus, find parking and walk to their office during his set office hours. As a distance learner, I have almost immediate access to my instructors. If I am working on an assignment at two AM, I can send an email to my instructor and get a timely response.

Challenges and Tips for Distance Learners
With distance education, the learner has tons of flexibility, but also a ton of responsibility. Distance learning does come with some drawbacks. The key to success is time management and organization. Find out early on from your instructor about the anticipated time commitment. Block that time out on your weekly schedule. Be sure to religiously spend that blocked time, working on assignments. Distance education typically requires more writing, so you don’t want to start on an assignment a couple of hours before its due. Invest some time in organizing your calendar. Add EVERY due date to your calendar. Spend some time reviewing the instructions and rubric for the assignment, so you get an idea of how much time you need to allocate to it.

Tips for Online Educators
The keys to success for an instructor are not that different from that of a student. Every effective instructor must have time management, organizational skills, and content knowledge. The course content is usually completely set before the first day of an online course. That means the instructor spends the majority of their time communicating with students and reviewing assignments. Like students, Instructors should also block out time to grade assignments based on the set due dates.

In a nutshell…
For me, online education fits into my current lifestyle. But it definitely is not for everyone. It takes more discipline than a traditional classroom. But with commitment and hard work, online education is obtainable.