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8 great benefits of distance learning

Is distance learning right for you?

This is something you may have said (or thought) if you’re considering a college. At The Distance Learner, we obviously think distance learning can be a good idea for a lot of students. 

Why? Here are eight benefits we think you’ll like.

1. It typically costs less

Did you know that distance learning is often less expensive than in-classroom learning? This makes sense, since you’re not paying for the upkeep of classroom buildings or maintenance fees for keeping the college looking spick and span.

So save some money where you can. Life typically only gets more expensive.

2. It requires no driving

Speaking of saving, distance learning cuts back on travel costs. If you have a car, you’ll save money on gas, oil, and general wear-and-tear. If you don’t have a car, you’ll save on your bus fare (or at least not have to worry about getting a ride from someone else).

Also, there’s the whole “no-traffic” thing. So if you’re a big fan of sitting in traffic, distance learning may not be for you!

3. It’s flexible

The benefits of a flexible learning schedule rely on knowing what time(s) of day you think best. So say you’d rather have your mornings off to go for a jog or you’d rather take a break in the afternoon to play a video game. Distance learning gives you the flexibility to do this.

4. It’s great if you have a job

This flexibility is especially useful if you have a job. Whether you’re working part-time or full-time, distance learning lets you do the work when you can. You are not beholden to the class schedules of in-classroom learning. So if you want to get some work experience while you’re in school, distance learning may be the route to take.

5. It allows you to learn at your own pace

If you’re like me, you need only a little bit of time for studying English and history courses, but you need an exorbitant amount of time for studying math courses. With remote learning, you can learn at your own pace. This gives you greater control over your education.

6. It allows you to learn just about anywhere

Want to view lectures at your momma’s house as you wait for a delicious, home-cooked meal? You’ll likely be able to do this, provided she has decent Internet service.

Maybe you prefer going to class out in your yard where your home’s Wi-Fi is still good enough to watch lectures. This is possible through the magic of distance learning. 

7. It can help you get better at time-management skills

Learning how to manage your time is especially important for folks who are used to having someone else dictate their schedule, like their high school or parents. But time-management skills are a necessary part of any professional’s life, and the flexibility and self-paced nature of distance learning can help you hone these skills. 

For instance, employers are increasingly allowing their teams to set their own working hours. Since you have been setting your own schedule via distance learning, you should have no problem with doing this. 

8. It prepares you for remote employment

In the age of COVID-19, more and more businesses are going remote (or at least partially remote). Remote work is a trend that likely won’t go away when the pandemic ends. This is where distance learning plays a key role: It gets you used to the idea of working remotely.  

That means you are:

  • Learning how to be comfortable with working online
  • Learning how to collaborate with classmates
  • Learning how formal email etiquette works

These are all skills that are useful for working in a remote position.

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An 8-step distance learning productivity schedule that will help you get the most out of your day

We all want to make the best use of our days. But as a remote learner, that goal can be tricky. It takes a lot of self-motivation and self-discipline to be successful. The great news is that there are a few tips and tricks you can implement to make the journey easier.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, that’s the topic of this blog post. Based on my own experience as a remote learner through college—plus the experience and wisdom of others—I’ve compiled eight steps to help you become a more productive learner. 

Let’s get started!

1. Block out specific hours of the day for learning

As a remote learner, it’s entirely possible to match the productivity of a traditional learner sitting in a classroom. In fact, it’s entirely possible to exceed that level. All it takes is having the right structure in place and the discipline to stick to it.

“Time blocking” is one building block for successful distance learning. Since you’re learning remotely, you’ll have a lot of distractions around you each and every day. That is why you need core study hours during the day.

Begin by thinking through what your typical week looks like as a distance learner: When you need to be in Zoom classroom meetings, what time and day assignments are due, when you need to participate in discussion chats or boards, etc. Then build your core hours around that.

The process could be as simple as blocking out 10am to 3pm as core study time where you will not be interrupted or take care of other tasks. Then divide those chunks up by your various classes.

Many people find this “blocking” approach easier to maintain than keeping a lengthy to-do list. Try it out and see how it works for you!

2. Eat a healthy breakfast

I’m not trying to sound like your mom, but this one really is important. Even if you’re not a morning or breakfast person, getting in a healthy first meal of the day will set you up for success. “Research shows skipping breakfast negatively affects short term memory and foregoes a boost in cognitive performance, precursors to productivity,” writes Scott Mautz at Inc.

If you’re anything like me, you also need a jolt of caffeine to get started. It’s never a good idea to down that cup of coffee or tea on an empty stomach, though. Be sure to get protein, starch, and add in some healthy fruits for good measure—all to maintain level energy throughout your morning.

3. Try intermittent fasting

I just told you not to skip breakfast, now I’m suggesting you skip meals. What gives? Bear with me.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, intermittent fasting is when you go a set number of hours—say, 16—without food during a 24-hour period. Then you repeat that fast on several days during the week. People use intermittent fasting mainly for weight loss or weight maintenance, or for general health. But it also has productivity benefits.

“When practicing intermittent fasting, many people report feeling more focused, energized, and at higher levels of concentration,” writes Kelsey Michal at Ladders.

If you’re medically able to try this approach, give it shot to see how it impacts your focus and output.

4. Take breaks

Taking a break is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s essential for long-term success. Yes, it might mean disrupting your flow, but you’ll likely find your mind sharper when you return to your schoolwork.

What does a good break look like? That’s an individual question. You need to figure out what works best for you. It might be just a matter of switching mental gears from studying to a lighter mental activity. Other good options:

  • Try a few minutes of prayer or meditation
  • Take a nap
  • Go for a walk (physical activity is always a plus!)
  • Chat with a friend
  • Listen to some music
  • Catch up on some non-school reading

5. Tap into the power of momentum

Harnessing the potential of momentum in your school day is a huge leap forward. The first step in doing that is just getting started. I call this the “kickstart.” In my own life, I find that if I can get five minutes into a challenging task or project, half the battle has been won. It’s the equivalent of putting on your sneakers and just walking out the door to go exercise—that first step is often all it takes for you to end up finishing your walk or run.

“Success requires first expending ten units of effort to produce one unit of results. Your momentum will then produce ten units of results with each unit of effort,” said Charles J. Givens.

Start small and take things one step at a time, and momentum will carry you along.

6. Designate an area in your home for study

Remote learners face the same challenges as remote workers: When home is your workspace, it can be hard to find the “off” switch when transitioning between work and play. A big step toward a solution is to designate a specific part of your home for study.

Depending on how much space you have to work with, this could be a corner of your apartment, a spare bedroom, or an entire floor of your house (a finished attic, for example). It’s important that this area be customized to what helps you study most effectively.

Some possible aids here include:

  • Ambient background noise
  • Natural sunlight (or at least adequate lighting)
  • A comfortable desk and chair (skip studying in a big easy chair or in bed, as you might fall asleep)

7. Reduce distractions

Notice I didn’t say “eliminate distractions.” Depending on your stage of life, entirely doing away with distractions is a pipe dream. There will always be some, and many of us face significant distractions in our remote school or work environments at home. The key here is to reduce those distractions as much as possible and work around them.

Some tips:

  • Use a pair of noise cancelling headphones
  • Have a white noise machine running
  • Find a space for study with a door that locks
  • Turn off your phone and tune our social media

8. Track your time

Tracking your time spent studying is the equivalent of setting a budget in your finances. Regardless of how you spend your time or your money, admitting it “on paper” is a huge step forward. It enables you to look back and evaluate how effectively you’re using your time during the day (or how you’re spending your money, to keep the analogy going!).

The good news is that so many great time-tracking apps exist to help you. One app that combines some fun with helping you stay on track is Forest. When you commit time to a task, you plant a tree and watch it gradually grow. If you get off task, the tree dies. RescueTime is another option. This one is perfect to not only track your time, but to block out distractions (like social media).

Now it’s your turn!

So that’s my list. What about you? What approaches do you find most powerful for staying productive as a remote learner? Leave a comment below and let us know.

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The 5 biggest mistakes I made as a distance learner in college

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken remote learning fully mainstream. We can now see that millions of students—whether in a K-12 school or at college—can learn skills and obtain credentialing exclusively via the Internet. And thrive doing it!

That’s not to say that distance learning doesn’t pose its challenges. It definitely does.

I know firsthand. When I graduated from high school in 2003, the world of online learning for college was relatively new. Just under 2 million students were studying virtually at the time, compared to 6.6 million in 2017.

But I jumped in with both feet, enrolling in a community college distance-education program in early 2004.

Overall, my experience was fantastic and I’m thankful for it. 

But as you can imagine, I had plenty of missteps along the way. I’ll share them in this blog post—hopefully giving you the chance to avoid the same mistakes in your own distance-learning journey.

Mistake #1: Taking too long to commit to a career

Don’t get me wrong: I’m a big advocate of using your teens and early 20s to experiment and discover the best career path for you. But you need focus and an endpoint or else you’ll waste time. I certainly did.

After I graduated from high school in May 2003, I knew that college was in my future. I wanted to earn a credential in order to support a family one day. But I also had a dream of publishing my first novel and becoming a full-time fiction author (preferably bestselling, of course). 

My initial plan was to bypass school and shoot for the stars with this dream—what ended up being a foolish goal. My dream was great, but it needed to be based in reality. I could have pursued my writing passion while enrolled in college and working. Instead, I floundered for months trying to finish my novel and get it published, all unsuccessfully. 

It wasn’t until early 2004 that I actually enrolled in community college and got a job. Even then, I took a small number of courses and worked only part time, continuing to pursue my dream.

Two years later in 2006, I finally realized that fiction author would not be my career trajectory, at least not right now. By then, I had only earned a small number of college credits.

The upside is that when I did finally commit to my college studies and pursue them with vigor, a career path quickly emerged that I love—and one that pays the bills!

The bottom line: Explore your career options and dream a little bit, but stay grounded. If you do want to pursue a dream—say becoming a writer or a professional musician—continue to work on your more practical alternatives at the same time.

Mistake #2: Not following an accelerated path sooner

All told, it took me six years to earn my bachelor’s degree. That’s a full year longer than the national average of five years, which itself is hardly an impressive number. Even worse, I only worked part-time during this period. I was spinning my wheels and wasting time.

That reality struck me in mid 2008 when I took stock of my credits earned toward a bachelor’s degree: In the prior five years, I had netted only 70 credit hours. That was just over half of the requirement for a bachelor’s degree.

The one thing I am proud of: Over the next 10 months, I kicked into high gear and knocked out the remaining requirements for my degree through a combination of CLEP tests, portfolio review, and condensed three-month courses. (All of this came through Thomas Edison State University, which has a robust online learning program.) In April 2009, I officially graduated with a BA in journalism.

Imagine the possibilities if I’d followed an accelerated path in early 2004 when I was just starting out. (For more on this, read You don’t have to be a genius to speed through college).

Mistake #3: Not taking distance learning seriously enough

Remote learners know that discipline is mandatory. You don’t have a set time to be in class, so you have to find international motivation to get your studies done. 

Early on, I was pretty bad about practicing this habit. I never set a daily schedule, let alone short- or long-term goals. As a result, I floundered quite a bit.

What’s my advice for avoiding the same mistake?

Begin by deciding what hours of the day you’ll study and then protecting that chunk of time no matter what. These “core hours” could be something as traditional as 10am to 3pm. If you’re an early bird, 5am 10am—or 10pm to 3am if you’re a night owl! 

That isn’t to say you won’t study outside of these hours, but having the discipline of this time reserved exclusively for schoolwork—day in and day out—will serve you well.

Another must do: Work with advisors at your college to map out a clear academic path toward your degree, with dates plugged in. Even if you’re still deciding on a major, the first two years of a bachelor’s degree are usually prerequisites, anyway. Having it on paper will give you some long-term accountability as you advance toward a degree.

Mistake #4: Being too reticent to ask questions

Clear communication would’ve made my distance learning journey so much better. Truth is, I was flying blind for most of it. Looking back, it’s fortunate that I didn’t waste more time and money due to my reticence to ask questions and seek clarity.

For example, I was blessed that all but three credit hours from my community college years transferred over to my four-year school and counted toward my bachelor’s degree. I never clarified that this would be the case prior to taking the classes. The scenario could just have easily been that half of my credits wouldn’t transfer, sinking years of learning and thousands of dollars down the drain.

I also never took advantage of the college and career counseling resources available to me at my colleges. These counselors can help you map out a plan for your degree and offer suggestions for alternatives if you’re not sure what you want to do.

In sum: Don’t be afraid to ask questions like I was. Clear communication is essential for any part of life, but especially for distance learning since you don’t have the benefit of in-person contact with your advisors and teachers.

Mistake #5: Remaining socially isolated

Online learning meant that I didn’t have access to the same social connections as students enrolled in traditional colleges. Looking back, I spent most of my college years lacking regular, meaningful social connections. 

As a distance learner, I should have done a better job thinking creatively about ways to connect with other learners my age—for example, through local meet-ups or a church college and career group. Interacting with my instructors and fellow students online was fine, but nothing beats in-person relationships. They should be a priority.

Of course, that’s even harder in today’s world of pandemic social distancing. But as our world slowly begins to return to a new normal in the coming months and years, making in-person social interaction a priority for distance learners will be essential.

Wrapping up: A distance ed degree is worth it

This blog post has been devoted to regrets and mistakes. Here is one thing I don’t regret: Earning my degree online in the first place. Even though I made plenty of errors along the way, distance learning allowed me to obtain a credential in a field I love, get practical experience while I studied, and keep costs to a minimum (my bachelor’s degree ended up costing less than $10,000, all told).

Today, I’ve been working over 13 years in the same field I studied for (journalism and marketing communications) and loving every minute of it. I look back with fondness on my college years, particularly the latter half when I accelerated my learning and had true focus.

So, that’s my story. What about yours? If you’re a distance learning graduate, post your experience in the comments below. Or if you’re currently learning remotely and have questions for me, ask away. In any case, best of luck as you pursue your studies!

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5 ways to use 2021 to become a lifelong learner

The primary purpose of education isn’t to impart knowledge. Instead, its purpose is to teach you how to learn.

Does that concept sound like the utterings of a ninja master to his young apprentice? 

For sure!

And at first look, it may even sound nonsensical. After all, when we think of K-12 schooling or a college education, our thoughts immediately turn to mastering grammar or memorizing equations in mathematics.

But particularly in our modern economy that is so knowledge-based and rapidly changing, the ability to be a lifelong learner is crucial. Graduating from school with mastery of a set of information is important, but what’s more crucial is leaving with a toolbox of resources for ongoing learning.

“The most critical role for K-12 educators … will be to equip young people with the curiosity and passion to be lifelong learners who feel ownership over their education,” writes columnist Thomas Friedman in The New York Times. Or, as business expert Peter Drucker put it, “The most pressing task is to teach people how to learn.”

An advantage for distance learners

Lifelong learning is mandatory for high school graduates if you want to be successful in your career and your life. Most areas of our economy change rapidly—often from year to year, but definitely from decade to decade. This is particularly true of technical occupations. So in this way, how far you go in your career is dependent on how well you learn new skills and concepts along the way, not just in school.

The great news is that distance learners are accustomed to taking responsibility for their own learning, especially in the high school years. You already have a strong foundation for becoming a lifelong learner. 

To help you cultivate that ability even more, here are 5 tips to put into practice for 2021.

1. Stay curious

Curiosity is the foundation of lifelong learning. To cultivate curiosity, ask plenty of questions and listen carefully to the answers. Aim to read two books a month, and keep a running list of books you would like to read in the near future. Step out of your comfort zone and seek to solve complicated, even thorny problems.

2. Be humble and teachable

It goes without saying that teachability ranks high on the list of attributes of genuine lifelong learners. Understand that no matter how advanced you get in a given area of life, you’ve never fully arrived. You can always learn more. That level of humility will serve you well.

3. Accept responsibility for your own learning

Distance learners have a big advantage in this area. Self-directed learning is a hallmark of distance learning for high school students. The flexibility of online learning—existing outside the rigid structure of a traditional classroom environment—helps students more easily own their educational outcomes and not rely on teachers to learn everything. As a distance learning graduate, take that same sense of responsibility for your own learning with you as you launch into adult life.

4. Launch a major project

Personally, I find this one of the best ways to practice the art of lifelong learning. Envisioning and launching a larger scale project—it could be a business, a personal hobby, or something entirely different—is an excellent way to keep your mental faculties sharp and to stretch the boundaries of what you think is possible.

5. Schedule time in your week for ongoing learning

I set a goal in 2021 to read 10 self-improvement books. Creating a benchmark like this is a good place to start, but lifelong learning will look different for each person. Maybe for you it means mastering a new hobby, earning a certification online, or attending a workshop. Remember, as the great inspirational writer and speaker Dale Carnegie said, “Learning is an active process. We learn by doing. Only knowledge that is used sticks in your mind.”

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Should you pursue an advanced degree in college?

Earning an advanced degree can be a tremendous career booster for distance learning students. Enrolling in medical school, law school, or graduate school to pursue a post-graduate or professional degree could set you up for success.

An advanced degree can open many doors for you, and in some cases, has the potential to help you earn upward of six figures after college. Through careers in medicine, law, engineering, aerospace, and many others, you have the chance to make a positive and far-reaching impact on the world.

So, is it worth it to pursue an advanced degree in college? Let’s look at a few important considerations you needs to keep in mind while making the decision.

1. Extra time spent in school

It takes two to four years to earn an undergraduate degree, depending on what you chooses to study. An advanced degree takes significantly longer than the initial degree.

Here’s a quick snapshot of how long it takes to earn certain common post-graduate degrees:

  • Law: 3 years
  • Master’s degree: up to 2 years
  • Medicine: 4 years plus residency (up to 7 additional years)
  • Nurse Practitioner: 2 to 4 years
  • Ph.D.: 8 years, on average, after earning a Master’s

You will want to consider the amount of time it takes to earn a chosen degree. While many advanced degrees are worth the time and effort required, some are not—and it will be important to know which degrees are the most lucrative.

2. Expense

Depending on the degree you choose, post-graduate education costs significantly more than an undergraduate degree. Graduate degrees can cost tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans, depending on a number of factors, including:

  • The school you attend and any name recognition associated with it
  • The degree you pursue (for example, a Ph.D. costs more than a Master’s degree)
  • The location of your college

Thankfully, certain financial aid programs, such as getting a graduate assistantship, are available to some students to lighten the financial burden.

3. Return on investment (ROI)

Graduate school will likely leave you with a significant amount of student loan debt. Because of this, it’s important that you focus on a course of study in a lucrative field that will help you pay back loans over time.

Choosing an advanced degree that will prepare you for financial success is extremely important. You can find resources on high-paying advanced degrees herehere, and here.

Some professions that require graduate degrees and pay well include:

  • Physician
  • Lawyer
  • Dentist
  • Nurse anesthetist
  • Aerospace engineer
  • Computer scientist
  • Optometrist
  • MBA
  • Pharmacist

4. Long-term career viability

When it comes to an advanced degree, high ROI goes hand-in-hand with the idea of choosing a degree with long-term career viability. You need to gather as much information as possible regarding how viable your degree may be in years to come.

Another way to think about this is to consider whether the degree is likely to be recession-proof. If you choose to study law, medicine, or IT, for example, you are more likely to be able to continue working even in difficult economic times.

It takes many years to earn an advanced graduate degree. Look for a field that will stand the test of time—the investment could absolutely be worth it.

The bottom line

There are many factors to consider as you make all-important career decisions that will impact your adult life. Earning an advanced degree could be an excellent opportunity for you to excel and share your unique gifts with others.

If you as a distance learner decide to pursue an advanced degree in college, then choosing a viable career with a good ROI is crucial, no matter what. As you make decisions on where to enroll, take overall expenses, student loan debt, and the time required to earn the degree into account. All those factors will help you choose the right graduate school.