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Strategies for Learning at a Distance

Study is the primary role of the student. This challenging task requires motivation, planning, and the ability to analyze and apply the information being taught. The process of student learning in a distance education setting is more complex for several reasons:

• Many distance-education students are older, have jobs, and families. They have to organize the different areas of their lives which influence each other, their families, jobs, spare time, and studies.

• Distant students have a variety of reasons for taking courses. Many students are interested in gaining a certificate to qualify for a better job. Some take courses to broaden their education and are not really interested in completing a certificate.

• The learner in distance education is usually isolated. The motivations arising from the contact or competition with other students is absent. Also the student requires the immediate support of a teacher who is present and able to motivate and, if necessary, give attention to actual needs and difficulties that crop up during study.

• Distant students and their teachers often have little in common in terms of background and day-to-day experiences and therefore, it takes longer for student-teacher rapport to develop. Without personally contact distant students may feel ill at ease with their teacher as an “individual” and uncomfortable with their learning situation.

• In distance education settings, technology is typically the conduit through which information and communication flow. Communication will be inhibited, until the teacher and students become comfortable with the technical delivery system.

Distant Students’ Development as Learners
Beginning students may have some difficulty determining what the demands of a course of academic study actually are because they do not have the support of an immediate peer group, ready access to the instructor, or familiarity with the technology being used for delivery of the distance-education course. They may be unsure of themselves and their learning. Morgan (1991) suggests that distant students who are not confident about their learning tend to concentrate on memorizing facts and details in order to complete assignments and write exams. As a result, they end up with a poor understanding of course material.