Tanya Jenkins tried hard to pass her chemistry exam. Her life depended on it, after all. An unexpected pregnancy plunged her into single motherhood at seventeen, and she lived in a six-floor walk-up in the Bronx. Her son, Jamile, turned five last month, and spent his days stacking blocks and reciting the alphabet in a state-subsidized kindergarten in Brooklyn. Tanya assembled fried chicken sandwiches at KFC during the day. At night, she worked through a distance-learning program toward her associate's degree in phlebotomy. Together Tanya and Jamile lived on $1,000.00 a month – barely enough to pay the rent.
When it came time to take a Chemistry exam, the last exam of the semester and the one that would decide her fate, Tanya said she became a bundle of nerves. "I knew I had to study hard to support Jamile, you know. He my baby and I want the best life for him possible. But working all day, and then sometimes his daddy causes trouble – all this [expletive deleted] stuff really could [expletive deleted] my life up."
Tanya failed her exam had to retake it the next semester. The unexpected expense of another semester's tuition made her fall behind on her rent. She lost her apartment. Jamile was discovered to have a learning disability. Her entire life, Tanya discovered, was as fragile and shoddily constructed as a house of cards.
Why did Tanya fail this exam that meant so much? Simply because she lacked effective study skills. She admits as much herself: "I didn't study enough, I know. With an online class, it's hard, you know? You just think it's all in the computer, that you pay the money and you've got the class. But some online classes can be hard. And studying for them is different than, say, studying for, like, real class. You know, where you sit in desks and the professor is right in front of you? I wish I had done my homework about how to study for an online class. I wouldn't be in so much trouble right now."
Tanya makes a great point: Studying for an online class is different that studying for a traditional class. Not only does the online student have to post more frequent reminders to him or herself about assignment due dates, but they have to work harder to understand the material. After all, the online student can't hash out problems in the classroom like a traditional student can.
What's an online student to do, then? She can begin by following these three tips:
What do these tips have in common? They all ask the student to plan her course of study well in advance. In an online classroom, students can't just leave it up to the professor to issue reminders. The online student must check in, and check in often, with the course. Professors constantly post new information and notes. Staying on top of these updates ensures academic success for the online student.
Online students should also make sure to keep in touch with their professors. The unique nature of distance learning makes it easy to forget assignments or exam due dates. By touching base with the instructor two or three times a week – sometimes a simple progress update will suffice; it ensures the distance learning student keeps abreast of the latest developments.
Tanya's is a tale too often told. Overburdened students leave study time to the last minute. "If I could do it all over again," Tanya admitted, "I'd have started studying weeks ahead, you know. It was a hard [expletive deleted] class, and I shoulda known that the test was going to be a [expletive deleted]. I shoulda done it for Jamile. But I didn't and now we're in trouble again."
Tanya's experience should serve as an object lesson. Study, study, study – and do so weeks in advance. The world of distance learning is still as strange and seemingly unforgiving as a Martian landscape. But students can succeed if they take the right measures. Start by choosing an online school that's right for you. Each one has a different learning model, and it's likely you'll find one that suits your needs perfectly. From Arizona State University to Vanderbilt, almost every school in the nation has developed a distance learning program. Start looking today. It's never too late to improve your life through distance learning!