Any distance learning program is predicted on the principle of highly motivated, self-directed students making use of its structure to enhance their knowledge in a particular area or their more responsible performance of a particular function. Without motivation, a distance learning program is a joyless drudge. This motivation is necessary because in such a program. However, it is the experience of the staff of Agora University that the greatest barrier to successful completion of the program is not a lack of motivation or a lack or skill, but in the simple task of organizing time and using it effectively to complete the requirements for the course. Unlike other similar Eastern Christian programs, Agora University offers a complete program, developmentally arranged, and assumes the desire and ability of the student to complete the courses on time and in sequence. If a person has no time to do the required reading and write the required exams, then he/she should not take the program. If, on the other hand, he/she has the time or has the ability to utilize that time which one does have, the program can give him/her a fairly complete view of Eastern Christian life and thought, i.e. relative to academic study. There are rules to studying in such a distance learning course, and they must be adhered to:
- Regularity is essential. No student should assume that the best way to get all of the work done is in spurts or at the end of the term in time for the arrival of the final exams. The program is divided into two terms per year, each comprised of five months. The assumption is that the students will be doing their readings and preparations required for each course over that extended period of time.
- Select a specific and, usually quiet, place to do your reading and studying. Make certain that the rest of the family knows that the place – and you – are off limits for a specified number of hours each week.
- Each student is encouraged to set out his five-month reading schedule, making allowance for predictable interruptions of a significant nature – Christmas, Easter, Great Lent, major family events, job changes, moves, house painting, and so forth. Get a hold of an inexpensive planning calendar and block out those times during which your rhythm will be interrupted. Minimize these for the sake of consistency, but factor them in for the sake of realistically allowing enough time to complete the reading.
- Read through several pages of the materials for each course at the beginning of each term, in order to get some idea of the amount of time necessary to read the material for a particular course. time yourself on a per page or per ten-page basis. This enables you to avoid the “panic” when you see that a particular work is taking too long. You will know ahead of time how much time to allocate to getting a particular book done and so set aside enough time.
- Estimate the number of hours per week necessary of reading for one or all three of the courses (if you prepare them simultaneously), as you would in a University. Again, set the hours aside each week on a particular day and particular time, and do not vary from that unless there is a good and exceptional reason. That is, for instance you will work for three, three-hour time slots per week on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. If you are particularly gregarious, and have friends of a similar disposition, do not set aside a Thursday afternoon, Friday night or Saturday because those are the times when Egyptians tend to socialize. On the other hand, if you have a predictably heavy work load on Mondays, do no set aside a Monday night. The only rule here is that you estimate the time needed to complete the work and set it aside ahead of time.
- For the program of Studies, we are assuming that each course will take approximately 30 – 40 hours of preparation excluding essay-writing. This amounts to approximately 120 hours over a four-month period, or 30 hours per month, or 7 hours per week of actual reading time. Depending on your reading speed and comprehension, it may take more or less.
- Each of the lecturers has been requested to work up detailed course outlines, including reading lists, supplementary reading lists, and research questions. Do not get caught up in secondary questions, footnotes, or tangential materiels. Read over the research questions, as well as the objectives, before you begin reading to get an idea of what the instructor is looking for and what he/she thinks is important in the field. Since each of the lecturers is a specialist in his field, he/she will have selected question which (1) summarizes the topic, as well as (2) indicates the method by which the discipline (e.g., Church History) is done. This is particularly important as you are often taking three courses simultaneously and they may each have different methods and cannot be studied the same way.
- As you keep a log or a journal based on the focus questions, of those points that you think are pertinent, or in need of further clarification from other sources. Do not allow yourself to get bogged down on a specific point.