For every South African student, there is a different way to study. Distance learning is one of the study options. Let’s take a closer look at whether this type of studying would work for you.
Going the Distance
Some learners enjoy having a university structure to keep them focused, while others prefer to set their own schedules. Some students might be shocked when receiving their semester’s coursework all at the same time and others thrive when given the opportunity to learn at their own pace.
Distance Learning, studying from home and engaging with your college online, is one way to study. Some students may find this flexible, empowering and economical. Others may find it stressful and unsupportive.
Distance learning suits students who are self-reliant and well-motivated. It is also very accommodating. Older students, people with full-time or part-time jobs, young parents, learners with disabilities and those living far from cities or without reliable transport are just some of the people who might benefit from studying through Distance Learning.
Let’s get some insight into studying through Distance Learning.
What is Distance Learning?
Michael Gibbon is a 24-year-old UNISA student. He began his undergraduate in History and Classics at Rhodes University in 2015 before becoming a History and Linguistics student at UNISA in 2016. Michael explains how studying through Distance Learning works at UNISA,
“You don’t really attend classes with correspondence learning,” Michael says.
“They do offer seminars and tutoring sessions and you can communicate with your lecturer and with other students, all on the My UNISA site. There you can find your study material, past papers, what assignments are due, things like that.”
“The study material that is given to you contains all the information you need, you can teach yourself the syllabus from that study material and you do that pretty much yourself. It requires some self-discipline and self-focused learning.”
“To submit assignments, UNISA gives you a calendar with all your due dates. The assignments themselves are explained to you in your study guide, your tutorial letter and on the website. You submit your assignments electronically and they get marked.”
Why Choose Distance Learning?
If you have checked out some Distance Learning courses before reading this, you’ll already have heard about of some of the advantages. You don’t have to attend physical classes – this allows you to save money on travel costs. If you have a full-time job, you won’t have to plan your after-work time around classes. Not to mention, entry requirements aren’t as strict as traditional universities. CollegeSA is one of a few colleges with accredited programmes that offer entry-level courses which only require grade 10 or 11.
Unlike traditional universities, many Distance Learning colleges send their course material to students in batches. This is to allow students to complete modules according to their own schedules so that they can attend to other responsibilities. Winning! This is how Distance Learning institutions ultimately let you decide when and how to study.
“Getting your study material in batches is useful. It allows you to work at your own pace.” Michael explains. “If you are in a particularly academic mood at a particular time, you can learn a lot of your coursework in one day. And you can only do that because you receive your course work in large batches.”
Let’s hear the Catch
This may all seem like the ideal way to study (and maybe it is, for you!), but there are also some unique challenges to distance Learning which make it very difficult for some students to succeed.
Michael tells us that “you have a lot more flexibility with distance learning in terms of how you learn, but it takes a lot of discipline and focus. No one is going to be chasing you up or reminding you when things are due.”
“Another challenge with distance learning is that your own technical issues can affect your ability to work. If your electricity or internet connectivity is ever affected, that’s something that can jeopardise your ability to complete and submit assignments on time.”
Where to Start
Despite these challenges, correspondence learning is incredibly popular in South Africa. Out of the (nearly) 1 000 000 students in South Africa, about a third are UNISA students. Notable graduates include Cyril Ramaphosa, Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela.
Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) offers a number of courses through distance learning, including Applied Languages, Integrated Communication, Journalism, Law and Public Management.
The University of Pretoria, in 2002, launched a distance education initiative within it’s Education Faculty, in order to help address the dire need among practising teachers, to improve their qualifications. This is an issue that exists especially in rural areas.Wits offers fully online short courses in the fields of business, finance and IT, all through their Digital Campus system.
The most popular Distance Learning subjects have to do with vocational training, and many TVET colleges support the high demand for these qualifications.
False Bay TVET College in Cape Town has added to its Distance Learning courses, now offering Educare and Hospitality Services in addition to its Business, Financial or Public Management, Motor Mechanics and Electrical Engineering courses.
South West Gauteng College offers business and engineering courses through distance learning, the kind of highly sought-after vocational courses that produce artisans, skilled technicians and engineers.
Here is a brief list of TVET and other colleges that offer Distance Learning options.
Do you thrive when you set your own schedule? Do you live far from the city? Do you work or have other obligations? For some, Distance Learning is far and away the best option for their personal situation. As long as you can motivate yourself, remember your submission dates and maintain your own work ethic, this form of study can offer you a flexibility that you won’t get at any full-time university.
As Michael says, “Distance Learning puts everything in your hands. You have to make sure you get your work done yourself. You have to be willing to take responsibility for your learning.”