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Exploring the merits of distance learning

David Towlson, NEBOSH Head of Qualifications and Assessment, explores the merits of distance learning and how to set yourself up for success via this study method.

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Distance Learning – key characteristics

You’ve probably already done some form of distance learning (though you may not know it). It might have been a free course or a YouTube tutorial. It might not even have felt like learning because you were having so much fun and, against your expectations, it was practically useful.  Just about every course out there these days, including NEBOSH health and safety courses, is available via distance learning.  It enables people to study what they want, at a price they want, when they want.

Distance Learning (DL) has been around a long time. In generations gone by it took the form of ‘correspondence courses’, since it typically used the postal service (and probably horses, steam trains and ships!) to send paper-based study materials, assignments and questions.  There was no requirement to attend an institution (unless you wanted to) – useful for those with travel or distance issues.  DL, then, simply means you are studying physically remotely from the institution providing the learning, rather than on their premises in a traditional class with a traditional teacher.

That said, DL (in concept at least) is nearly always a part of a course. Indeed, all courses exist on a continuum somewhere between total self-study at home or work and total traditional classroom study (the teacher nearly always expects you to go away and do some self-study or independent research in your own time). Though interaction with a teacher/tutor and fellow students is typically much less in DL than with traditional classroom learning, there is usually at least some interaction but the degree of interaction is often down to the student.

These days DL is most commonly called e-learning (EL), because that is how it is delivered.  It can be very sophisticated, engaging and media rich.  It can also be very basic – little more than an eBook for download. In nearly all university courses for example, content (such as lecture notes, activities, web resources) are available for download or online study from some kind of learning management system (such as Moodle, Blackboard) or simple file hosting service (such as Sharepoint, Dropbox, OneDrive or Google Drive)

Walk this way - why choose DL/EL?

There are now many different tools for the creation of e-learning training packages, and lots of organisations that offer it, which has caused tremendous competition. This means that the student has more choice than ever before.   

People choose DL/EL for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Convenience
    It’s easy to access, there’s no need to go to a college (saves time and travel) and you can typically access content from multiple devices wherever you are
  • Flexibility
    The study materials are accessible 24/7 so you can fit study  around work and family life (though the reality is that you will still need to make time to study)
  • Price
    DL/EL is usually cheaper than its classroom equivalent but quality can be variable for the same price point, so ask around for recommendations 

Go the distance - tips for succeeding on the DL route

Erase from your mind that DL/EL is the poor relative of class room training.  Yes, it usually is much cheaper (and that may be the sole reason you selected it) but it doesn’t mean it can’t be good.  Just like classroom training, there are good and bad examples out there. 

It’s important to choose the one that works for you.  Look’n’feel and inclusion of interactive activities in the product are important considerations when picking a DL/EL provider as this is what will help you engage with the learning content. But don’t get carried away and get sold good looking but substandard technical content.  

Prepare yourself for a bit of sacrifice and self-discipline.  With flexibility and self-study comes responsibility to organise yourself and commit to study.  Setting adequate time aside (especially if the content is technical in nature) in a location that’s conducive to study, is critically important to be able to get to grips with the subject.  If you don’t you may just have a collection of unconnected and confusing facts swimming around in your head.

Because study can be lonely, fully avail yourself of opportunities for interaction with other students and the teachers on the programme. Usually there are forums, instant messaging/email, virtual class rooms or even occasional physical meetings, such as for revision.  Participating in these can greatly enhance your learning experience as the discussions will clarify concepts and correct errors or misconceptions.

The bottom line is that you may not really know whether DL/EL is for you unless you try it. Good course providers recognise this and many run free trials or consultations to make sure it’s right for you. But make sure you do actually use it during that trial period, because that’s what it’s for.

Summary

DL/EL is a credible choice for studying NEBOSH qualifications. It is affordable, convenient and flexible to suit the lifestyles of many students.  Don’t discount it - it may well be the right option for you.

Visit nebosh.org.uk/students for more information 

 

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