Learning from a distance does not mean you are alone!

When I started the MSc International Human Resources (HR) and Globalisation course, in February 2010, 20 years had passed since I had studied at a university. I was both excited and apprehensive. One of my lifetime goals of studying for a master degree was about to be realised. Now, as I near the end of the course, I know with certainty that my decision to study was the right move at the right time.

University and Subject choice – be clear on what you want to study and why

Deciding on the right university and the right course can be overwhelming, simply because there is so much choice. Being clear on what you want to study and how you want to study will, undoubtedly, narrow the choice. Additionally the knowledge and skills  required in your homeland, country of residence or country where you intend to work should be taken into consideration. Personally I would not follow an educational path where there are few jobs or the competition for jobs in that field is high. While following your dreams is important, being realistic about work opportunities is more so.

For me, studying HR was a natural choice. It is my profession and one that I enjoy. A wealth of courses were available, however, I wanted a course that specifically focused on international HR. With companies becoming more and more international and positions in HR increasingly working across national borders, it seemed a natural choice. Regrettably there was no such course in my homeland, Norway, and so I turned to a country and education system of which I was familiar, the UK. At this point I  was restricted to studying from a distance, thus reducing my choice further.

Leicester University had been referred to me by a fellow student and so I reviewed their brochure along with those from other universities. The decision was however easy. I noted that other universities were not so well-equipped for distance learning  students. For example there was no online application process and no online library facility. These were key indicators for me as to how effective the distance learning process was likely to be. In short, Leicester University had no serious competitor for distance learning in my required area of study.

The course content overall looked interesting but there was one module that did not appeal. On reflection, this module resulted in the greatest personal learning for me and one which steered the choice of dissertation topic. So don’t be put off by a part of the course that does not appeal or is completely new to you. A steep learning curve may await you, but it will be worthwhile and rewarding.

Distance Learning – how it works

In short, as a distance learner you gain access to the course reading material, receive the module assignment question (usually two choices) and a submissions deadline date. The rest is down to you.

At the beginning of the course you are likely to be asked to complete an academic writing skills exercise. Having been away from the academic arena for a long time, I found this a very useful exercise in understanding what was required of me in assignment writing. You receive feedback and guidance on the exercise and can therefore make any necessary amendments to your style, technique and construction.

For each module of the course I was sent hard copies of the reading material (this is now available online). The material is all you need to answer the set module question. However I found that additional reading on the subject has been both useful for my own personal development and for the dissertation.

I found the following, very simple technique, effective in ensuring that I submitted my assignment on time………… When I knew how many articles I had to read, I calculated how many weeks I had to read them. Giving myself at least 6 weeks before the deadline date to focus 100% on writing the assignment, I worked backwards to see how many I needed to read each day/week. On average, I found that I needed to read 1 or 2 articles per day. Taking notes was crucial in this process so that I could refer back to what I had read when writing the assignment.

The time you have to complete the assignment flies by. Make sure you remain focused on the question you will answer. It is very easy to drift when reading, because you find something interesting however, it may not be relevant to answering the question. You will waste time if you do this, and time is precious.

Start writing the assignment early, as soon as you get ideas in your head of how to answer the question. Most, if not all, students suffer from procrastination. The key is, to learn how to deal with it. If you set regular deadlines as opposed to the one submission date deadline, you will make progress and avoid the panic setting in as the “big” deadline approaches at full speed! Write 10 minutes of your assignment each day. You are likely to go back and re-write it, probably up to 5 times, however you will be making progress and not letting the procrastination bug take hold.

Further, on the subject of writing, write a bibliography as soon as you start writing your notes and keep it updated at all times. You don’t want to be in a position where you have to find the source of a valuable quotation on the day of submission.

In the event that you fall behind with your studies it is crucial that you notify your course administrator as soon as possible. I got sick a few weeks before an assignment submission date and although I had completed the best part of the assignment I was concerned that I would not meet the deadline. I contacted the course administrator immediately and was granted extra time. As it was, my self-motivation and stubbornness for never being late kicked in and I submitted the assignment on time.

For each assignment submitted, a feedback report detailing your grade and commentary is provided. If you have any queries about the feedback you should make contact with the course administrator. Getting clarification may make all the difference for your next assignment’s grade! Furthermore, the academic employees are there to help. If you have a query – make contact.  They are very keen to help and prompt in responding. Remember your success is their success!

Distance learning can be a somewhat lonely affair because you study from home and your fellow students may be located anywhere in the world. However, an online map facility enables you to locate students who are on the same course as you and/or   are in the same country as you. The map highlights their university email account and so you can proceed to make direct contact with your fellow students. Furthermore the Centre for Labour Market Studies (CLMS) also has a LinkedIn and Facebook page where you can keep up to date with course and department developments and, of course, contribute to discussions there.

Learning from a distance does not therefore mean you are alone!

Teaching Weekends – a must

Teaching weekends are offered by the CLMS every six months. They are not compulsory, however, I have attended every one and despite the personal investment in time and money, they are a must – not to be missed. Why? Firstly you get to put a face to a name. Meeting the CLMS employees and vice versa of course, naturally helps in relationship building. Secondly, a number of tutorials are arranged. These, for example, give you guidance on note-taking, writing skills, your module question, using the library facilities, accessing the online library, and, when applicable, you can book a ½ hour dissertation tutorial. Thirdly, you get to meet other students with whom you can exchange thoughts and ideas, share stories and of course exchange details so that you can  remain in touch afterwards. The latter I have found of immense value. Keeping in contact with fellow students is a priceless source of motivation even if it’s a simple email that says “how are you doing” every once in a while.

Other online facilities – use them

As a distance learner you have access to various online facilities.

Blackboard is where the department academics post important messages, where you can engage in dialogue with other distance learning students and where you submit your assignments. I found the comments and questions posted by other students of  particular value when I commenced each module. Understanding what issues and questions students had raised about a module helped me prepare more and, made me aware of any pitfalls. I have however found the facility somewhat underutilized by students. Perhaps this is due to only a few students studying the same course as I. This situation may therefore be different for other courses.

You will be assigned a personal email account and should check this regularly for communications from the department. You use this to make contact with your course administrator.

The online library service is excellent. You can download articles, download e-books and if you are not able to find what you are looking for, you simply make an online request. The document supply team will highly likely source your request. They are extremely efficient and helpful.

Online tutorials on a range of subjects are also available including using the online library service, plagiarism, writing skills, etc.

Career Ambitions – they may change

As mentioned, one of my life goals was to study a master degree – and to succeed of course! When I started the course I ran my own virtual HR consultancy business. Twelve months into the course I decided to close the business. Having built the business from scratch, this was not an easy decision however, my career goals had changed. I wanted to return to corporate life, in  particular to return to work for an international company. As I near the end of the course I can see a number of opportunities available to me that I would not have considered had I not embarked on the course. So enjoy the learning and be mindful that
your career focus may change.

Dissertation– make sure you are passionate about the subject you choose to research

The dissertation is the last assignment. I found that my choice of subject for thedissertation was shaped by the content of each module I had studied, my next career move and my personal interest in learning more about the subject.

The last module is a proposal which prepares you for the dissertation. Time invested here will reap rewards when conducting the research and writing the dissertation, because time really does fly at this stage of the course. Moreover, your dissertation plans, like most things in life, may not totally go to plan and so you do need to be flexible and build in extra time.

Talking of time……one thing to take special note of is the sourcing of an employer to carry out your research, if this is your approach. If you choose not to undertake your dissertation with your current employer or this is not an option for you, do not underestimate the time it can take to find an employer who will commit to the research. You need this commitment before you can complete module 4 with any level of confidence.

Summary

Being a distance learning student is rewarding. You are in charge of your own destiny.
Your success will be a direct result of personal management of the “project”, namely your studies. Whatever your subject of study, you can be assured ofprofessionalism and support from the CLMS team.

I wish you success with your studies and your future career.

Please feel free to post your comments and questions and I will respond as soon as possible.

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Sue

About Sue

Sue has now graduated from the University of Leicester. I'm Sue, a British expat living in Oslo, Norway. I have over 20 years’ experience in Human Resources (HR) and have recently, successfully completed studying the MSc International Human Resources (HR) and Globalisation course by distance learning with the University of Leicester. Sue has now graduated from the University of Leicester.

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27 responses to “Learning from a distance does not mean you are alone!”

  1. Tom Poole | iTech Advanced | Website Design, SEO, Bradford, Yorkshire.

    I am thinking about becoming a distant learner, however I run my own company.

    Do you think distant learning would free up more time than say, part-time at the university?

    Kind regards.

  2. Paul Conville

    Hi Sue,

    I’m heading off to Hong Kong tomorrow for the teaching weekend and I’ll be telling the students to check out your blog. It looks good and clearly its appreciated. Well done and thank you.

    Paul

  3. Howard Wallack

    Sue:

    I’ve been travelling and just catching up on my blogs. This was excellent and put into words my very similar experience 2006-2009 when I did the same MSc in International HR and Globalization. I wasn’t able to participate in the learning days, but did visit CLMS on two occasions during the 2+ years it took me to complete the course work, conduct research and write and edit my thesis. I found the CLMS team welcoming (in particular Eimer Sparham, Nik Hammer and Martin Quinn, but everyone was!) and the experience was well worth the investment in time, effort, money and intellectual energy. Kudos to you for articulating our shared experience. I hope our paths cross one day soon in the international HR world!

    Best regards,

    Howard

  4. Wassila Howes

    “Focus on where you want to go, instead of where you have been,” Sir John Templeton (Golden Nuggets) (1997:63)

    I love this quote!…Thank you Sue:)

    Great posts by all! These are so appreciated with much needed encouragement and incentives for us all to move on and continue with our important studies here!

    Looking forward to going to Leicester and meeting up with you all in May!

    All the Best & Happy Readings:)

    Cheers,

    Wassila

  5. Sanie

    Hi Sue,

    Thank you for starting this great blog! I am sure it will help many. I agree with the rest, it should be shared with new starters.

    Unfortunately I failed my first assignment. I was so confident that I’ve done well that I was hugely shocked when I got the results. According to my previous university’s standards I was sure I was fine. However, different universities have different standards and expectations. I guess my mistake was not asking questions. I felt like my questions were simple and silly and did not want to email anyone.

    An advise to new starters – never feel shy or bad for asking questions! There are no silly questions. CLMS staff is there to help. Always ask even when you have a little doubt or you aren’t sure about something.

    Although, failing the first assignment made the whole course very stressful and at times I lost hope and was almost certain I made the wrong decision for choosing DL, I managed to keep going. I learned that I can ask as many questions as I want; that support is always there. Well, I am currently writing my dissertation and hope to graduate this year. My dissertation supervisor is the best ever, great advice and support!

    So anyone who needs support or anything else – ask for it! No matter where you are – if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

    Best wishes to everyone,

    Sanie

  6. lesley gowland

    I have just broken off from writing my assignment) any excuse to have a break !!!)nice contribution Sue, it was an interesting read.
    i am currently on Module 3 Performance Management and workbased learning and yes it is difficult to keep the motivation going.However I try to fit it in with my numerous hobbies and my work of course.take an holistic view of studying and fit it in here and there.
    Where do we study? i think this is an interesting topic.i spent the 6 years doing my distance BA degree studying upstairs on a pink sofa, which was really handy as sometimes I would just have a quick nap. And now, well i now occupy a different sofa reclining again, as it is more comfortable and also I have taken over one of the meeting rooms in one of the companies where i work, they have not discovered me yet. I find it has a kind of study aura about it.I also take my studies on our trips to the seaside where we go walking and as it involves about 6 hours (there and back) of travel, it is a perfect opportunity to catch up on some readings. Not exactly a quiet environment, but i am quite able to switch off and concentrate all the same.
    So i think this is the secret not to make a big issue of studying, especially if you have a family, but to fit it in here and there. Adapt,to your situation, whether it be on a long bus ride or even waiting for a client.We also assimilate better in bits here and there as we have time to reflect.As I said before a holistic approach!Don’t make a big thing of it. Make it fun

    1. Wassila Howes

      Hi Lesley,

      Great to hear from you too and good to know you are progressing well with our studies:)

      Hope to see you in Leicester soon!

      Best wishes,

      Wassila

  7. Popi Tsavlopoulou

    An excellent blog entry, Sue!
    Indeed, very informative, very detailed and very, dare I say, demonstrative of your love for practicality as well as of your admirable self-determination qualities and of your formidable ability to inspire others!

    I can proudly second everything you have written and I truly thank the CLMS for, apart from offering me a unique and invaluable learning experience,it has also enabled me to meet you and be in the pleasant position now to call you a friend and a ‘co-student’ although we study (slightly) different courses!

    By the way, I trust Grace (Hiiii, if you are reading this!) is *the* Grace we actually met during the Teaching Days event last November – an event not to be missed by anyone, indeed!

    Best Wishes,
    Popi

  8. Wassila Howes

    Hello Sue and Grace,

    I must say it’s me now who is in fact appreciating both your kind support and reassuring comments at the moment(a bit of a low moment for me to be honest, with the burden of ‘procrastination’ weighing heavily on me this time!) Still, as I said, both your posts have been GREAT to lift my spirit up and shake my ‘slumber’ into an ‘awakening’ to start ‘take charge of my own destiny’ as you mentioned Sue in your earlier post!:)

    So thank you all for being there for everyone on this course(including me:)

    I appreciate Grace your kind words, a good reminder for me to follow the same example as you did, which is to never give up when you think things are much too hard to overcome or that you might be failing somehow; but turn instead to a deeper, a more meaningful and constructive learning journey in our studies here. Focusing back on our future career and higher ambition to truly ‘succeed’ and earn our Master degree:)

    With my Best Wishes of Great Successes to All:)

    Wassila

  9. Josephine Kimalando

    Hey Sue,

    This is an extensive and very informative write up. It will be useful for future students as it is very insipiring.

    Most of distance learners are employed and balancing career, school and personal life is such a huge challenge.

    It has been most rewarding experience for me studying at University of Leicester (just submitted my dissertation). I am most grateful to the administrators at Centre for Labour Markets….and all the staff of University.

    The most challenge for me was to finish my dissertation, but thankful to my brilliant supervisor, Dr John Black for his valuable feedback, guidance and advise.

    Josie

  10. Grace Nwamina

    Sue, thank you so much for this write-up, it is simply wonderful and helpful.

    In my own case, after the Academic Writing Skills (AWS), i was actually contemplating withdrawing from the programme, but the dream of having a solid profession after University kept me going, and YES, the ‘professionalism of CLMS Team’ was great, and also some ‘Hello, how far have you gone in writing your AWS? from WASSILA, gave me courage that i needed badly.

    As a matter of ‘important’, fresh students should be given this your (SUE’s)write-up during the first introduction/induction, especially to enable them deal with the issue of ‘TIME'(not to procrastinate), and NEVER to miss the Teaching Weekend!.

    Lastly, knowing that the Leicester University is/was one of the best for Distance Learners, if not the BEST, I decided to continue and ride on the supports I got from those mentioned earlier. I am now in Module 3!.

    Best regards

    Grace.

  11. Wassila Howes

    First, thank you CLMS for such a brilliant students’ blog, it’s a great forum for us all to keep connected, reflect on our studies and get great support from CLMS and other students across borders!

    Also, big thank you to Sue, for such an extensive and very informative report on how best to tackle our DL studies, reassuring us all that indeed we are not alone, and we can always get positive feedback and help through uni and students’ blogs like this one:)

    Looking forward to more of these and also will try to contribute as well whenever possible.

    With my Best wishes,

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