Advancement in technology has reorganized how we learn. No longer are learners confined by the physical barriers of the classroom; students can now choose to learn in different places and at different times (Holcomb, King, & Brown, 2004; Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012). This approach to learning is defined as distance learning, or more specifically, as asynchronous distance learning (Simonson et al., 2012). Emerging technology is also reshaping the learning styles and characteristics of today’s learner (Dede, 2005). Today’s distant learner comes from a diverse population with different characteristics, traits, experience, and needs (Simonson et al., 2012). Moore and Kearsley (as cited in Simonson et al., 2012) suggest the distant learning experience can be positive for all stakeholders, when the instructor (facilitator ) understands the characteristics and needs of the audience.Distance learners come in different ages, with different experiences and educational levels, and unique sets of need (Simonson et al., 2012). Understanding the characteristics of successful distance learners can lead to a better learner experience, and, at the same time, increase the quality of online education (Yukselturk & Bulut, 2007).
Early studies, such as Coggins’ study on online learning, conducted at the University of Wisconsin, found significant variable differences between ”completers and noncompleters” in relation to program completion rates (Simonson et al., p. 72). Characteristics of the completers included, having higher levels of education prior to distance learning and higher motivation to earn a degree (Simonson et al., 2012).
Ross and Powell found intrinsic motivation to be the driving factor for students achieving academic success in distance education (Simonson et al., 2012).
Dille and Mezack (as cited in Simonson et al., 2012) found those with a high internal locus of control were more successful as distance education students. In short, research shows numerous studies have been conducted to determine the attributes or characteristics of successful distance learners. I have listed here attributes that appear as characteristics associated with the successful distance learner on multiple empirical studies, including: a) self-motivation, b) self-directed, c) independent learner, c) computer literacy, d) time management skills, e) written communication skills, and f) personal commitment (Simonson et al., 2012). Below is a brief commentary on each.
Self-motivation and self-discipline. These attributes play a key role in determining student success. Students found to be intrinsically motivated learners and fixated on high grades and expectation to graduate, had high rates of success (Simonson et al., 2012). Researchers found motivation had a significant impact on the success of older students in distance learning (Simonson et al., 2012). Lack of motivation can be a predictor of procrastination. Simonson et al. (2012) suggest instructors implement motivational activities to increase motivation and make sure students do not fall behind. Don’t be afraid to ask questions; this applies in distant learning as much as in traditional settings.
Independent Learner. Distance learners must feel comfortable in a learning environment that places high emphasis on individuals taking responsibility for their learning process (Simonson et al., 2012).
Computer Literacy. Successful distance learners should possess basic computer skills and be familiar with navigating online. Other technologies may be new (such as the schools course management system, wiki’s, social media) but learners should have the proficiency and cognitive skill to learn quickly (Simonson et al., 2012)..
Time management skill (and study environment). Gaitlan (2014) suggests successful distance learners designate a time for study in a well-lit place, free from outside distractions and stick to it.
Written communication skill. Success in distant education requires students be adept in written communication. A majority of assignments and discussions are in written format; therefore the ability to communicate clearly with the written word is vital to learner success (Holcomb et al., 2004).
Personal Commitment. Commitment to personal success is an attribute needed to succeed in distance learning. As mentioned throughout this paper, distant learning requires presence of motivation, discipline, and a real commitment to keep up with program flow (Simonson et al., 2012).
There are certainly many other attributes that can act as predictors to success in distance learning. The ones listed are those supported by research and certainly provided the foundation for my success as a current distance learner.
Dede, C. (2005). Planning for neomillennial learning styles. Educause Quarterly, 28(1), 7–12. Retrieved from https://net.educause.edu/apps/eq/eqm05/eqm0511.asp?print=yes
Gatlin, S. (2014). How to succeed as an online student. About.com: Distance Learning. Retrieved from http://distancelearn.about.com/od/distancelearning101/a/studentsuccess.htm
Holcomb, L. B., King, F. B., & Brown, S. W. (2004). Student traits and attributes contributing to success in online courses: Evaluation of university online courses. The Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 2(3), 1-17. Retrieved from http://sfxhosted.exlibrisgroup.com/waldenu?sid=google&auinit=LB&aulast=Holcomb&atitle=Student+traits+and+attributes+contributing+to+success+in+online+courses:+Evaluation+of+university+online+courses&title=Journal+of+interactive+online+learning&volume=2&issue=3&date=2004&spage=1&issn=1541-4914
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) [Kindle Edition]. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com.
Yukselturk, E. & Bulut, S. (2007). Predictors for Student Success in an Online Course. Educational Technology & Society, 10(2), 71-83. Doi:10.1.1.119.7249.