Learning for the long haul

| July 06, 2007

“If I pulled into a customer, and they said [loading time] was three to four hours, I’d sit in the truck doing my schoolwork,” he says. “When they changed over to the 10-hour rule for sleeping, I’d spend a couple of that doing my schoolwork.”

Distance learning is an education method tailor-made for the driving lifestyle, whether you want to change careers entirely like Patterson, move into management, improve your business skills or simply have the satisfaction of earning a degree.

“To keep working and pay your bills and also go to school, that’s the only way to do it,” Patterson says. “You can work your job, and whenever you get a free minute, you can study your lessons for that week.”

A serious commitment
But learning in the truck takes time and dedication – even more dedication than a traditional education, according to The Sloan Consortium’s 2005 online education study. Sixty-four percent of the educators at the 1,000 colleges and universities surveyed said students need more discipline to succeed in an online course than in a face-to-face course.

“You have to be dedicated, and you have to want to do it,” Patterson says. “It’s an everyday thing. It’s like doing two jobs. When you’re not working this job, you have to be working at school.”

Online and correspondence courses naturally require more written communication.

“The assignments are based heavily in writing,” says Jon Ricketts, director of fleet development for InCab University (incabu.com), a transportation-centered online accredited college degree program offered through Mountain State University in Beckley, W.Va. “It promotes writing so the students are engaged to a point that they can absorb the information even though they’re not sitting in a classroom listening to a professor.”

To get the most out of a class – whether long-distance or face-to-face – educators recommend students spend one hour per week studying for each semester hour.

Owner-operator Mike Cerra of Sherrard, Ill., who’s been driving a truck for 10 of his 31 years, spends at least 24 hours a week doing online coursework for the doctorate of pharmacy he’s been working toward for the past three years.

Cerra drives coast-to-coast in the busy moving industry – leased to Alexander Mobility Services with his team driver and wife Jennifer – but makes time for a 24-hour course load each semester, picking and choosing his web-based classes from four different colleges.

The average semester course load – even for traditional students – is 15 to 16 hours, but Cerra chooses to do more.

“It’s an elite field to get into, and they look at how rigorous your schedule was,” he says. “Usually I work during the day, and every night I do my studies. Every weekend is all-day procedures.”

Cerra and his wife recently upgraded to a larger custom sleeper in their 2007 Peterbilt 386 to incorporate a dedicated work station for his laptop and schoolbooks. He has two more years of schooling and one year of residency to complete.

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