Distance Learning Do's and Don'ts

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Deciding to take an online course or program is a major step. Distance learning can be both exciting and rewarding to some, while frustrating and discouraging to others. Distance learning offers you the greatest flexibility of learning, but eliminates some of the traditional classroom benefits. Before jumping into a distance education program, please review these do’s and don’ts (important rules) of distance learning.

  • Do assess your educational and career goals before starting a distance learning program. And do determine what combination of skills, programs, or degrees will help you advance toward those goals.
  • Do take the time to investigate and evaluate the distance-education programs you are considering; check accreditation, reputation, student successes, placement, etc.
  • Don't be intimidated by the lingo and terminology of distance education. Use this distance-education glossary from Degree.net to get a handle on all the key terms.
  • Do familiarize yourself with the course syllabus and content - even before you register - to be sure you are ready to master the content online. And once registered for the course, do keep a copy of the syllabus and calendar at hand so that you know what the instructor expects of you.
  • Don't think you can be anonymous in a distance-learning course; in fact, do expect more interaction with your professor and your classmates than in traditional university settings.
  • Do be prepared to use and sharpen your communications skills, especially your writing skills.
  • Do develop good online education habits, such as checking your email at least once a day - more often if you are working on a group project.
  • Do know the rules of good netiquette, especially as it relates to email. And do be prepared to deal with people who misconstrue your email messages, no matter how carefully you compose them.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help if you are having problems - with the technology or with the course - don't let these problems stop you from completing the course.
  • Do plan on using or developing good time-management skills to enable you to balance course work with your other responsibilities and obligations.
  • Don’t take the courses lightly because they are only distance-learning courses. Distance education courses can be just as rigorous, if not more so, as traditional classroom courses. Do be prepared to commit the time - anywhere from 4 to 15 hours a week per course.
  • Do be willing to learn new technologies - hardware and/or software - that are sometimes necessary for distance learning.
  • Don't expect to be a passive learner; you must be self-directed and self-motivated to succeed. Do assume your share of the responsibility for learning the course material.
  • Do be assertive in expressing your opinions and ideas in class discussions and via email, but don't go so far as to send too many emails to the professor or classmates.
  • Do share ideas, tips, and questions. With distance education, you are part of a virtual community in which it's better to share.
  • Do evaluate your progress regularly so that you know exactly where you stand in the class.
  • Do find a quiet and secluded area (of your house, apartment) to use as a place to study and complete your coursework so that you don't get interrupted or distracted.
  • Don't procrastinate. Procrastination may be the one deadly sin of online learning. Do set goals and deadlines, and do try and stay current with your readings and class projects.
  • Do respect the rules of academic honesty and integrity.
  • Do find rewards and motivators for completing tasks and coursework. And do take breaks from being online too long; give your eyes a chance to rest.
  • Don't get discouraged if distance learning doesn’t work for you; distance education is not suited for everyone; however, do look into other educational opportunities to achieve your goals.


Dr. Randall Hansen is Founder of Quintessential Careers, as well as publisher of its electronic newsletter, QuintZine. He writes a biweekly career advice column under the name, The Career Doctor. He is also a tenured, professor of marketing in the School of Business Administration at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida. He can be reached at randall@quintcareers.com. Read more about Dr. Hansen.

Article By: Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.

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