Distance (Online) Learning – How to Succeed Part 1

Author: Kevin Jenkins, Alumni, Online MS in Communications

Some people say that distance learning is the easy way out, when in reality, the only thing that makes it easy is that you don’t have to be in a chair at a set time on set days of the week. The curriculum is just as rigorous and there is a tremendous amount of self-discipline required to be successful. I have seen students succeed and I have seen students fail miserably. You want to be in the first category – if you don’t, you wouldn’t be reading this. So what should you do?

Know your syllabus
There is a reason your instructors provide a syllabus at the beginning of class. This is your roadmap of what you will be reading, what assignments you will be doing and when they are due. It’s also your way to learn how and when to contact your instructor (more about that later). If you need to, place the due dates on a calendar to keep you on task. Knowing these dates helps you to plan ahead. If you see something that may conflict with your schedule, resolve it now, not when the conflict is taking place.

If it’s on time, it’s late
I know students (myself included) that were frantically working at 11 PM on a Sunday evening finishing a paper that is due at midnight. Nothing good comes out of this. Not only are you rushing to complete an assignment, thereby producing subpar academic work, you are also taking unnecessary risks. Distance learning relies on technology, and as we all know, technology can fail. Is tech support going to be able to fix your problem with Kaltura so you can record your final presentation less than an hour before it is due? Maybe, but probably not. Know your due dates, get your work done in advance of the due date, and use the extra time to review. Chances are, you will find some areas for improvement. Submit the assignment early and relax on Sunday night instead of stressing out.

Ask questions
The due date of an assignment is not the time to be asking questions of your instructor. This is why you need to know your course syllabus (as noted above). The only bad questions are the ones that don’t get asked. You can’t raise your hand like you can in a traditional classroom, but you can call or send an e-mail (based on your instructor’s preference). If you don’t receive a response (instructors typically indicate response times in the syllabus), send a gentle reminder. If there is still no response, give them a call. If the only thing you are hearing is crickets, reach out to the staff on campus – they will help you. Just plan ahead and give enough time for a response (and possible dialogue). Remember, instructors, just like you, have other commitments. Their job is not to sit at a computer waiting for e-mails from students. Ask the questions, respect their time, and you will be successful in distance learning.

In my next post, I’ll continue to discuss distance learning and some of the techniques I utilized to be successful.    

Learn More
Kevin Jenkins is an alumni of Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 20 months and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.

About the Author
Kevin Jenkins has spent a majority of his career working in government at all levels – both as a consultant and staff member/elected official. He is also a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. Since 2014, he has been working in the energy sector.

Jenkins holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Wisconsin-Superior and a Master of Science in Communications from Purdue University. He is a member of the University of Wisconsin-Superior Alumni Association Board of Directors and the Fire Fighters Foundation of Houston Board of Directors. He resides in the Houston, Texas area with his family.     

*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.