Whether you are a "traditional" on-campus student or a participant in a distance learning program, you can use several techniques to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your efforts!
Know your learning style
Some people work best in the (early) morning, while others excel in the evening. Some like background music, while others insist on silence. Some like to work in small groups, while others prefer to work alone. And so on.
Whatever your personal learning style is, chances are that you will do best by following it, rather than going against it. Obviously, this may not be possible at all times; but you can often improve your results by finding out which learning style works best for you, then stick to it when you can.
Learn to remember
As much as 80% of the information that enters your short term memory will be forgotten again within 24 hours, without ever making it into your long term memory, which is where you would like it to end up... However, there are several things that you can do to help you remember important facts over a longer period of time.
Most importantly, repeat. The more often you go over the material, the better your chances of remembering it permanently. So that's why you will do best if you repeat --OK, I think I've made my point :-)
It can also help to involve as many senses as possible. For example, you can read a text; then read it out loud, so that you can also hear it; and finally write it down yourself, to involve your "kinetic memory". --Of course, by doing so, you will automatically be applying the principle of repetition...
If for some reason (e.g., limited time) this isn't possible, then you should concentrate on whatever sense works best for you --which would be another example of "following your learning style".
SQ3R --come again?!
There's a well-known system that goes by the name of SQ3R because of its components: Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review.
Survey: Before you actually read a chapter, take some time to "survey" it. Read the headings and the subheadings to get a quick idea of what the text will be about. Scan the introduction and the conclusion, if present.
Question: Ask yourself one or two questions about the material. What are the main points of the chapter? What are the key things you'd like to get out of reading it? By asking yourself this question, you have created an active purpose for reading the text --you will be looking for answers, which will help you keep your interest, and will also help with retention.
Read: Now that you've surveyed the text and asked yourself a key question, go ahead and actually read the text. Be active, not passive; highlight important points, and from time to time jot down a quick summary in your own words.
Recite: After you have read a few pages, stop and formulate answers to the questions you have asked yourself in the second step. Check the text to see if your answers are indeed correct. If you can't remember what you have read, or if your answers are wrong, go back to the previous step and re-read the text.
Review: That's just our old friend, repetition. Every now and then, return to the chapter and review your notes and the key points you have highlighted. You can expect much better results from regular revisions than from a one-time cramming session (say: the night before the exam...)!
You may think that following this method takes more time than just reading the chapter once --and you'd be right: your initial reading will take around 10-15% more time. However, research indicates that you'll remember around 70% more after two months if you use the SQ3R method!