If you are currently studying online while juggling a full-time job, and the daily stresses of life, congratulations on committing to bettering yourself through continuous education, it is no small feat.. Now, I am sure you have heard this question before; “How do you get time to do all of it?”. While some are able to answer this question , most of us answer with a tired shrug while rubbing sleep deprived eyes. If you fall into the latter category, don’t feel insecure. The ones who can indeed answer that question either went through months of the same and only gained a rhythm after multiple courses, or they’ve become really good at hiding it.
After many long days and late nights, I have narrowed down the following tips that will hopefully help you just as much at succeeding at work, as well as achieving the results you want from online learning.
#1 Implement a realistic schedule, and stick to it
While this tip may seem fairly obvious, the importance of it lies in the “how”. Whether you are signed up for a course where all course material is available at once, or the material is released intermittently, a schedule is vital.
Before embarking on your course and diving in head-first, check the course’s timeline, the volume of content that you will be covering and whether you will be assessed on a specific date. Once you have an idea of what to expect, start having a look at your daily routine and when you have most free time to accommodate the course.
You may find yourself to be excited and energetic while planning your schedule, but please remember that you will not feel this way every day. Create a weekly schedule with a maximum of 4 study sessions per week on different days and don’t forget to take into account the extra time you may need for each lesson, i.e. interaction, recommended reading, practicals and more. Allowing for extra days in the week will also give you an opportunity to catch up if you missed anything. Since we all get busy with family, events, birthdays and the like, you need to allow for flexibility in your schedule and aim for a lower amount of study sessions to keep from being overwhelmed.
While it is super exciting to take the step in signing up for a course and to think about that nice certificate with your name on it, remember to pace yourself and define your schedule according to your own capabilities and lifestyle, even if it means completing the course later than you would have wanted to.
There are also many online tools at our disposal that we can use to keep track of our schedules. Make use of your online calendar, or even sign up on free project management tools such as Trello or Asana. I currently make use of Trello to track my online courses, to do lists, lessons, and assignments while being given the option to power-up all my cards with due dates, reminders, comments, checklists and so much more.
#2 Practise by doing
Since online learning provides us with a certain sense of freedom, do not allow this to hamper your discipline. The best practice is to treat your online course the same way you would have treated school. If your course has recommended reading, exercises, or questionnaires which will not interfere with your final grade, remember that there is a reason the course educator included it.
While we may feel that the amount of information is overwhelming, an added benefit of this is that we are able to work through this in our own time. According to The Research Institute of America, eLearning increases retention rates 25% to 60% while retention rates of face-to-face training are 8% to 10% (source). This is why you may feel that the amount of learning material is too much for the intended timeline, but we are more than capable of digesting this information as well as retaining it when it is covered in smaller increments.
After all, you have probably spent your hard earned money on the course, so why would you want to rob yourself of the full potential the course has to offer? In most cases, students are able to answer questions and pass without doing the recommended practical sections of the course, however, by doing this, you would be defeating the purpose of taking the course in the first place.
#3 Interact and engage
Nowadays online learning platforms are getting very close to recreating a real learning experience in the virtual world. Regardless of the college or website you are studying with, you will most likely find that they drive engagement with their students in on-site forums, social media, comment sections and even YouTube. Start viewing these mediums as your classroom and learn to engage with your educator and peers if you have any questions on the material or even if it is only to network with like-minded individuals.
Interacting with your “classmates” and lecturers will provide you with the full learning experience that the course intends to offer. When you participate in discussions on your course topic with other students, you will have a completely unique experience with the opportunity to gain various different insights, and most of the time you will find yourself learning beyond what the course content offers.
#4 Don’t lose sight of your goal
After doing many courses, I have found that a recurring problem I faced, especially with long-term courses, was losing sight of my goal and why I signed up in the first place.
By the time I reached week 3, my weekly study sessions started feeling like just another routine and this was normally the point where I would skimp on the recommended reading just to get it over with.
It is easy to lose sight of your goal when it takes a while to get there, but if you made the decision to study, it is likely because you are looking to improve your skills in your current job, improve your career, or even to gain new employment. Whatever your reason may be, it relates to something much more important than missing an episode of your favourite show, or having had one bad day; it is about your future and working toward something better and greater. Do not lose sight and do not slow down. When you get your certificate at the end, you need to be confident in the fact that you are actually capable and educated enough to prove what you have learned.
#5 Determine the value of your qualification
It is never easy to start working on a new goal especially when it is something that requires rearranging a busy schedule in order to make it happen, but the end results are worth it. Even though online education is extremely convenient and forgiving, it forces us to be accountable for what the certification’s value is.
Online education has placed a tremendous amount of power into the hands of the student by allowing us to mould how online courses are perceived by employers. To the detriment of many students as well as the e-learning industry, there are those who are able to make it through their courses without investing the time and effort that is truly necessary to be able to apply what has been learned and then have no skills to back up their certification. It is cases like these that devalue a course and its accreditation as well as the institution offering it.
If you absorb all an online course has to offer you by completing all the added exercises and studying the additional material like I mentioned above, you not only benefit yourself personally, but you also put the value back into the course and eLearning as a whole as well as what it means to have completed your course.
Since we are now in a digital era with so many channels that we could use to up-skill and educate ourselves, varying from free courses to premium courses, there is no reason not to take hold of these opportunities to further your career and skills.
For a further look at the facts and stats about eLearning, check out Shift eLearning’s infographic here.