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Distance Learning

What is distance learning?

Distance learning is generally described as an educational environment in which there is a physical separation between the student and the instructor. Computer-mediated communication, collaboration and assessment tools are used to disseminate course materials, promote interaction and evaluate students’ learning. South College uses the Learning Management System, Moodle, to support the delivery of hybrid and distance learning programs and courses. Distance learning classes are driven by student learning outcomes and designed using sound pedagogical principles in online teaching, learning and assessment.

Students enrolled in distance learning programs and courses are held to the same high academic standards and have similar educational experiences as students taking on-campus courses. Course lectures may appear in or written form or written form enhanced with multimedia (i.e., narrated presentations, audio clips, video components, including lectures and screen captures). In addition to lectures, course materials may include online discussion forums and chats; collaborative learning and group work; quizzes and assessments; student presentations; writing assignments; readings; web-based research and other activities as identified by the faculty member.

Definitions:

Distance learning:  A distance learning course is one in which the instructor and student are physically separated during the term and the majority of instruction (at least 90%) is delivered online using computer-mediated communication, collaboration, and assessment tools.

Hybrid: A hybrid course is one which combines on-campus instruction with online course delivery using computer-mediated communication, collaboration, and assessment tools. In-class meetings may be enhanced with electronic supplemental content, electronic assignment submissions, course announcements, online discussions, assessments and other multimedia-based learning activities.

Synchronous: Synchronous learning activities occur when the instructor and students are in different places participating at the same time. Examples: online chat and web-conferencing.

Asynchronous: Asynchronous learning activities occur when the instructors and students are in different places participating at different times. Examples: discussion forums, email, the journal tool in Moodle, blogs, wikis.

Characteristics of successful online learners:

  • Self-motivated
  • Self-disciplined
  • Able to stay on track and avoid distractions
  • Committed to meeting course expectations
  • Have necessary computer skills to meet the requirements of the course
  • Good time management skills
  • Strong reading skills
  • Strong writing skills
  • Good study habits
  • Good organizational skills

Are distance learning classes for me?

1. Do you have reliable access to a computer and high-speed Internet?

You must have unrestricted access to a computer and a high-speed Internet connection (cable or DSL). At a minimum, it’s recommended you use at least a Mac OS X Lion or PC Windows 7 (or higher) operating system, a 1.8 GHz (or faster) processor, with 2.0 GB (or larger) RAM.

An alternative means of Internet access through the school’s computer labs, local library, or a family member/ friend is a good idea in case your computer or your usual connection method fails during the course.

2. Do you feel comfortable interacting with your instructor and fellow classmates in an online environment?

Although not the same as an on-ground course, a distance learning course will still involve interacting frequently with your teacher and classmates in an online environment through email, Moodle messages, discussion forums, chat rooms, wikis and other collaborative activities.  It is important for students to be able to work independently.

3. Can you express yourself in writing and participate in discussion forums?

Most communication in a distance learning course consists of written messages between you and the instructor and discussions among class participants. If you have difficulty with an assignment or have questions, you must be willing to “speak up” to inform the instructor. Good typing skills are a plus.

4. Do you frequently use e-mail and browse the Web?

You must “check in” to Moodle and interact as required by your instructor. This can include checking course announcements, downloading course materials, uploading assignments, participating in discussions or group projects, completing online quizzes and tests, and responding to e-mail and Moodle messages. If you’re not accustomed to routinely accessing the Internet, it may be difficult to motivate yourself to do the work.  You must be disciplined enough to stay on task and meet required deadlines.

5. Are you able to learn from reading, listening to audio, and watching video?

Much of the material for a distance learning course is in written form.   Some material will be in audio or visual form such as audio narrated PowerPoints, audio podcasts, or video screen captures.  Students must be able to learn from a variety of presentation formats.

6. Are you able to be self-motivated, stay on task, and avoid distractions?

Students enrolled in on ground courses usually have a consistent schedule to follow each week, with in-class instruction followed by out-of-class assignments.  For distance learning courses, students may have to find their own ways to stay on top of their work.  Students should be able to dedicate two-three hour blocks of time to work on assignments, in a quiet workspace free of distractions (kids, social media, outside interferences, etc.). 

7. Does your schedule make it difficult to attend classes on campus?

One of the major reasons students register for distance learning courses is that it is more convenient to take courses without having to come to campus at a specific time. This allows you to avoid parking problems, too. Keep in mind that you must still spend about the same amount of time (12-20 hours per week) on coursework as for an on-ground course.

8. Do you like to plan ahead and finish assignments a few days ahead of schedule?

It’s often tempting to wait until the last minute. If you’re a procrastinator, you may have already learned that sometimes things don’t work quite as well as you had hoped. With distance learning courses, it’s better to get your work done a little ahead of time so if problems do occur, they can be resolved prior to the deadline. Good time management is a key to success in a distance learning course.

9. Do you enjoy learning new programs on the computer?

Sometimes learning new programs or applications on the computer can be frustrating if they don’t work exactly as you expect. Taking a distance learning course may require you to learn new techniques beyond just e-mail for interacting with other students in the class.

10. Are you able to work independently to solve problems?

While instructors are available to help throughout the courses, you may need to find answers to class questions independently.  Your instructors may not be available immediately. You have to be willing to go out and find answers on your own.

11. Are you familiar with basic computer functions, such as copying and pasting text as well as backup procedures?

It’s necessary for you to be familiar with basic computer functions, such as copying and pasting text from one location to another. As with any computer application, saving your work by backing up important files is a necessity in case of a hardware problem. If such applications are unfamiliar to you, consider taking a basic computer class before registering for distance learning courses.

Are you ready for distance learning? Take the Online Readiness Self-Assessment

Tips for success as a South College distance learning student:

  • Have a reliable computer and high-speed Internet service.
  • Be willing and able to commit 12 to 20 hours per week per course.  Distance learning courses are not easier than on ground classes. In fact, many will say they require much more time and commitment. 
  • Limit the number of distance learning courses you take.  Start with one distance learning class if it is your first time taking distance learning courses, this way you can decide if distance learning is right for you.  An experienced distance learner should limit the number of distance learning courses to two or three, due to the fact that distance learning courses may require a larger time commitment than on-ground classes.
  • Understand what the technical requirements of the course are and make sure your computer will work with all the online tools before the quarter starts.
  • Learn how to navigate the Moodle Learning Management System before the course starts, including how to download course materials, upload assignments, take online quizzes, participate in discussion forums, and review grades (How to videos are posted in the Student Portal).
  • Create a schedule to complete course work on time.  Do not procrastinate on completing assignments in case you run into problems or technical difficulties.
  • Stay organized. Write assignment due dates down in a calendar.  Create folders for each course and each week to keep all course materials together and organized.
  • Meet the minimum standards as set forth by your instructor.
  • Check your South College email and the course announcements several times throughout the week.
  • Stay in contact with your instructor via email, phone, Moodle messages, and/or virtual office hours.  Be willing to "speak up" if problems arise.  If you experience difficulty on any level (either with the technology or with the course content), communicate this immediately.  Otherwise your instructor may never know something is wrong.
  • Think ideas through before responding.  Give time to process information to allow careful consideration of written responses.
  • Work with others in completing projects.
  • Participate in the distance learning course 3-5 days a week.
  • Dedicate study times for each course to work on assignments. Use a quiet workspace free of outside distractions.

Time management tips for distance learning students:

  • Create a study calendar. 
    • Review your syllabi.
    • Record all deadlines, due dates, and test dates. 
    • Designate study times (time without interruption) for each course.
      • Schedule at least two-three times per week do readings and course work.
      • Block at least one time a week to work on larger projects.
  • Commit to study times and due dates on the calendar. 
  • Read and work ahead. 
    • Know what assignments are coming up and work ahead. 
    • Don’t wait until the day before an assignment is due to work on it.
    • Allow enough time for technical difficulties.  Set a deadline for assignments one-two days before the actual deadline.
    • Set mini-deadlines for larger projects.
    • Check in periodically. 
      • Log into your courses at least every other day to check course announcements and messages from your instructors, read discussion forum posts, and complete quick assignments. 
      • Check your South College email account several times throughout the week.
      • Speak up. 
        • If you are struggling or fall behind, ask for help. 
        • Most instructors will allow extensions.

Resources:

Student Guide to Hybrid and Distance Learning

Frequently Asked Questions

Technology Requirements

Tips for Success in Distance Learning

Distance Learning Student Tutorial

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