One of the main benefits of studying online classes is the flexibility. You get to decide when you do the work. Where you do the work. Even how quickly you do the work.
However, such freedom can make it difficult to stay focused on your studies. Especially as the reason you’re taking an online course may be because you don’t have the time for full-time study.
This means, in order to be successful and stress free during your studies it’s important to put some structure in place.
While the absence of classrooms and teachers can be a blessing to the busy, the overabundance of freedom can, without guidance, leave you floundering.
Here’s our top tips for succeeding with your online studies:
Manage your expectations
Depending on the type of online course you are taking, how long you have been out of education and your existing knowledge of the subject matter, it’s important you manage your expectations.
Don’t be intimidated if the material seems hard or overwhelming at first. After all, you’re taking the course to learn.
Give yourself a break! Remember you’re not in competition with anyone and the smartest person in the class is you. So, don’t rush through the material, just take your time and make sure you feel confident in your learning.
Otherwise your online course will drag, and you won’t enjoy the process. Considering courses can take 6 months or more, that’s a long time to be miserable.
Create a place to study
Having a dedicated place to study will help you to focus on your work. If you have a spare room, then set up a desk big enough for a computer and room for note taking.
As not everyone has a spare room or home study, a kitchen or dining table will do. However, it’s unlikely that you can leave your work spread out indefinitely so make sure you can store your notes and computer safely and within easy reach.
You want your work station as easy to set up as possible. Because the more arduous it is the less likely you are to want to do it.
If the dining table is out, then buy yourself a cheap corner desk from Argos and stick it out of the way in your living room or even your bedroom.
Wherever you end up studying your online course, should be able to sit comfortably for a couple of hours. And have enough room to work.
It may also be worth investing in a comfortable office chair.
Manage your time
One of the best things about online courses is that you are in charge of your learning. The worst thing about online courses is that you are in charge of your learning.
Because you’re able to fit studies around your existing commitments, it’s easy to let those commitments take over. Especially if you find the course harder than expected. Or there’s a lot of pressure on at work. Or whatever other reason you perceive to be the problem.
As soon as you access the course material, take the time to review it. Work out when you need to complete assignments and how much work is required to do so. From there, work backwards to set dedicated study times to make sure you do the work.
Factor in commitments that can’t be moved such as holidays, birthdays or anything else that is deemed a priority. This will give you an accurate study schedule.
Even if you plan to take as long as possible to complete the course, it’s still worth making a plan.
Do the work
Planning is only half the battle; you have to actually do the work.
This may seem painfully obvious but never underestimate one’s ability to procrastinate. Thanks to the wealth of distractions provided by modern smartphones, it’s even easier to do something rather than study.
This is because the human brain is naturally quite lazy. Learning new things is hard and takes a lot of energy which the brain doesn’t like at all. It much prefers doing familiar repetitive because they’re easy. Like scrolling through Facebook. Or the washing up. Or watching TV. Or watching cat videos on YouTube.
Whatever your chosen form of time wasting do your best to remove it from your study space. Leave your phone in another room.
If you’re using the kitchen as your study, make sure it’s clean and tidy so the chores aren’t pulling your attention away from your work.
Plan your studies to take place after your favourite TV show. Or, if it’s on a streaming service, make it a reward for getting your work done.
It’s so important to give yourself the time and focus to work through the course material and your assignments. Because ultimately you’re doing the course for you and it’s only you you’re hurting by not putting in the effort.
Use the resources
Your online course will have a wide range of learning materials available in order to help you.
Not some of them. All of them.
While the temptation is there just to skim through the books or Google summaries – or even pay for clip notes – you will not get the depth of understanding you need to achieve the higher marks.
This is because your tutor will be looking for more than an assignment that answers the question. They will be looking for whether you understood the question and the wider themes/implications.
That only comes from reading the materials available to you. And sometimes some wider reading in addition to it.
While some courses require far more reading than others it’s up to you to do the work for the course you chose to study.
Spending a whole evening studying non-stop is a great way to get nowhere fast. The adult brain can usually only concentrate for a maximum of thirty minutes.
That means during a two-hour study session you should factor in an additional twenty to forty minutes for five to ten-minute breaks.
These breaks should be away from your desk and ideally giving you the chance to stretch your legs. Whether you just walk around the house or do a circuit of the garden, to get the blood flowing and clear your mind.
Do not check your phone, that will just distract you from your studies. It takes 20 minutes for the average person to regain their train of thought after a distraction. That means you will waste 20 minutes of your 30-minute study period trying to get your mind back in to gear.
Then minutes later you’ll take a break and repeat the cycle.
And try to have a nutritious snack before studying so you have the energy and, again, have one less thing to distract yourself with. Similarly, drink water during study periods.
Tea, coffee and energy drinks are all strong diuretics, so you’ll spend half your time getting up to go to the bathroom.
Ask for Help
This one is important. Just because you’re learning at a distance, doesn’t mean you’re learning alone. You will be assigned a tutor to help you with your studies.
They will be qualified in their area of study and therefore if you’re struggling with the course material or need something clarified, they can help.
Remember, you are not expected to know everything so there is no shame in asking for professional advice.
That would be like avoiding the doctor because you’re embarrassed you can’t give yourself a diagnosis.
Staying silent makes no sense and only harms your chances of success.
Also, don’t wait until you’re at the point of panic or an assignment is due. Be compassionate to yourself and ask the question as soon as you feel like you can’t progress any further without guidance.
This gives your tutor plenty of time to respond and for you to ask any follow-up questions.
Whatever your personal or professional ambitions, Stonebridge Associated Colleges may be able to help. We offer a wide range of Access to Higher Education Diplomas in order to help you realise your ambitions.