Learning and writing strategies for distance education


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The key is to take advantage of any opportunity to be an active and interactive learner”

Dianne Jamieson-Noel, Program Director, Centre for Educational Excellence


  • Greater volume of reading than a traditional course.
  • No lectures to aid in comprehension.
  • Without lectures, cues as to where to focus reading – exam tips - are often missing.
  • Distance students often have difficulty:
    • Identifying main ideas;
    • Making connections between ideas within and across units of the course.
  • Strategies
    • Objectives are embedded in the study units for the course – follow these to focus your reading and attention.
    • Discuss main points/ areas of focus with other students.
    • Be focused in your reading, like in a traditional course.
      • Don’t transfer passive reading habits from web surfing.

Writing for discussion forums

  • Online discussion forums are used in 70-75% of courses.
  • Contribute regularly to online “discussions” – add something of value (reasoned opinion, information), rather than just agreeing or disagreeing each time.
  • “Speak” respectfully, as you would in a classroom.
  • Respond, don’t react.  Don’t let the instantaneous nature of internet communications lead you to submit an angry response that you might regret.
  • Write response in a word processing program.  Wait a few minutes and reread.  Edit for clarity, organization, emotional tone, and correctness before copying it into discussion forum and submitting it.
  • For readability, keep sentences and paragraphs short.

Assignments and tests

  • Look at grading rubric provided in many courses before diving in. If there is no grading rubric ask the Tutor Marker (TM), or think about generating your own rubric, or ask you peers what they think the rubric should be.
  • Make use of your TM's feedback from previous assignments.
  • Use any study questions or online quizzes the course provides.

Learn from experience

  • Continually reflect on, and make adjustments to, your study method as you move through the course and receive feedback – a reflective diary may help.