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What Is Studying Online Really Like?

We spoke to two of our distance learning students to learn more about their experience so far.

For many, studying a degree means taking time out of their career or busy home life to attend lectures on a university campus. But for our distance learning students, the reality is very different. As part of our multinational, multicultural online community, they have the flexibility to study wherever – and whenever – suits them best. 

We caught up with two of our distance learning students – Gemma Cornwall and Don Johnson – to learn more about why they chose to study online, how they structure their day and what they’re enjoying most about the experience. 


Why did you choose to study via distance learning?

Don Johnson: As an operations manager in British Army, life can be demanding, turbulent, sometimes chaotic, and always challenging. For these reasons, my time management needs to be super efficient, with an adding sprinkling of flexibility to fight the daily fires that ignite. Time management and flexibility are the main reasons why I chose to study online at Northumbria University. 

Gemma Cornwall: After spending a decade as a teacher, I wanted to leave the profession and start a new career. But financially, I could not afford to simply resign and return to being a full-time student with a mortgage to pay and a young child to sustain. I had a look at other universities that offered part-time courses taught in the evenings, but the thought of having to commute into lectures after a full day at work and missing my daughter’s bedtime wasn’t appealing. With that in mind, I knew online study would be my best option.


What does a typical day look like?

Don: I am a naturally early riser, which means, routinely, Monday to Thursday my day starts around 5:30am. I normally log on to Blackboard – our e-learning portal –  for a few hours, and then start my daily job with fitness training with my team. My average day normally finishes at around 5pm and after dinner I normally squeeze in some more study time. I never study past 9pm, and I make sure I keep Fridays free for date day with Mrs Johnson. Saturdays and Sundays vary, however I like to study in a block on one day, or break it down between the two days, depending on what we’ve got planned. 

Gemma: On an average day, I work from 8am – 4:30pm. I usually have time to have a quick session in the gym before picking my daughter up from pre-school. Once she is in bed at 7pm, it’s study time! I spend an hour or so on Blackboard accessing the interactive content and recommended reading, all of which is digitised. Every few weeks I manage to get a free weekend day, thanks to grandparents babysitting, so I often use a few hours of that to work through more material. I have found it a good use of my time to try and get ahead of schedule with the work, so that if I end up having a particularly busy week with work or family, I don’t get stressed that I am falling behind. I make sure I assign time to study regularly, so far about 12 hours per week, to be able to work through the sessions and tasks. However, I don’t feel like it has taken over my life in a negative way and the mental stimulation I get from the course has made me much happier.




Where do you study best?

Don: I’m actually answering these questions while I’m on holiday in Gran Canaria, and yes, I am also studying here! When I’m at home, I often study at the kitchen table.  So, I guess for me, one of the joys of the course is that it fits around my daily routine - wherever in the world that may be. 

Gemma: I have commandeered our dining table so I can get on with my work without being too far from the kettle!


What do you like most about studying online with Northumbria?

Don: Every week we are encouraged to conduct group and individual tasks on case studies using Blackboard, so I never feel lonely. Discussing my assignments with others helps me to become more creative and also helps me to strike a balance when I feel overloaded with theory. I am only on the first module, but I can say that I am really enjoying the course. 

Gemma: It has been brilliant so far. I feel like I’m working towards an exciting goal in a new career and Northumbria has made it extremely accessible. The deadlines are more than reasonable, acknowledging that the majority of people on the course are doing it alongside other jobs, so there’s no stress surrounding assignments. My Student Success Advisor calls every few weeks to offer guidance on things like how to manage time, and I feel like I’ve been well supported since my initial enquiry about the course. If I need any help with any aspect of university life, it’s only a phone call or an email away.


Find out more about distance learning at Northumbria University. 





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