As I adjust to life with no school-work deadlines, I have been able to reflect on some of the non-traditional lessons I learned while attending Athabasca University. What I learned from the courses is indispensable, but those lessons were the ones I was going to school for. I have found that there are many other lessons that seem to have come as a perk to distance education.
As I shift from school to creative writing, I find myself thankful for the experience of self-motivated, self-created deadlines, and the self-discipline to see them through. It took some time to get into the groove of the courses at AU. Once I did, though, I was able to structure each one and understand what scheduling works and what doesn’t. I developed schedules that were unrealistic, and, when I did not meet them, I was exceptionally disappointed. Through this experience I discovered how important it is to create realistic schedules. I might aim for a goal possibly beyond reach but, by making a schedule that is plausible, the goal becomes easier to obtain.
This lesson has been key to the transition for myself. I am able to look at what my end goal is and break it down into chunks, then break those chunks down even further and structure a schedule to help meet each chunk. As those add up, I find myself much further along than I ever thought I would be at certain points. With AU’s flexibility comes the inherent lesson of how to manage your time wisely. There is only one deadline with AU but there are many things which need to be accomplished that have no set deadline. By learning to pace yourself and set personal deadlines that are no less important than any other deadline, you learn what it takes to be self-sufficient. You learn the skill of self-motivation and not allowing yourself to become distracted, to only have the image of the end goal in mind, even with no path to it, no reasonable way to reach the goal. AU helps to build our skills in mapping our own way after we are completed our program.
While self-pacing and self-discipline are major bonus factors to the AU experience, and ones that I have found personally invaluable, another one is research. This may seem like an obvious one, but I don’t mean research in the sense of papers. I mean that the skills that we develop when researching for those papers is transferable so far beyond those confines. There are certain things we learn to look for when researching an academic paper. Things which point to a valid source, and red flags which we turn away from. This becomes a sixth sense in a way, while there are concrete things to look for, sources, authority, and professionalism, these things become seen without having to look for them. I have used this while researching the pros and cons of the publishing world. I have used these skills to dig up some dirt on fake literary agents and faux-publishing houses. I have used this skill to find legitimate agencies and how these agencies would fit in with what I am doing. The skills learned from researching a multitude of research papers makes this process much easier. I am confident in what I am reading and comprehending. I am confident in my ability to see a true professional and a fake website that exists to steal money from hopeful writers.
The lessons we learn at AU go far beyond the classroom. The time management skill is one that is learned throughout all universities, but, as distance education students, there is an extra pressure to be able to structure yourself?to set deadlines for yourself and realistic goals. The lessons of researching are not limited to AU, but they are invaluable skills to have and to keep honed. I am always grateful for my time with AU, for the wonderful tutors and professors who guided me. I’m grateful for the flexible structure of AU courses that allowed for a crash-course in self-pacing, which, in the end, is more beneficial (especially for me) than a pre-structured course. Having these lessons from AU has made me more confident in my research and how I spend my time, structure my days, and manage my responsibilities and my dreams.
Deanna Roney is an AU student who loves adventure in life and literature