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Earning An Online Degree - The Psychology of Distance Learning

Tuppy Glossop

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If you've decided to return to college online you've doubtless spent a long time analyzing the reasons you need a degree. Perhaps you want to enhance your career; or instead you may be looking for an intellectual challenge for its own sake. But have you thought about the psychology of studying online?

Choosing distance learning will involve facing some different situations than those faced by most traditional students. A clear sense of what's ahead of you, and some thought-out strategies for approaching any problems, will be valuable assets as you begin your online degree program.


Simply wanting a degree isn't going to be enough. The work required to get your degree is substantial, and you have to be sure that you're committed to putting in the hours. When you're faced with a daunting task - a major essay that's due, an exam for which you need to study - do you have the self- discipline to buckle down and get the job done?

Or will you fall victim to the many avoidance techniques that will stop you achieving your goals? At times, you'll need to turn off the television; ignore the pile of laundry that needs folding; and be willing to make your excuses when friends invite you out for pizza and a beer.

Social isolation

One of the most obvious psychological pitfalls of studying online is isolation. Instead of the hustle & bustle of a busy campus, with all its opportunities for chatting, socializing, and just generally hanging out with friends, you're going to be spending long periods of time alone with your laptop.

It'll take a conscious effort on your part to get out of the house once in a while and see friends. Despite the time constraints of a demanding study schedule, it's important that you find at least some minimal time to get together with actual real people, away from the computer.


Adaptation is the skill of handling new situations by changing your behaviour. In order to study online effectively, you need to learn new skills of time management, organization, and research. Do you have the flexibility to adapt to this new way of studying?

Or will you be stuck in the old patterns you learned in high school, where much of the information you needed was spoon-fed to you by willing teachers?You're going to need to be more self- sufficient, now that you're in a mode of study that demands greater independence.


Communicating online takes different skills to that of a regular classroom. While most online degree programs will facilitate quite a lot of interaction, both amongst students, and between students and faculty, it's likely to be via your computer. Whether you're using simple email, or advanced software for collaborative study, your writing skills are going to be vital.

Online communication often lacks nuance, and subtlety. The body language that tells us that the person we're talking to in real life is amused, or intrigued, or bored, is almost completely absent online. A gentle joke, or innocent question, may be read as a snippy insult without the context of live interaction.

The psychology of online learning is only just beginning to be studied in any real depth. As you begin an online degree program your mindset needs to reflect this very different way of studying, and you may have to modify your approach as you progress.

Whether you plan to study psychology online or to earn an online college degree in another subject, understanding the psychology of distance learning will be valuable to you.


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