Behind-the-screen of online distance learning students

By: Veerle van Pinxteren · 30 March 2017
Category: Distance learning

Who are these students who learn from home, behind their computers? Where do they learn? Where do they live? And most importantly: what do they really think of our Online Distance Learning Master Plant Breeding? Those were the questions I had in mind when going to have drinks at Radix with the distance learning students.

They were in town for two weeks, coming from places all over the world: France, United States, UK, Kirgizstan, the Netherlands. Most of them are doing this master program next to a fulltime job. Which I think is really impressive. They spend most of their free time studying and collaborating online with their classmates.

Here’s some of the most important things I heard in the conversations I had:

“I like the structure with weekly deadlines”
While we might sometimes think the typical distance learning student is the most disciplined type of student you will ever meet, even these students need structure and deadlines. Weekly deadlines encourage regular studying and keeping on track.

“Courses with clear instructions are easier to follow”
Instructions on what exactly to search for in a research article, what to look for in a video, what to learn from a chapter … I couldn’t agree more with them: good instructions are key. Teachers who work with me might recognize this, it’s my favourite topic. But I’m glad to hear that courses in which we paid extra attention to instruction are appreciated by the students.

“Videos give a feeling of presence of the teacher”
The students really appreciate the knowledge clips, mostly when the key topics that need to be learned are highlighted. Also, it gives the feeling of a teacher being present. Next to that, teachers being active online while the course is running, are highly appreciated as well. As one student explained to me: “When I ask a question on Monday and the next time that I’m studying is on Friday, it’s is really motivating to see that the teacher (or one of my classmates) has answered the question in the meantime. Then I can proceed!”

Let’s finish with a recommendation from the students:

“Start group assignments earlier than the last week of the course”
Group assignments take a lot of time. Students have to form groups, agree on the way of working, plan a skype meeting (which might be a challenge given the different occupied schedules and time zones) divide tasks, give each other feedback and glue the assignment together, … Therefore, group assignments in online distance learning courses should start ideally somewhere in the beginning of the course. A challenge, since you need often theory before you can start an assignment.

In the meantime, we are working on a new Online Master Programme on Food Technology, starting September 2017. We take students’ feedback into account while designing and developing these new courses. Additionally, we also use their feedback to improve the already existing Plant Breeding courses.

What question would you like to ask to an online distance learning student? Please leave a comment below. I’ll try to find the answers!





Veerle van Pinxteren

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