Distance Learning Self Assessment

This self assessment helps determine readiness for taking courses via distance education. Prospective students and staff development managers can use this "yes" or "no" self assessment to gauge critical skills necessary for successful participation in on-line courses.

by Chip Donohue, Ann Johnson, Pam Lucas, Chuck Lynd, Jhumur Mukerjee and Suzanne Thouvenelle

Your responses to the following yes or no questions individualize the information you receive regarding your “readiness” to enroll in an on-line course or degree program via distance. We want to encourage you to try distance learning as a delivery method for professional development, but we also want to be sure that you are aware of the unique opportunities and challenges of on-line learning.

Read each question and respond with yes or no. Keep track of your response to each item. When you’ve completed the self-assessment, check the Information for Further Consideration that follows Question 17, the last item on the Self-Assessment. Initially, if you find your concerns outweigh your motivation to try distance learning, we’ve included suggestions that may help you get ready for the opportunities and challenges.


  1. I find the idea of taking a class on-line exciting

  2. I am able to work independently

  3. I am self-disciplined and can stick to my study plan.

  4. I am willing to acquire the skills necessary to take an on-line course.

    Note: Items 1 through 4 have been identified as critical skill areas for successful participation in on-line courses. Although it is important to respond with a yes to each of the above questions however, if you cannot respond affirmatively, then there are steps you can take to help you become more comfortable with the idea of on-line coursework.


  1. I can set aside time to regularly participate in class each week.

  2. Having the freedom to choose, day-to-day, when I attend class and when I study, suits the way I like to work.

  3. Going to class in my pajamas sounds like fun!

  4. Direct, personal feedback from my instructor is something from which I benefit and I value.

  5. After a face-to-face discussion, I think of just the thing I could have contributed, but by then it is too late.

  6. Having classmates from all over the country and around the world is a wonderful educational opportunity.

  7. I am comfortable building relationships and networking on-line.

  8. I learn well by sharing my knowledge, thoughts, and experiences with others.

  9. I learn well when others share their knowledge, thoughts, and experiences with me.

  10. I learn well through reading.

  11. I can effectively communicate my ideas in writing.

  12. When I write, I take more time to organize my thoughts than when I talk.

  13. My typing skills are adequate to work on-line.

The information in this document is from http://www.elearnersadvisor.com and http://www.onlinelearning.net/

Information for Further Consideration

This Self-Assessment is a series of questions that require your yes or no response. Your response to each question identifies information for “further consideration.” The intent of this format is: (1) to encourage learners who are new to the on-line experience; and (2) to ensure prospective students are aware of the realities of on-line instruction. The Information for Further Consideration provides suggestions and strategies that help you make an informed decision about on-line learning. You are encouraged to seek additional support in order to determine if on-line learning is a good fit for you.

Each Head Start program has developed its own system to promote and support professional development activities; Head Start is uniquely poised to develop creative solutions to address the individualized needs of adult learners. We offer distance education as an additional option to help meet your professional development goals.


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Pre-Self-Assessment (Questions 1 – 4)

1. I find the idea of taking a class on-line exciting.

If you answered yes, then you are enthusiastic about the opportunity to take a class using distance education. If you are eager to learn about both the technology tools and the course content, then you are more likely to succeed and overcome any apprehensions you may feel. Learning on-line can be exciting and rewarding, but it can also be challenging.

The question is: Are you “up” for the challenge?

  • Are you eager to learn new technology skills?
  • Are you willing to ask for help when needed?
  • Are you interested in the content of the course or training?
  • Are you ready to try new ways of learning on-line?

If you find yourself answering yes to these questions, then on-line learning is a good fit.

If you answered no, then you find the idea of taking a class on-line somewhat intimidating. Initially, such feelings are natural. Learning on-line differs in many ways from learning in the traditional classroom. With distance learning, you are on your own and at times may feel like it is just you and your computer. If this is your first on-line course, you may be nervous about how you will perform. However, if you find others who have completed on-line courses and can share their experiences, you may be encouraged to try it. Once you enroll in a course, you may discover that on-line learning can be exciting and rewarding.

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2. I am able to work independently.

If you answered yes, then working independently is a skill you’ve mastered and it is an asset for on-line learning.

Successful on-line learners are able to work independently while…

  • completing assignments and readings on time;
  • participating actively in discussions;
  • contributing meaningfully to class activities; and
  • making progress without falling behind.

If you answered no then on-line instruction may offer more of a challenge. You won’t have the immediate physical presence of the instructor and other students in your class. You don’t have the schedule of weekly class sessions meeting your peers face-to-face at the same day, time, and location. You may miss the advantage of being in a classroom with other students and your instructor. If this is a challenge for you then you must identify support systems that can help keep you motivated. You can seek opportunities in your home or work environment to create a network of support. Your family and friends can be an important source of support.

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3. I am self-disciplined and can stick to my study plan.

If you answered yes, then being self-disciplined and organized will assist you in being successful with on-line learning. Students who are successful in on-line classes talk about the need to schedule regular time to log in to the course web site and to participate in the discussions, and to have regular access to a computer and the Internet. Otherwise, it is easy to fall behind your on-line classmates and instructor.

If you answered no, then you need to be aware that in addition to being able to work independently, successful on-line learners need to be self-motivated and self-disciplined. These qualities are essential and will help you when you plan and set aside regular time to participate in class discussions, complete assignments and readings, and contribute to the on-line learning community.

Since you will not be meeting in a traditional classroom, you need to be someone who can…

  • stick with it;
  • work through technology challenges on your own;
  • ask for help if you get stuck; and
  • stay on task.

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4. I am willing to acquire the skills necessary to take an on-line course.

If you answered yes, then you are willing to try new things, learn new skills, solve problems on your own, and explore the on-line learning environment. These are characteristics of successful students who access learning via the Internet. Such students know how to get help and to whom to turn to for assistance. In the end, a student who is successful with on-line classes gains valuable technology skills for learning and for life.

If you answered no, then you are most likely new to computers or have limited experience with Internet technology. You will have a lot to learn when you first begin an on-line course or training program. Your local Head Start program or higher education institute may provide assistance in learning technology skills, or referrals to community organizations that provide inexpensive computer training.

Technology skills you’ll need include:

  • word processing
  • keyboarding/typing
  • sending and receiving e-mails
  • adding an attachment to an e-mail
  • accessing the Internet
  • navigating through a web site
  • downloading documents
  • posting comments in a discussion forum; and
  • participating in a chat room.

Questions 1 through 4 are identified as critical skill areas for successful participation in on-line courses. If you answered yes to all of these questions, you are ready for questions 5 through 17. If you had a no response to any of the first 4 questions, you will want to explore the suggestions for additional support.


Self-Assessment

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5. I can set aside time to regularly participate in class each week.

If you answered yes, then you probably know that taking a course via distance learning, requires a regular commitment of time and effort. To be a successful on-line learner, you need to participate consistently in the assignments and activities that comprise the course.

The duration of on-line courses can vary from several weeks to an entire academic semester that extends over several months. The amount of time devoted to on-line participation is related to the course expectations more than to the duration of the course. Regardless of the duration of the course, it is important to participate regularly (every other day or every second day). Although inconsistent and/or sporadic participation does not yield effective results, the time and effort you dedicate to your courses will reflect on your grades.

Additionally, time for studying course materials and accessing other on-line resources is part of your commitment to learning. Study time might include: reading assigned texts and making notes, writing a paper, and/or commenting on assigned questions posted on the discussion forum of the web site.

If you answered no, then you may not be aware that to be successful with on-line learning, you may need to rearrange your schedule according to the expectations of the instructor. To help you arrange a schedule for your convenience, you might begin by writing down all the tasks that you accomplish within a typical week. You can use the empty “pockets of time” to schedule study time. You can conduct an honest analysis of how you spend your time each day and if you could find time to add studying to your daily routine. It is up to you, and you may need to consider re-arranging your priorities to ensure you make time to study.

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6. Having the freedom to choose, day-to-day, when I attend class and when I study, suits the way I like to work.

If you answered yes, then you are particularly attracted to one of the unique characteristics of on-line learning and that is having the ability to set your own schedule. Unlike a face-to-face college course that sets your class meeting time for you, on-line learning allows for flexibility. Although there may be instances where you will be asked to log on at required times, most of your on-line learning experience can be arranged to suit your own personal schedule.

If you answered no, then you are likely the type of person who enjoys a set schedule and pre-determined time commitments. on-line learning can still be a good choice for you. With on-line learning, you can also create a personalized schedule for studying, engage with classmates in a chat room, share ideas in discussion groups, and submit your work. So, on-line learning works for those who like set schedules, too!

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7. Going to class in my pajamas sounds like fun!

If you answered yes, then you realize that taking a class on-line offers personal flexibility, including attending a class in your pajamas. You won’t have to worry about what you will wear to class, but you will need to be prepared to participate in the class. It will also be important to log in to the class regularly.

If you answered no, then you might not realize that when you take a class on-line, you have the flexibility to wear whatever you want, because you won't be physically present. However, just because you are not meeting face-to-face, you must still be prepared to participation in the class and to log in regularly.

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8. Direct, personal feedback from my instructor is something from which I benefit and I value.

If you answered yes, although you may not have the experience of meeting your instructor in person, you can count on personal feedback from him or her. Many on-line classes are smaller in size than other college courses, so instructors have more time to spend with each student. Since you will be submitting your work via the Internet, you can expect your instructor to reply to you personally.

If you answered no, then you may be the type of person who likes to “blend-in with the crowd”. On-line courses require you to do your own work and submit it. Your instructor will give you direct feedback on your written assignments and comments. You need to be able to think for yourself, provide responses to discussion topics, and give feedback based on your own thinking. You won’t be able to rely on others who are more “talkative” to fill in the gaps, because on-line discussions require (and encourage) responses from ALL class members. Ultimately, you will learn and grow as a result of these challenges. Instructors who are effective in encouraging students who are not used to having the opportunities to provide thoughtful responses really promote great exchanges of thought and learning.

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9. After a face-to-face discussion, I think of just the thing I could have contributed, but by then it’s too late.

If you answered yes, an on-line course provides the chance you’ve been waiting for. In an asynchronous discussion where there is no set time for participation, you have the opportunity to review your classmates postings, and take time to think of a response before you write it and submit it to the group.

Perhaps your learning preference is for visual information (rather than auditory as in a typical class discussion) and seeing the text of the discussion is more effective for your learning.

If you answered no, then you are probably used to sharing your thoughts and experiences in a more conversational style. You’ll need to develop skills that support your ability to process and respond in a text-based. It’s likely that your learning preference relies on auditory feedback and communication.

To overcome challenges to your learning preference, it is important that you read aloud the discussion comments of the instructor and your classmates. This will give you the auditory input to help process their feedback (hearing it the way you prefer).

You may also want to begin writing your thoughts in a journal. You can use this process to document your reflective thinking about your personal experiences. It is essential that you read your journal entries aloud to identify themes or broad learnings that come from your experiences and conversations with others.

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10. Having classmates from all over the country and around the world is a wonderful educational opportunity.

If you answered yes, then you realize that on-line courses transcend the barriers of travel, time, and distance. A virtual community of learners can enhance and stimulate your thinking, and expand your ideas about approaches used in other environments.

If you answered no, then you may need to become familiar with the backgrounds and cultures of your classmates through some on-line sharing of information. As you begin to communicate around some universal ideas and themes, you may find that all people are much more alike than they are different. You’ll learn that their differences can contribute to your own understanding and professional growth. Learning about other countries, languages, traditions, and cultures can help make classmates who don’t come from your own background, culture, or community seem more like you. There are several ways to bridge cultural gaps, and the first is to replace stereotypes with your own personal experiences.

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11. I am comfortable building relationships and networking on-line.

If you answered yes, then you are probably aware that this is a natural requirement of distance learning. This two-pronged skill focuses on building relationships and networking and is specifically related to on-line learning. If you are an extrovert by nature, then you’ve already experienced success in face-to-face communication. Your transfer of these social skills to an on-line situation might not be difficult.

You will need to continue to carefully choose your words and weigh your communication style as your classmates will not have the benefit of the non-verbal communication elements available in face-to-face dialogue. Sometimes printed text may seem more “harsh” because it is not mediated with eye contact, a smile, or head nod.

If you answered no, then perhaps you are more of an introvert. You enjoy a few close relationships, but do not easily approach newcomers in novel situations. Building relationships and networking may be a challenge regardless of whether you are communicating face-to-face or on-line.

As a matter of fact, you’re in luck with distance learning. on-line learning may be an easier medium in which to develop and practice relationship-building skills than actual face-to-face encounters. The on-line learning situation offers much more control for you in terms or your own responses to others.

Building trust, fostering relationships, and creating a rich and meaningful virtual community are all necessary to supporting your personal interactions with your classmates in a distance learning course.

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12. I learn well by sharing my knowledge, thoughts, and experiences with others.

If you answered yes, then you express your thoughts and ideas with others easily. This helps you organize your thoughts and responses. on-line learning provides the opportunity for you to share this process electronically instead of verbally. To build a community of learners, your instructor may organize discussion groups or chat rooms to encourage sharing of thoughts and experiences with others.

If you answered no, you may feel that you learn better by listening, reading, and reviewing on your own. It is important for you to understand the expectations and requirements for the on-line class. These may include the requirement that you post responses (for example, a minimum of three) to each discussion question or a classmate’s response. Further, the instructor may grade your contributions to on-line discussion groups.

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13. I learn well when others share their knowledge, thoughts, and experiences with me.

If you answered yes, then you know that your learning is enhanced by others’ sharing their thoughts and experiences. on-line learning provides many opportunities for this type of collaborative learning. on-line learning offers a high level of interaction among the instructor and students. You may find that the combined efforts of you and your classmates will generate a higher level of learning and insight than was possible when you worked on alone.

If you answered no, you will need to understand that learning from others is an important aspect of knowledge transfer, although it may not be the best way for you to process information. You need to understand course requirements and the instructor’s expectations for on-line discussions and class participation. Often, you may be asked to respond to the ideas posed by others in the class, and these responses are part of the evaluation process to determine your grade.

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14. I learn well through reading.

If you answered yes, you realize that most on-line learning uses print materials as the primary source of receiving information. As a visual learner, this mode is well suited to your learning style. Even though you are confident in understanding concepts presented in print, on-line learning can still provide an environment to ask for clarification or additional resources.

If you answered no, you may encounter difficulty in reading and comprehending written materials that are primary offered in English. As instructions for completing assignments and projects are text-based, it is important to seek resources to strengthen reading skills if this is an area of difficulty for you. If you need instructions to be explained to you verbally, you might want to try to follow the directions on your own and then ask for help as needed.

Often colleges and university programs offer assistance in helping students make progress toward mastery in the essential skills of reading and writing fluently in English. Don’t be shy about asking for this help.

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15. I can effectively communicate my ideas in writing.

If you answered yes, you are aware that expressing your thoughts and ideas in writing is a critical requirement of on-line learning. Instead of conversation, your dialogue is completed through written expression. (Also see question 12.)

If you answered no, you need to strengthen your ability to express yourself in writing. Most higher education institutions offer classes that can help you improve your writing skills. You may find tutorials or an on-line learner cohort to assist you in developing this important skill. (Also see question 12.)

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16. I find that when I write, I can take the time to organize my thoughts better than when I talk.

If you answered you, you understand that on-line courses require written communication as the primary source for exchanging information and learning. The ability to share your thoughts through writing is extremely important. Taking time to organize your thoughts and sharing your ideas through the written word are keys to success in participating in an on-line course. Effective written communication is a cornerstone of on-line learning.

If you answered no, perhaps you’ll need some assistance in gaining skills in effective written communication. Consider enrolling in a developmental writing course before you attempt a course via distance. In addition to helping you organize and present your thoughts effectively, this writing course (hopefully using word processing) could also help you improve your keyboarding skills.

Perhaps your developmental writing course offers the opportunity to try software that assists you in organizing your thoughts. Technology may also be helpful if you find that you respond better when you share your thoughts aloud. There is software that can turn your speech into text.

If you are an English Language Learner, you may feel a little self-conscious or shy about reading and writing in English. There is no substitute for improving your skills that’s any better than practice. Many communities offer opportunities for adults who are learning English to improve their oral and written communication skills. Investigate these in your community. Find a class with participants who share your interests (beyond learning English). This will provide you with motivation to communicate, learn new vocabulary, and improve your oral language skills.

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17. My typing skills are adequate to work on-line.

If you answered yes, then your on-line learning experience will be easier. You won’t need to be concerned about the mechanics of typing and word processing. As your typing skills are adequate for working on-line, you will be able to concentrate on the content of your ideas as opposed to the process of getting your thoughts in print.

If you answered no, you must realize that typing is a necessary skill for completing most on-line learning assignments and projects. It is recommended that you identify some source of support or assistance to become more familiar with typing and word processing. It is necessary to learn to communicate through typing as this is your voice for on-line discussions and learning.

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Chip Donohue, PhD, was the Director of Early Childhood Professional Development Programs at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. 

Ann Johnson is a Head Start and Youth Program Specialist in the Region VII ACF Regional Office. ann.johnson@acf.hhs.gov.

Pam Lucas is a Program Specialist in the Region VII ACF Regional Office. pam.lucas@acf.hhs.gov.

Chuck Lynd was the Associate Director, Information Services for the Early Childhood Quality Network (Q-Net) at the Ohio State University Center for Special Needs Populations. 

Jhumur Mukerjee was a Early Literacy Content Specialist in the Region VII Head Start TA Network.

Suzanne Thouvenelle is the Early Childhood Specialist for  Head Start Knowledge and Information Management Services. suzannet@headstartinfo.org.

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Distance Learning Self Assessment. Donohue, Chip, Johnson, Ann, Lucas, Pam, Lynd, Chuck, Mukerjee, Jhumur, and Touvenelle, Suzanne. HHS/ACF/OHS. 2006. English.

Last Reviewed: May 2012

Last Updated: November 27, 2012