Distance Learning: Tips on How to Reconcile Theory and Practice

How to Reconcile Theory and Practice in Distance Learning

Among the main myths of distance learning is the idea that it is not possible to unite theory and practice, because the study takes place outside the classroom. However, does studying through an online platform and receiving content over the internet really make experimentation difficult? Have you ever stopped to think about it?

The truth is that the ways to exercise knowledge in distance learning are even very similar to face-to-face teaching, although there are some adaptations, such as procedures for clearing up doubts with the teacher and contact with the members of the class. Below, we’ll talk a lot about how to reconcile theory and practice so that you understand that there is no harm and obtain your degree remotely.

Why is it important to combine theory and practice?

Although some disciplines are more focused on developing techniques and behaviours while others are on understanding, there will always be a need to reconcile theory and practice to some extent. An analogy can be drawn with learning to skate. If no one tells you where to put your feet, how to balance yourself, and what your movements are on the board, you will likely fall to the ground. However, even knowing the theory, you will only be a good skater if you practice a lot.

At an undergraduate level, the theory will be more complex than it takes to skate, but the logic is the same. Courses such as Administration, Accounting, Law, Medicine, and Languages combine both sides of learning. Let’s examine Neuro-linguistic Programming to grasp the importance of the relationship between knowledge and experience:

a. We start learning through unconscious incompetence, in which we don’t even know what we don’t know about a topic.

b. We move towards conscious incompetence in which we have already identified our difficulties and what needs to be learned.

c. We then arrive at the conscious competence in which things demand our full attention to be done.

d. We end up in unconscious competence in which the learned behaviours are already automated.

Academic knowledge, in this sense, provides the foundation for the development of skills and understanding of a discipline. With it, we go from complete ignorance about a subject to its conscious domain. Subsequently, repetition, experimentation, and attempt build unconscious competencies. This happens even in more theoretical disciplines. Imagine, for example, if the lawyer had to mentally go through the entire Civil Law theory whenever the judge asked a question, there would be a big problem, wouldn’t you say? At some point, professional competence had to become automatic, combining theory and practice.

How to combine theory and practice in distance learning

The main difference of online education is the way the theoretical content reaches the student: instead of attending a classroom with a date and time, the student receives the material through an online platform — multimedia content, texts, audios, videos, etc.

Use the digital platform applications

With the transfer to the virtual environment, activities aimed at classroom practice need to be completed online. For this, the faculties make available discussion forums, tasks, exercises, channels to solve doubts, tutoring, and other mechanisms to meet the student’s needs.

Therefore, the first measure of those who want to combine theory and practice is to be an active user of the teaching platform’s resources. The ideal is, at the very least, to match the level of engagement you would have in person. Briefly, if you would ask the teacher a lot of questions and have class discussions with peers, do it digitally.

An interesting point is that, for shy people, distance education can be a way to engage even more than would occur in the classroom. There is no pressure when answering a question or saying that you didn’t understand the explanation, for example.

Think about practical applications when studying theory

Another important tip is to take an active stance on the content. When studying, try to raise what are the problems and situations in which we can apply what was learned. The internet is there for that, look for how the content is generating results in your area, in research, companies, offices, etc.

From this immersion, it is also possible to notice how practical activities are reflected in theory. Issues such as technological changes, new discoveries, laws, social problems, and sector-specific difficulties generate changes in disciplines.

1. Take time for the exercises

With the large number of public tenders held in the last decade, there are free databases with several questions from previous exams. So, a good way to integrate theory and practice is to solve problems.

Exercise has two big advantages. The first one is to aid memorization, the second is that, if something fell into a selection process, it is because the proposed challenge has some connection with the practice or, at the very least, the theme has some relevance.

Note that the suggestion is valid even if you have no interest in the public sector. Is that, working in a company or in your own business, knowing how to analyse a problem and, more importantly, solve it is an indispensable behavioural skill.

2. Participate in complementary activities

The active posture must also be adopted in relation to activities complementary to the course. The ideal is to look for a way to experience the professional daily life since college, especially in environments where graduates are guided by experts and professors. See some initiatives below:

3. Extracurricular internship

These are programs created to train professionals, generally offered by companies or public entities. The idea is to allow the execution of supervised tasks at a level compatible with the student’s development, allowing for the joining of theory and practice.

4. Small company

They are non-profit entities that have university students on their staff, also under the supervision of more experienced professionals. In this program, students experience the practice of working in a real business, even with minimized risks.

5. Extension programs

These are activities carried out with the community, such as customer service, social actions, research, and the like. The student, in this case, can not only use the acquired knowledge and gain experience but also develop a relevant social role.

6. Events

These are the lectures, workshops, short courses, and other activities of the scientific community in the area. It is very common for colleges, professional councils, and associations to discuss the news and problems of a segment, inviting specialists and making room for the public.

Finally, it is noteworthy that most of the activities mentioned would already be important in face-to-face teaching. Therefore, a good education always involves carrying out a series of measures to complement academic knowledge.

Therefore, if you want to obtain a diploma through distance learning, there will be no harm in combining theory and practice. The determining factor, in both modalities, is the engagement in actions aimed at experimentation and professional experience.