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Old 15 May 2009
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Question Distance Learning (Masters) while traveling?

I'm having trouble with a decision and hoping the collective can throw some light:

How feasible is it to undertake a distance learning degree while traveling by motorcycle?

My current plan is to take 2 years and travel by bike from Chicago through South America and Africa back home to India, where I hope to get into the field of sustainable development. To facilitate that career change (as I'll be burning bridges here to go on this trip), I'll be studying for a Masters in sustainable development through a distance learning program from the University of London system. I need to take 8 courses and 2 research modules. I'm hoping to take 3 courses each year that I'm traveling and finish the rest when I get to India. The coursework is mainly reading material and writing one final exam at the end of the year and they say on average each course requires around 7 hours a week. The courses run from Feb-Oct and since they have examination centers around the world, they say I can take my exams in whichever country I happen to be traveling through. The coursework is all on CD-ROMS, so no need to lug textbooks around and of course using email and the net to communicate with the professors.

I know this might already sound like too much to undertake because traveling through developing countries will probably take up most of my time. However, I'm hoping that I'll be able to reduce the tediousness of studying by the fact that my coursework should be highly relevant to the places I'm traveling through and should complement my general interest in the socio-economic development of the countries I plan to travel through. I'm also hoping that my travels will give me ideas for a research project.

Self-discipline seems to be the big requirement for successfully completing a distance learning program and all the more so while embarking on a overland journey. I think I have it in me to discipline myself for the task (already have a masters in engineering) but am not 100% sure it's completely feasible.

On my quick solo trip to Mexico in 2007 over 2 weeks, I found myself with a little down time now and then and used that to read novels along with the guidebook. So, I think if my overall traveling pace is a little slower (9 months to do LatAm and 9 months for Africa) I should be able to find at least an hour or two everyday to read up or take a day off every 4-5 days for studying. I do realize that this might detract from the trip a bit and not allow me to take some excursions here and there, but I guess it's a trade-off for a good cause in the long run.

What do you think? Has anyone done something like this before? Does it sound feasible?
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Old 20 May 2009
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Hi Jay,

I've done this... even started at the U of London in Environmental Management but switched to an Australian university because I found the 'single exam' approach arduous and unrealistic... it benefits people with good memories or who can cram for a month at the end. Apart from that, it was an excellent programme - I believe I took about 4 courses before switching.

Lugging books was indeed a problem - so that's obviously been resolved by DVDs.

The one thing I found made all the difference for me was discipline with a routine. There was no such thing as 'I'll study when I have down time'. That just didn't work. I was too tired, too hungry, had to wash, whatever. So what worked for me was a rigorous routine: each morning, I would get up early, make or buy a coffee and some breakfast, and sit down to study. I would clock myself for two full hours. I wouldn't get up until my two hours were over. I gave myself two days off a week. And that was it.

Without the routine, I would not have been able to sustain the kind of study required for a professional degree...

I wish you all the best - and boy am I glad that's behind me! :-)

Cheers, Leyla
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Old 20 May 2009
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I recently got a master's degree in an unrelated field. It took me over two years of about 60 hours per week, all year long. The one you're describing sounds remarkably lightweight by comparison.

Not that this is necessarily a bad thing; as it turns out, I didn't learn all that much that was directly useful in my master's program anyway--after I finished, I started to hear that all the real learning comes later. Oh well; so much for my $35,000 education. But I do wonder about a program which lets you off so easily: is it highly regarded? Will it be respected when you're out there looking for work? Will its specific content be helpful? Will you take away some form of wisdom (as it is sometimes known), or will you merely cram, then brain-dump following your exams? Etc.

A lot of it amounts to asking whether you're merely trying to get a degree as efficiently as possible, or to actually challenge yourself in the process of learning stuff. There's no judgment here (at least from me); but it's worth asking what you're really trying to accomplish in order to better determine whether this is the way to make it happen.

The other question, per scribetrotter, is do you really have this sort of discipline? I was pretty hard core in grad school, and I sure wouldn't have had it in me to do what you're proposing. It's really not enough to tell yourself "an hour or two each day;" it will tend not to happen. And although you're not as overscheduled as a lot of overland travelers, you might find yourself short on time. Nine months is not a lot for Africa (depending, of course, on your routing and interests).

But...the only way to find out is to try it. Nothing's irreversible, and plans are always changing no matter how carefully you think you've got it figured.

Best of luck with however you work it out.

Mark
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Old 21 May 2009
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Hi Leyla,
Thanx for the informed reply. Good to hear someone else has also tried this approach out. I hear what you're saying about the one exam approach and it's not my style of learning either, but they said they offer two graded mid-term exams that are voluntary, which helps break up the learning process.

And I can say over the years, I've seen that I do indeed have good memory skills, retaining info on things that make an impression on me. I've written quite a few ride/travel reports, reaching 30,000 words/50 pages, mostly from memory and photos.

Yes, discipline with a routine looks the way to handle something like this. I like your approach of dedicating mornings instead of evenings to studying and I'm sure I can pull it off. Currently, as I'm recovering/rehabbing from knee surgery (torn ACL while skiing), I'm getting up at 4:45 am to go swimming for 2 hours before work each day. Grueling routine, but if there's a strong enough purpose, the will is there.

By the way, great looking website and looks like lots of useful info, even for male travelers


Hi Mark,
Great points. Yes, I've thought and researched as much as I can about the value of this degree and it seems it's geared more towards the executive kind of degree program, where yes the coursework is lighter as the students are expected to be fully engaged in another activity besides the degree (a job), but I believe the subject matter demands more thoughtful reasoning for comprehension.

Regarding the merit of the program, I'm fully confident in it, as the college that's offering it is well-respected internationally and they say their alumni are employed with organizations such as the UN, Oxfam, and various other development organizations. Also, the professors for the courses seem to be leaders in their fields.

In terms of knowledge retention, I'm hoping that since I'll be in the 'field' experiencing situations described in my courses, I should be able to build more neuro-connections (experiences) to help retain the info. I'll be looking at contacting some development projects along the way and asking if I can monitor or volunteer for a while.

This is really something I'm looking to commit the next phase of my life to. So, I think as long as I get reinforcement along the way of my decision to head down this direction (by seeing what a beautiful world there is to cherish), I should be able to have the will power to commit enough discipline to get the subject matter done.

I do concede that I'm definitely hoping that this degree will at least open doors into the field of sustainable development for me.

And yup, plans can always change, but I'm hoping to at least direct them a certain way.

Thanks for the feedback.
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