What is it like studying a degree by distance?

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I get asked this question frequently, so here is my experience from the past 3 years

Backstory

in 2015, I was awarded an exceptional opportunity of education sponsorship and researched an enrolment where I could continue full-time work and attain a degree part-time by 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, then proposed the course to my education sponsor.

The Bachelor of Business (Maritime and Logistics Management) from the Australian Maritime College at University of Tasmania aligned well to 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 the business to improve the organisations efficiency and profitability.

So what’s it like?

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

I was a bit naive in the beginning, I had in my mind that if a school leaver can do it then I should have no problem. However, in reality there is a clear difference between working and study; yes I had the industry knowledge, but institutions want you to learn and apply to what is being taught – only.

It is expected that each unit should include around 10 hours study per week. In reality, on-top of a full time job and life commitments 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 we do at work in our Monday-Friday 9-5. It’s so easy to fall behind and very difficult to catch-up again.

Sacrifices

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

  • Social events on evenings and weekends
  • Less time to speak with my family overseas
  • Tested and lost relationships
  • Health deterioration from hours extra screen time and sitting
  • Mental capacity – it’s very draining to be constantly thinking about assignments, in some respects this is a huge waste of cognitive effort and could be utilised on much more meaningful and relevant content.

Would I recommend it?

This is a tough one. There is immense value in broadening our knowledge scope. However, institutions are slow to adapt in today’s fast paced world. You could gain practically the same knowledge by committing to a series of Lynda, edX, YouTube and specialist courses of websites which share the 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 students and lecturers have not entered the workforce, so the theories they’re applying would only get you so far. It’s certainly a challenge for the future of education and how they remain relevant when you can learn everything you need from your mobile phone, for almost 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 that saturation point where our time could be better placed learning by doing and proving competence by other means.