Keys to Successful Distance Learning
Time is one of the main things that holds back IT professionals when it comes to certification. Few of them have a great deal of it, and often the demands of their jobs are such that they can’t carve out much space in their schedule to participate in a weeklong boot camp or even a few nights a month for a class. And even the ones who can make time for these intensive face-to-face educational opportunities have to supplement those kinds of training with other learning techniques. Thus, IT pros on a career-development path have come to rely a great deal on distance learning, that is, studying at home, during the commute to work or anywhere detached from a structured learning environment.
The advantage of education from a distance — whether it’s a book, user manual, CD-ROM or e-learning program — is that it generally entails learning on one’s own terms. IT professionals can take on new technologies, skills and concepts more or less at their own pace, studying here and there when their schedule (and energy levels) permit.
There is no pressure to keep up with an instructor or with the brainiac sitting beside you — many techies (as with many learners generally) prefer the freedom and comfort of an approach like this. Additionally, distance learning is usually cheaper than the face-to-face programs. It generally costs a fraction of what traditional courses do.
There are a few drawbacks involved with distance learning, however. Obviously, you tend to miss out on the interpersonal aspects, which can’t be discounted. Instructors who have a great deal of experience and fellow students who possess knowledge and skills in areas different from yours can offer you some outstanding guidance that you probably won’t find in any e-learning program. Interactions such as these can help you bridge the divide between “book smarts” and “street smarts.”
Also, desertion rates among students who use distance learning tend to be higher — there’s no one watching over you throughout this process, encouraging you when you do well, supporting you when you screw up or nagging you when you abandon your studies. (Unless you have a very interested and involved significant other.) The financial and social costs of simply giving up on distance learning are not nearly as high as they are with a class you attend in person.
So how do you ensure success with distance learning? The first is self-discipline. Now, this strength of will doesn’t necessarily mean vowing to devote all your spare time to studying. What it involves is simply setting aside a certain amount of time each day for learning — say, an hour — and sticking to it no matter what (excepting personal crises of any kind, of course). If you make a place in your schedule for it and make it part of your daily routine, you’ll find it’s much easier than sitting down at random every once in a while and just plowing through information for five or six hours.
Another key to successful distance learning is program selection. Clearly, you’ll need something that has relevant content, but you should also consider your own feelings about it. Is it fun, engaging, easy to digest? It’s much easier to just quit on training you don’t enjoy.
Also, think about the medium through which it’s delivered. If one of your favorite things to do is plop down in a recliner with a book, you might prefer to study from a printed text. On the other hand, if you like to surf the Web while rocking out on iTunes, e-learning might be your best bet.