To study or not to study? That’s often the question on my mind when I sit down at my computer.
Of course, the question isn’t really about whether or not I should study. As a final year postgraduate student, there’s always something that I should be doing. No, the real question is whether or not I can be bothered. Will university work win today or will the endless stream of emails and social media notifications prove too tempting?
In my experience, this problem is magnified for distance learners. The on-campus students might have exactly the same number of classes as I do, but they also have those post-class conversations with tutors and fellow students where they will inevitably be asked, ‘How are you getting on with your next assignment?’ There are people to bump into in the library who will grill you for twenty minutes about your latest essay topic. It’s a level of accountability that distance learners don’t face, at least not on such a regular basis.
That’s not to say that we get the rough end of the deal. Who else can go to class in their slippers, or attend their tutorials from the comfort of their own sofa with a cup of tea and a biscuit?
The main benefit of distance learning, and the one which was most attractive to me, is the ability to study any time, any place. As long as I have an internet connection, I’ll be there. Travel time is dependent on the speed at which I can walk from my kitchen to the computer. If my class is one hour long then I only need to arrange one hour’s babysitting without having to add on extra for traffic jams and parking – and in case a toddler-related emergency arises at the last moment, many classes are recorded to allow students to watch them again later on.
Distance learning is a convenient and enjoyable way to study. For people who wouldn’t normally have been able to attend university due to travel, work or family commitments, it opens up the opportunity to attain the same degree as on-campus students, with the same access to classes, learning resources, and tutors.
The distance-learning student, however, must be at least as determined and committed as the on-campus student, if not even more so, because at home there’s nobody to answer to. You won’t have people coming up to you after class asking how your essay’s going, or reminding you about that extra tutorial next week. In many ways, I see distance learning as practice for my dream future career as a novelist; nobody’s going to be chasing me then, either. I’ll be my own boss.
Distance learning is a clear case of getting out as much as you put in. If you’re going to benefit from it, then you need to organise yourself early on and be prepared for a lot of self-discipline. To study or not to study? Interpret the question as you like, but there’s really only one answer.
Kerrie McKinnel is a writer and student of the University of Glasgow’s MLitt Creative Writing. In 2016, her writing has been published in the Annandale Herald newspaper and the upcoming Issue 37 of From Glasgow to Saturn. In March, one of her poems was awarded third place in the University of Glasgow’s Alastair Buchan Prize, and she recently compiled, edited and published Lockerbie Writers’ Anthology on behalf of her local writing group.
Kerrie lives in rural south-west Scotland with her husband and son. Her fiction is inspired by beaches and forests, dog-walking and chocolate, and the occasional fleeting memory of what life used to be like before board books and toddler tantrums. She recently completed the first draft of her debut novel.