Friday, December 11, 2015

Combating the loneliness of learning

In "The loneliness of the long distance learner" (The Guardian, 8 December 2018), Judith Vonberg writes that there are an "... invisible group of distance learners ... studying on standard postgraduate courses, but they live ... at a distance from their university ...". I suggest the solution is for universities to remove the distinction between distance and on-campus, part-time and full time students. Programs should be designed on the assumption that students will be, for all or part of their studies, away from the campus.
Rather than making special arrangements for distance students, programs should be designed by default for them. Then additional on-campus options can be added, as required and as resources allow

I have been a postgraduate student for two years, studying by distance education for part of this time, while also designing and tutoring on-line courses on-campus and on-line myself. The most important lesson I have learned is how hard it is to be a student and how a well designed course, with well trained tutor can help. This is most important in the on-line environment, but the same teaching techniques apply on campus.

As an example, tutors are trained to first introduce themselves to the class. In the on-line case, this is done by providing a photo, a bio and a welcome message. The next routine step is to have the class introduce themselves to each other. Isolation can be further broken down by using group exercises.

While being an on-line student can be isolating, it is better than when I was (briefly) an on-campus, part time, night student. This was a bleak form of education. I would arrive on a cold, dark campus after work, go into a depressing uncomfortable tutorial room with a group of people I did not know and listen to a tutor who never introduced themselves who would simply read out what was on the slides. At the end of the class we would all leave. There was no-where on campus to go, as everything was shut and everyone had homes to go to. I lasted a couple of weeks. In contrast on-line asynchronous education is a much more social experience.

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