“Dear Unit Chair,
I would like to apply for an extension on my assignment as sharks have eaten the underwater cable that supplies Vietnam with high speed internet. “
It’s a running joke in Vietnam that the sharks are attacking the underwater cable, how it really gets damaged so regularly remains a mystery. The painfully slow speeds make it nearly impossible to conduct any online research and it often takes weeks to repair. This was a real life appeal I made to my Unit Chair while trying to write a literature review on the benefits of adding polyunsaturated fatty acids to infant formula. I was granted the extension – almost because of the sheer novelty. This along with the rolling blackouts, government bureaucracy and general craziness of living in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) are some of the many bizarre obstacles I have encountered since I decided to study a Masters of Human Nutrition via distance education, while living and working in Vietnam.
… there’s no internet and I’m running on 3 hours’ sleep trying to write an assignment on a bus ride down a windy, bumpy road in Southern Laos. This is when I begin to wonder why? …
I started my undergraduate degree in Paramedics when I was seventeen. After three years of study I decided I needed to first experience something of the world and a life outside of school before committing to a career. The obligatory six-month trip through Europe turned into nearly eights years and now here I am living in Vietnam. I have always had a passion for health and nutrition and knew this was the career path I wanted to pursue. After a thorough search, I was fortunate enough to find that the exact course I wanted was available entirely online. Not all subjects or courses are available via the distance education model, but for those of you who might be considering this option, there are a few things you may want to consider before deciding whether distance education is for you.
Are you willing to commit and do you have a passion for your chosen subject?
Most people considering online study are likely to already have full-time jobs, children or are living overseas or in remote locations. Evaluating your ability to juggle life and study commitments is one of the first things you will need to consider. I often find myself with multiple assignments due, an exam to study for while work has sent me on a 12-day tour through rural Laos or Cambodia. When there’s no internet and I’m running on 3 hours’ sleep trying to write an assignment on a bus ride down a windy, bumpy road in Southern Laos. This is when I begin to wonder why? Why on earth did I decide to put myself through this!
The answer to this is passion. I am passionate about nutrition and I have a determination to make this passion my career. Really enjoying whatever it is you choose to study is by far the most important factor in determining whether distance education or returning to study is going to work for you. Without this, you may easily find the enormity of the work load; a full-time job; family; and other life commitments too overwhelming and your desire to study will slowly fade. Yes, it is difficult being able to say no social events, or time with family and friends, to work on that looming assignment. It is always going to be hard, sacrifices must be made. However having a true passion and desire to learn makes this manageable. I want to sit down and read the course material. In my free time I read articles about nutrition, I watch videos about chemistry and biochemistry, I follow blogs and Facebook pages dedicated to science and health, I make nutrition my life and truly enjoy the process of educating myself in these subjects. Without this want and determination obtaining a degree via distance is going to be extremely hard.
The flexibility that comes with online studying is definitely one of the greatest advantages. For me this just means trying to fit studying in around cocktails by the pool, however, flexibility like this would be a major advantage for those trying to juggle life commitments like work and children. I have an enormous amount of respect for my fellow students, many of whom have children, full-time jobs and businesses. Some students are even sitting exams just weeks before or after their babies’ are born.
Being able to stop and start lectures and move through course material at your own pace is wonderful and suits my learning style perfectly. I personally find it hard to concentrate on anything for longer than 30 minutes, I struggle to sit through a whole movie let alone a 2-hour lecture.
You can study anywhere!
Of course with this level of flexibility comes the ability to quite literally study anywhere you like, providing you have your laptop and an internet connection. I’ve written assignments and studied for exams on remote tropical islands, slow boats down the Mekong, cruises on Ha Long Bay and a multitude of airports. I am required to sit my exams in person, fortunately, I can to do this right here in Vietnam. The list of remote locations for exams at Deakin is very impressive.
You will study anywhere.
How to deal with the negatives.
One thing you will miss out on is the face-to-face interaction, and if you’re planning to undertake your studies overseas, then you may also miss out on the networking opportunities. Seminars, events and general access to institutions relating to your subject matter can be difficult to find or attend if you are overseas. Again, depending on your location you may also find it difficult to obtain any relevant work or volunteer opportunities. On the plus-side, there is still a significant amount of online interaction with other students and university staff, both within and outside the university platform. Our unofficial Facebook group has been a saviour on more than one occasion with the ability to ask fellow students for advice and help on all kinds of topics from assignments to how they manage the work load and thoughts on subject selections. So yes, there is support both from peers and Unit Chairs, however there is a lack of personal interaction and networking opportunities.
Does the university have a good reputation for the distance education programs?
Deakin University has a very comprehensive online learning platform with interactive tutorial sessions, recorded lectures, presentations and interactive quizzes as methods for content delivery. There is constant interaction with the Unit Chair and other students via an online discussion board. I find the delivery at Deakin to be quite exceptional and very effective. Of course, when abroad, you are heavily reliant on technology and this is often an issue; especially for me with the blackouts, sharks and remote locations. On the university end, there are the occasional system crashes and other technical problems, however, the university is generally very helpful and quick to rectify issues. When looking at online courses this should be a major consideration. Make sure that the university you choose has a well established and comprehensive online learning platform and is a recognised institution by employers.
Is distance education right for me?
Do you have the drive, desire and self discipline to study a course you are passionate about? Then most likely the answer is yes, you may be quite surprised at the convenience and flexibility of online study. For me, I would definitely say the good outweighs the bad, and I do highly recommend distance education. Of course this style of learning may not be for everyone. If you need a highly structured schedule and constant interaction to keep you on track, then perhaps consider an on-campus course.