The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not always reflect the views of Reverb.
Like any other human experience, being a remote student is a unique and individualized experience.
For some, remote learning is a godsend that allows holding down a job, paying bills, and upholding family commitments while gaining great education.
For others, taking classes online clears the hurdles of accessibility, bringing rural and isolated learners into the educational community, and erasing the struggle to get to a face-to-face class experience for those with chronic pain, chronic health issues, or mobility issues.
In our current pandemic age, being a remote student might be an unwanted experience that was thrust on learners who envisioned a more in-person, social, and campus-based college career.
No matter how a student comes to the distance learning situation, there are some unifying themes. Learning remote means…
Engaging with technology and figuring out workarounds
You will have to engage with technology, and the quality of your internet connection is no longer trivial (i.e., “my cat video stalled”) but serious (i.e., “I can’t access this lecture recording”).
Using technology every day for learning vs. entertainment means the digital divide will be brought into sharp focus.
You may have to develop workarounds to get your work done, and you need to communicate with your instructor about any access challenges.
Managing time with complete deftness
Time management skills are no longer optional. While it’s true that distance/online learning includes a large flexibility component, there are due dates, deadlines, and rules.
Students tend to underestimate how long it will take to access and complete online assignments. They also tend to overestimate how many online courses they can take at once.
In the absence of structure on campus, especially if you take all asynchronous courses, things can be thrown into chaos. You’ll have to develop a schedule, discover your own daily rhythms, and always (always) double-check deadlines and due dates.
Self-motivating and being proactive
Motivation must come from within. There won’t be any chatting in the hallways or at the campus coffee shop. You won’t bump into your professor at the library.
The drive to get to class, i.e., log in, and get work done will need to come from you.
If you’re an extrovert or a hands-on learner, remote classes can be especially challenging as you might feel isolated and bored. You’ll need to create your own (virtual) study groups and communicate often with your instructor.
Being open to hidden talents
Hidden talents can pop up. Students pushed into a virtual learning environment may discover that they can create masterful presentations and videos to showcase their research and ideas.
Pushed to bring structure and organization to your day, you could realize hidden depths of talent and strategic thinking.
When there’s no way to stop your professor on the way out the door with a question, you may learn to compose clear, concise, and professional emails–a skill you can take directly to the job market.
Seeking help if you need it
Over the years, I have also found that remote students are challenged when seeking support services like advising, counseling, and tutoring.
Gone is the casual “dropping by the office” dynamic, and students have to actively reach out to schedule calls or video conferences for these additional components of their education.
Often students don’t know where to start or are hesitant to make that first step. This is where the relationship between the instructor and student becomes so important.
In an environment of trust, yes, even online, instructors must ensure that students get the full benefit of support services to round out the education experience. Yet, at first, this can feel a bit weird to students.
So if you need help, don’t hesitate to seek it. Don’t worry about the composition of the message to your instructor or advisor; just send a message saying you need assistance. Being a remote student can be challenging, but your educators are there for you!