What are some tips for gaining full advantage of distance education courses?

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New wine skin

Puritan Board Freshman
I hope anyone in distance ed or considering distance course work finds this essay helpful. My intention is to share best practices with those who are unable to attend a regular brick and mortar school. -blessings , Scott



The concept of distance education has become increasing popular in the last decade. This new paradigm brings access of higher education to those who are unable to attend residential programs because of economic or locality constrictions. Research reveals the potential and comparable benefits gained from distance learning over the tradition classroom, however with any methodology there are always obstacles that must be overcome. Likewise, distance education brings with it a set of circumstances that potentially create barriers to successful learning. This essay will offer some insights and strategies to assist the virtual student in maximizing the benefits of their course work.

The most important asset for the virtual student is his or her mentor. The mentor relationship acts as the "œcentral nervous system" in the distance experience because of its many beneficial communicative components. First, the mentor provides accountability for the student. Adhering to a schedule and action plan will ensure that course work is completed on time and preparation for exams is adequate. While a student ought to posses a certain temperament of self-motivation, having a mentor can ensure and encourage development and commitment toward achieving set goals. Second, a mentor can serve as a sounding board for ideas allowing the student to check for proper comprehension. Ideally the mentor will be someone with a knowledge and experience level in ministry such that he can help the student learn how to practically apply the knowledge gained. The mentor can also provide coaching in activities that allow the student to teach or preach on material that is learned from the courses, re-enforcing the knowledge and enhancing communication skills. Such real world experience is a benefit that exceeds that which can be found in the traditional classroom. The following benefits listed of the mentor relationship are far from exhaustive, but serve to illustrate how the virtual student can maximize the distance education course experience.

What would seem to be the most obvious, but is perhaps the most neglected component in learning is mastery of the material. By this I mean the laborious task of reading the text, listening to lectures and completing study questions. For the student to achieve mastery of the material two things must be present: comprehension that involves critical reading and writing skills and internalization of the knowledge. Reading for comprehension requires practice, but is starts by creating an outline of the book, and making notes and comments about each chapter. Listening to the tapes requires the same critical thinking, except in a listening mode. The ability to play back material affords the student the opportunity to go through the lecture a second time to take notes of key ideas. The capstone activity takes place by answering the study questions from each chapter. This tests for comprehension, and allows the student to articulate the information in his own words. Interacting with the material through writing, reading, listening, thinking, and speaking (with a mentor), the student increases his ability to synthesize and retain the course material. It is recommended that the student provide his mentor with a written agreement that follows similar to the model discussed. The mentor will be able to coach to this "œcovenant" during the required mentor meeting sessions.

Many students think of a degree or a course as a set of tasks to be completed. While this is true to an extant, students must recognize that knowledge is a resource that should be used with a purpose that goes beyond the final exam. Each course taken is a means to an end that ideally will conform the student toward the image of Christ. This is not something that is "œgraded" by the academic institution of the seminary, but is expected by the body of Christ and should be evident by the fruit in the student´s lives. A specific example of such effect is a gained appreciation for the sacraments, which perhaps was lacking in a person who is from a denomination that gave little attention to that doctrine. Or perhaps the study of a biblical story may foster a renewed passion for the widow and alien or a spirit of giving to those in need. If such a conviction is present as result of an interaction with course material, the student is in the best situation to capture the eternal dividends by acting in obedience on knowledge received in the formal study of God´s word.

Above all the student should be reminded of the immense responsibility and seriousness in the study of God´s word. Our words and actions have eternal consequences. Any one having a knowledge base of the bible and the credentials of a teacher or pastor is representing God as an ambassador. Seminary is no childish academic exercise, but a part of the worship of God. All of the learning leads to the purpose of bringing glory to God. This is done practically by using knowledge to edify God´s people, having an impact on the culture, and fulfilling the great commission through evangelism. The temptation to the student will be to glory in the achievements and accolades of men that lead to pride and confinement in an ivory tower. With daily prayer, practice in humility and accountability with the mentor, the virtual student of seminary can hope to take full advantage and gain lasting benefit from his distance course work all to the Glory of God.
 
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