What is it like studying a degree by distance?

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email

I’m frequently asked this question, so here is my experience from the past 3 years and I’ll update as I progress

Backstory

in 2015, I was awarded an exceptional opportunity by my employer at the time for education sponsorship, and so I researched for an enrolment where I could continue full-time work and attain a degree part-time via distance.

I didn’t know anyone who had done this before, so I reached out on LinkedIn to some industry contacts who had. From their experience I validated my expectations and then proposed the course to my sponsor.

The Bachelor of Business (Maritime and Logistics Management) from the Australian Maritime College at the University of Tasmania aligned well with my personal and career interests. I already had five years’ industry experience and wanted to take on something with a broader scope than my electrical trade skills.

I had always been interested in business and management and keenly observed how corporations operate in different markets. I now wanted to better understand the fundamentals of international business management, and shipping by default is a global market player. I felt that my skills could be better used to develop areas of a business to improve an organisations efficiency and profitability. I also have aspirations like to own and operate a business of my own someday, I just haven’t discovered what exactly yet.

So what’s it like?

Well, honestly it has been much harder than I expected. Having left formal education 8 years prior, it was very difficult to get back into the swing of things.

I was a bit naive in the beginning, I had the mindset that if 18 year old school leavers can do it then I should have no problem. However, in reality there is a clear difference between studying and working full-time. Yes I had the industry knowledge, but institutions expect you to learn and apply only what is being taught. I was used to an environment where if you don’t know something you become resourceful, you consult peers, experts etc to find the answer, apparently this is called cheating within academia 😉

It is expected that each unit should entail around 10 hours of study per week. In reality, on-top of a full time job, life commitments and chores, this is very tough to maintain. Even with a strict schedule it is hard to keep up with the work load. You find time whenever possible to do a bit more, but it’s not consistent and flowing like a Monday-Friday 9-5 job. It’s so easy to fall behind and very difficult to catch-up again!

Sacrifices

I’ve had to make far too many sacrifices that I’m not proud of:

  • Missed social events on evenings and weekends
  • Less time to speak with my family overseas
  • Damaged and failed relationships
  • Health deterioration from hours extra screen time, sitting and lack of sleep
  • Mental capacity – it’s very draining constantly thinking about assignments. In some respects this is a huge waste of cognitive effort and could be better utilised on much more meaningful and relevant tasks.

Would I recommend it?

This is a tough one. There is immense value in broadening ones knowledge. However, institutions are slow to adapt in today’s fast paced connected work. You could easily obtain practically the same knowledge by committing to a series of Lynda, edX, YouTube and specialist courses from websites which explore the same concepts. Exams really only prove that you can remember what was taught and write about it. They don’t provide much practical assessment, which makes it very difficult for graduates to prove their worth in the real world.

I’m beyond grateful for the opportunity I received. Studying with practical experience meant I could relate and put into practice what I was learning. Unfortunately, many lecturers have not entered the workforce, so the theories they’re teaching would only get you so far. It’s certainly a challenge for the future of education and how these institutions remain relevant when you can learn everything you need from your mobile phone, practically free.

I would do it again, however, I foresee one day we’ll reach a balance where there isn’t an advantage from attending university for an undergraduate. We’ll reach a saturation point where our time could be better spent learning by doing, and proving competence by other means. Perhaps we’ll be able to scan our brains one day to score ability rather than waste valuable years trying to prove it.