The benefits of distance learning
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The benefits of distance learning

As a flexible way of building on your marketing expertise, distance or blended learning could be the right move for you.

There are two key points about distance learning. The first – and this hasn’t changed in decades – is that it isn’t for everyone. You need to be a self-starter, well-organised and disciplined.

The second point is that it’s a very different world from, say, 25 years ago, when assignments and written answers would shuffle to and fro by snail mail. Now there are webinars, podcasts and WhatsApp groups, enabling otherwise isolated students to interact.  

“Distance learning used to be very much ‘a lonely place’ – I remember studying this way many years ago, and it meant taking all the workbooks and textbooks with me while I was travelling and studying in spare hours at home and in hotel rooms,” says Gill Kelley, Academy Director at CIM. 

“Now we schedule sessions online where delegates can interact with their Tutors and others who are studying, receive tuition, take part in discussions, ask questions, and more. Sophisticated Learning Management Systems facilitate the provision of a variety of learning materials – interactive tutorials, podcasts, animations, work-based activities, reading and links to other relevant materials.”

Cambridge Marketing College, founded in 1992, runs 30 different courses, the majority CIM-accredited, and all but one involving distance learning. Chief executive Kiran Kapur, 17 years with the college, has a grasp of what works best – and for whom – along with the career benefits.

The college’s own alumni survey data shows that:

  • Some 90% of alumni feel a qualification helps their career development – through employers recognising professional skills; by gaining strategic and marketing skills; and through boosting confidence
  • Over time, alumni salaries increased by £10,000, with many respondents believing their distance learning course had been a contributory factor

The attraction of distance learning for an employer is that it doesn’t take a staff member out of the workplace, while blended learning courses that combine on-line study with traditional classroom sessions, cost only minimal time in the office.

It’s territory for the self-motivated. “Sometimes employers send people on our courses but often we have people wanting to develop their career, or, in uncertain times, people who’ve been made redundant,” says Kapur.

One attraction, she adds, is when each module of a course is ‘self-sufficient’. “That means you can do the module most relevant to your needs – for instance, if you’re about to start a campaign in digital marketing, do the digital marketing module beforehand.”

Dropout rates, says Kapur, are quite low – maybe through pregnancy; illness; someone emigrating, but very rarely from students leaving “because they’re getting cheesed off.”

Kelley emphasises that “we intervene and try to re-engage before it gets to the point where people drop out – the Study Centres which run distance learning courses use different approaches to achieve this.”

For some people, study comes naturally; others less so. Kapur has drawn up a list of tips to help. These include:

  • If you’re reading, but it’s not going in, ‘read actively’ – stop at the end of each section and either make notes or say out loud what you’ve learned
  • Pace yourself – don’t try to study for too long at each session
  • If you can’t face studying after work, try a podcast or a listen to a lecture again
  • Read around your subject in relevant journals or magazines.
  • Do lots of exam practice questions so that you feel more prepared
  • Try learning in a different environment such as a library.
  • Make the most of your tutor – distance learners with problems can disappear. If stuck, ask. You’re paying for tutor support, so use it.

Such advice rings true for college alumna Lucy Lehane, a biomedical scientist who developed an interest in marketing and chose to study via one of Cambridge’s distance learning courses. She’s a firm believer in sticking to self-allotted study time, and shutting out the world: “If you can get the message out ‘leave me alone’ that makes things easier,” she says.

For marketers – for anyone – there’s value in simply proving you’ve made the effort. Adds Lehane: “Going to an interview and saying you’ve studied part-time and come out with qualifications can win you added respect.”

Kelley presents some of the modern advantages to studying through distance or blended learning:

Distance

  • Interact in live group and tutor-led classroom sessions, without leaving your home or office
  • Enjoy the opportunity to go back and review sessions, which are now recorded
  • This is an ideal approach if you are looking for a high level of support, yet do not have the time or budget to travel to weekly classes

Blended

  • A mix of online learning, as above, and face-to-face workshops
  • Choose when and where to study, fitting your course commitments in with work and home life
  • Study at your own pace
  • Reinforce online learning with face-to-face encounters

Want to see feedback on CIM’s courses? See students discussing their experiences with blended learning on video.

Andrew Mourant Journalist
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