Home or Away

January 22, 2003

While the beauty of learning is that there is no set way to do it, two formally accepted ways of gaining educational accreditation are attending structured classes, or learning by correspondence. Which one proves more beneficial depends on the needs of each student, on their personality and their personal situations. The three main issues to consider in making that decision are student-teacher interaction, structured learning versus free-form, and time management skills.

The one-on-one nature of student/tutor interaction dictated by correspondence learning, provides the student with a more comfortable relationship with their tutor, and perhaps a more comfortable way of perceiving themselves in the role of student. They do not feel – as I know some students at university level have – as though they are an inferior being sitting at the feet of a master. A student in a one-on-one situation with a home-study tutor might also retain more personal confidence, since this style of interaction, by its very nature, treats the student as an individual.

The classroom setting where there is still only one tutor, but also many more students, can put students at a disadvantage. The student becomes one voice in a sea of many others – a fact that leads some to feel drowned out, or they may feel that there will be less time for their educational needs. However, this ‘many voices’ aspect of the classroom setting has a very real advantage that is absent from the one-on-one type of interaction between the home student and their tutor. In the classroom those many voices translate to many ideas, many questions, many opinions – some of which the student may never have been exposed to previously, and which might spark a freshness of thinking and approach. The communication and interaction between a home student and their tutor can become insular, since the student obtains input, information, help, and ideas from only one source.

Another difference between classroom and correspondence learning, is structure. With classroom learning you must fit your life around it – and it becomes most of your life, but with correspondence you can fit it around your life – leaving room for personal interests.

The advantages of this lack of formal structure include the student being able to work in an environment that might be more comfortable for them – more conducive to absorbing the material. It is easy for the home student to snatch a half hour here and there between household activities to read a chapter of a book, to jot down notes for an essay, or to watch a little of a lecture video. With a classroom setting the student must conform to an environment that may not be suitable from them to learn in, and may – in extreme cases – actually be physically unhealthy for them. A class schedule may be disrupted by work, illness or personal crisis; a correspondence student may more easily work around them.

Also, the advantage of home study is that it allows someone to improve on previous education and learn new skills while still holding a day job. This is something that is not easy with formal classroom education (despite the existence of things such as night school) since it often involves the student giving up much-needed wages – and possibly the job itself – in order to pursue their education. With a day job and family life a student may have very little – if any – breathing room for personal issues, needs, and wants. Correspondence allows a student to fit their education into what time they can, or wish to, devote to it.

The freedom of correspondence may, however, be detrimental to students who are lazy, or who find it difficult to manage their time. The lack of formal structure leaves the undisciplined with responsibilities they might be unwilling or unable, to face. This problem doesn’t exist in the same way as it does in a formal classroom structure, because the student is given tasks and set time frames in which to complete them: there is a lot more forced guidance and “hand-holding”. Leaving the lazy to their own devices may not be conducive to them becoming more responsible.

How a student learns best is different for each individual. Some require the seeming rigidity of a classroom setting, while others learn best when participating in something more free form. Each of these systems has blessings and curses, and it is up to the student – based on their needs and wants – to decide which of them they would find it more beneficial to pursue.

Lonita has been an AU student since early 2002, and is studying towards a Bachelor of General Studies in Arts & Science. She enjoys writing, creating websites, drinks far too much tea, and lives in hopes of one day owning a plaid Cthulhu doll. The most exciting thing she’s done so far in her lifetime is driven an F2000 racecar, and she’s still trying to figure out how to top that experience. Her personal website can be found at http://www.lonita.net and what you can’t find out about her through that, you can ask her via email: lonita_anne@yahoo.ca

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