One of the biggest challenges associated with distance learning is the problem of getting the proper help when one is in need of extra assistance on coursework. Many of the universities that offer distance learning have found ways to combat the struggles of those completing their studies at a distance. Such support includes the delivery of course material via the Internet or by post, library resources available at a distance, as well as communication forums such as discussion boards, chat rooms and email.
A great example of study aids provided for distance learning comes from The University of Leeds. The University of Leeds Library offers many different services to distance learners to help them complete their educational goals with the same ease as on-campus students. Some of these resources include:
• Telephone and online material renewals
• A registered list of courses eligible for distance learning
• Off campus access to e-resources; including e-journals, e-books, and library databases
• Materials available by post
• Document supply services providing photocopies of journal articles from the British Library and sent via post to the distance learner for the cost of £2
Northumbria University also offers communication support for distance learning. E-mail has been chosen as the most appropriate method of communication because of the simplicity and stability of it. The instructors use e-mail to distribute materials such as handouts, contact details, exercises, and the course manuals. Students also have the ability to utilise e-mail to contact the instructor and/or other students with questions they may have. E-mail helps to personalise the experience of distance learning, and functions as a support system for everyone involved in the programme. It is important to note, however, that because e-communication is simple to use there is still a time commitment to be aware of. One must keep up on the email communication that is occurring between instructor and student just as one would keep up with any aspect of an educational programme.
Communicating via e-mail also gives the students to greatly improve their written communication skills. In most cases, the e-mails are to be structured without the use of slang and abbreviations common to “internet speak.” In this way, the students can create thoughtful communication with their peers and instructors. The use of e-mail gives the students to synthesise many different perspectives and derive conclusions from this analysis. This will, in turn, stimulate more conceptualised understanding of the material and foster a more valuable learning experience.
According to the Northumbria University website, when asked about the success of email in the distance learning programme, the “staff found this approach invaluable for personal student support.” The staff stated email was able to connect the “diverse distance learning student group,” through the available technology and enrich the student’s overall experience and overall retention of material within the programme. Northumbria University also noted that the personal nature of email communication plays a vital role in supporting the learning experience of the distance learner.
Distance learning requires discipline from the student to schedule time to commit to the assignments, reading, and other aspects of the class because there is no required meeting time. The use of the study aids and e-mail communication help the student not only become more active within the course, but also aids the student in meeting the deadlines outlined in the course. By taking advantage of the different study aids for distance learning, some of the pressure related to this type of learning is alleviated. The distance learner is able to maintain a consistent dialogue with instructor and peers, and in that way walk away from the course with strengthened communication skills, and enhanced study and time-management skills.
Northumbria University, “Effective Communication with Distance Learners,”
University of Leeds, Library, http://library.leeds.ac.uk