Tips for Distributed Learners
Many students thinking about applying to the Distributed Learning program wonder, "What does it take to become a successful online learner?" This primer offers some suggestions for you to consider.
Share your new role as "seminary student" with those around you
Given the traditional model of a physical move to campus, it is obvious that your environment needs to change. As a Distributed Learning student, all other demands on your time remain, only you are adding "student" to your list of roles. Be sure to communicate how you intend on changing/managing your time with those who live with you, your employer, your volunteers, and any others places you voluntarily give of your time. You must learn to say "no" to areas of lower priority for the time being. By communicating your new role as student to others it give them a chance to support you and help you with the transition into being a student.
Set your calendar for the year
Making time for those you care about is a priority. Sit down with those involved and talk about vacation, long weekend getaways and put them in your planner. Plan a time to visit a friend you haven't seen for awhile. Then add in all the dates for the upcoming Distributed Learning calendar year. Most importantly included are the dates for academic intensives as far out as they are available. You can plan on three weeks a year.
Manage your time
No matter how convenient or flexible online education may be billed, taking a course online takes time. Luther Seminary has .5 courses and full courses. It is the intention of the instructors that the workload will stay within the guidelines used generally for residential courses at Luther Seminary, namely, 2-3 hours for every hour in class. The residential full-course class meets 3 hours per week for 13 weeks for a total of 39 hours. Thus, the total time projected for the course is 117-156 hours. Or stated on a weekly basis, you should expect to be working between 9 to 12 hours per week on the course. Identify what time of day or night you do your best work, and when you are able to access to the Internet and your course materials. Set aside a certain time each day, or a few days during each week, to work on your course, and stick to this schedule. Be aware at the start of the course whether you are required to participate in activities at any specific times, and plan these well ahead.
Becoming a productive part of an online learning community means you must already know how -- or be willing to learn -- to communicate clearly and concisely. Rather than composing a contribution directly in the course environment, sketch out your ideas in a word processing program or text editor beforehand. Keep your sentences short. Watch for run-on sentences that don't provide breaks between ideas. When you think you are finished composing a response, wait a few minutes. Then read your posting out loud before you submit it. Fix any awkward or unclear spots before you post the final version.
Know your deadlines. These include course deadlines as well as deadlines and important events occurring elsewhere in your life while you are enrolled in the course. Plan ahead. If you know that your time will be consumed by a non-course related activity during a particular week, do your course-related activities ahead of time and resources, especially technological resources, and have them at hand when you are working in your course. Keep in touch with your instructor. If you do fall behind, let your instructor know immediately, and ask him/her for assistance in planning how you will catch up.
Active-learner vs. passive learner
The further you progress in higher and continuing education, the more responsibility you will need to take for your own learning. You will begin to define and prioritize what you need to know, how you will learn it, and how you will assess your progress. Outside direction and measures of your learning will continue to be a part of your education, but these will serve more to guide and direct you in your exploration of knowledge.
Set goals for your coursework on a weekly basis as not to become overwhelmed by the magnitude of the whole course. Then work the plan. Also, make time to set goals for not only your educational degree, but ministry goals, professional development goals and personal goals.
Ask for what you need
Beyond asking questions of the instructor to clarify course material and expectations, become an advocate for yourself with the institution offering the program. If you think of a service that would be helpful to you as a student, and your school does not offer that service, ask whether that service can be created or if special assistance can be provided.