Skip to content

Learning From Anywhere - How Online Education Empowers Travelers to Pursue Degrees

“When you’re planning any sort of studies, thinking about the why and how it’s going to fit in with the rest of your life is something that everyone should do. Really consider how it fits into the larger picture of what you’re doing. Why are you undertaking these studies? What do you hope to achieve?”

Dr. Alyssa Friend Wise, Professor of Learning Sciences and Educational Technology, NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development

The traditional model of education is based on the idea of students attending classes in person. However, with the advent of online education, that is no longer the only option. Now, students can pursue their education from anywhere in the world as long as they have an internet connection. This has opened up a world of possibilities for those who want to travel while continuing their studies.

With online courses, students can study at their own pace and on their own schedule. This flexibility has made pursuing an education while traveling easier than ever before. Whether a student is looking to take a gap year or simply wants to study abroad for a semester, online education gives them the freedom to do so without sacrificing their academic goals.

Dr. Alyssa Friend Wise, professor of learning sciences and educational technology at the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, notes that while online learning when traveling can seem exciting, there are some things to consider: “A lot of the same concerns people talk about with being digital nomads apply. This is why you see workspaces for digital nomads popping up all over the place because people realized that you need a dedicated space where you can focus—hanging out in a hammock with bad Wi-Fi isn’t really good for getting things done.”

Keep reading to learn firsthand from Dr. Wise about how to be a successful traveling online learner and the pitfalls to watch out for.

Meet the Expert: Alyssa Friend Wise, PhD

Alyssa Friend Wise

Dr. Alyssa Friend Wise is the director of LEARN, NYU’s university-wide Learning Analytics Research Network, and a professor of learning sciences and educational technology at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. Her research is recognized for its contributions to the learning sciences and analytics literature. She is a prolific author and has conducted influential research on designing computer-supported collaborative learning systems in both online and physical environments. She is particularly known for her pioneering work conceptualizing and researching learners’ online listening behaviors.

Dr. Wise currently serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of the Learning Sciences, the International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, and Educational Technology Research & Development.

Why Go to College?

Attending college is a big decision and investment. It’s essential for students to understand their motivations behind pursuing a degree before making this commitment. Even more so, it is important to have a clear objective in mind when combining traveling and studying: “When you’re planning any sort of studies, thinking about the why and how it’s going to fit in with the rest of your life is something that everyone should do,” suggests Dr. Wise. “Really consider how it fits into the larger picture of what you’re doing. Why are you undertaking these studies? What do you hope to achieve?”

There are many reasons why students would pursue additional education post-high school: “Are there specific things you hope to learn or abilities you hope to develop? Are you looking to have a certain credential or develop contacts to advance your career?” asks Dr. Wise. “Usually, we undertake studies because we’re inherently interested in something but also probably because we’re planning to do something with what we study.”

Having an answer to the why of pursuing a degree can then help students answer many other questions. “What are you going to study? What institution are you going to study with? And then what modalities are you looking at? There’s a lot of different possibilities being offered now from programs that are purely face-to-face to ones that are purely online with almost every combination imaginable in between,” she says.

Once a student has answers to those questions, according to Dr. Wise, the final thing a student should be asking is, “Why do you want to travel? And why are you looking to combine that with studying?” she asks.

Potential Pitfalls and Challenges of Traveling While Studying

Traveling and studying online may seem glamorous, but in reality, there are many challenges students should be aware of. “What if your internet goes out unexpectedly because there was a rain storm,” asks Dr. Wise. “Obviously, it depends on where you travel, but in many places, things are not as reliable as we’re used to them being when we are home.”

Contingency planning is critical when traveling and studying. “Always be thinking, What happens if I’m doing an online exam and the power goes out?” warns Dr. Wise. “You need to shape your travel, so you’re not worried about those things and letting them distract you from focusing on your actual studies.”

Another problem many students who study and travel may encounter is divided attention. “You want to be able to devote attention to your studies. If you’re in a place where all your attention is pulled elsewhere, that can be really challenging,” says Dr. Wise. “How do you set your space and time so you can pay attention? It can be easy for your studies to feel more secondary than you intended if you are not in a context where others are studying as well.”

Lastly, students looking to travel and study should be aware that sometimes it can be isolating. Dr. Wise notes that at the beginning of the pandemic, when everyone was at home, there were many ways to connect online. However, as activities outside the home have resumed, much of the ability to connect socially online for distance learning students has dissipated.

“Studying isn’t just transactional,” she says. “It’s not just getting information and putting it in your brain. It’s how you are interacting with the ideas you are learning and with other people around these ideas. I suppose you could get your degree in that smaller way, but you would be getting it on paper and likely missing some of other the stuff that is really important if you really want to invest in your education.”

Best Practices For Traveling and Studying

Despite the potential pitfalls of traveling and studying, there are ways for students to be successful in this endeavor.

First and foremost, it will take some foresight to make it happen well: “Have a dedicated space, time, and routine for interacting with your study material,” encourages Dr. Wise. “Plan your day-to-day, but also plan things out over the long term. When you’re studying online, there are not necessarily as many touch points where you run into other students in the hall and realize that something’s due that you forgot about. There’s nothing casual, so you just have to be more planful.”

She continues, “At the start of a course, look at everything that’s going to be expected of you, and think about when it will happen. Carefully go through the whole course at the start to understand what you will be doing and what you will need to succeed. Are you supposed to do some reading and write some papers or do some exercises, or is there project-based work that will require you to make contact with other students? The best way to be successful is with anticipation and planning.”

It can be easy for students who are exclusively learning through distance learning to struggle and not know how to reach out for help. “With online learning, it’s less likely that someone will reach out to you and say, How’s it going? So it is important to check in with yourself regularly. Ask yourself, Am I doing okay in this course? Is what I’ve been doing so far working? If not, what do I need to change? Do I feel like I’m learning what I need to?” encourages Dr. Wise. “Also, you need to know how to ask for help. Online learning requires people to be self-starters and proactive in asking for help when needed.”

Students who want to travel and study simultaneously must consider how much effort planning to move from place to place will require. “There’s a time and energy cost every time you relocate. Traveling while studying isn’t going to be like being on vacation. You can end up feeling a bit frustrated trying to do both,” notes Dr. Wise.

To help reduce this cost and frustration, Dr. Wise recommends that students limit how often they move. The longer a student stays in one place, the easier it can be to develop routines that will allow them to enjoy their new location and successfully do their coursework.

When just starting with traveling and studying, it can be helpful to start small. “Make sure your first plan is well set up and pick something not too far outside your comfort zone. Do it in a place where you’re feeling really good about the timezone and Wi-Fi. Ensure you’re going to have a good living space and accommodations. Maybe it’s going to cost you a little bit more than what you’re thinking to do long term, but it lets you see what’s working,” Dr. Wise offers. “ If it all works great, you can start stepping out from there.”

Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about healthcare careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.