Time management is a common problem for many online students. It can be hard to push yourself to study and get homework done when there aren’t other students around you doing the same. Many online students have jobs and families competing for their time as well, which just adds to the difficulty of getting down to business on your online homework.
Here are some time management and study tips any student should implement, but that are especially useful for online students with a lot on their plates:
1. Set Aside Specific Hours for Schoolwork
Typical college students have classes during set times every day. Research shows that developing habits and routines is a good tactic for helping yourself learn. However, including some variation in those routines, by studying in different places, or even listening to different music, helps your brain develop stronger associations with new knowledge, and a better neural “scaffolding” to keep that knowledge in place. As an online student, most of your classes and school activities can be done at the time of your choosing, but you’ll do yourself a favor if you stick to a fairly strict schedule. One way to stop yourself from procrastinating is to set aside specific hours for schoolwork every single day. Think of this time as an appointment that you can’t miss. Once you get into the habit of studying during that time slot, it will be a lot easier to say no to other activities and recreation. If you get done early, you can go out with your friends, but don’t schedule a night on the town for the time you typically schedule homework. Making a daily to-do list, or a to-do list of what you need to study during each session, can help you keep track of your progress, and give you a pleasant jolt of accomplishment when you cross everything off.
2. Use Various Study Strategies
Engaging all of your senses while you study will help you remember what you learn. You can optimize your learning by actively choosing to use different study styles to learn about each new subject that comes up in your courses. Since online classes will likely only engage your visual and auditory senses, it is up to you to devise creative ways to use your other senses for learning. Writing flashcards on uniquely textured paper, or lighting incense while you study, can create sensory associations with the facts you’re learning, which will help you recall them later. Studies have also shown that one of the most effective ways to cement something in your own memory is to teach it to someone else. Have a friend listen while you explain something you’ve learned, and you multiply your chance of remembering it later.
3. Avoid Distractions Like Social Networking or TV Noise
While you’re studying, it is possible to get into a state psychologists call “flow,” which happens when you’re completely focused and immersed in the activity you’re doing. Some of your best work can be done while you’re in a state of flow, but distractions like the buzz of a phone or a TV show in the background stop you from achieving it. When you set a schedule for school, make sure that this is actually college time, not computer time. Ban yourself from social networking sites, such as Facebook when you’re supposed to be working. If you intend to spend a long time working online, you can reward yourself with little breaks every few hours, but otherwise stick to only using the computer for activities related to your classes. Minimizing interruptions during your studying time will increase your efficiency and learning.
4. Study Small Amounts Every Week Rather than Cramming
This tip isn’t just for online students; it applies to all college students. As soon as you start learning about the material covered in the course, begin to study efficiently for the mid-term and final. Many courses also have other tests and pop quizzes, so by doing a small amount of studying every day, you’re preparing yourself for whatever your professor throws your way. Even just 15 minutes every night before you go to sleep can help you retain material. Come finals week, you’ll have a very good base of knowledge before you ever crack open a book to prepare for the exam. Cramming might help you do well on a test, but it won’t help you retain knowledge or perform well in the long run. Consistency and habitual studying are much more effective than large infusions of knowledge the night before a big test.
5. Ask for Help as Soon as You Need It
Just like typical college professors, online college professors are more than happy to help students who feel confused or are struggling with their schoolwork. Most professors, however, won’t go out of their way to ask you if you need help. Don’t be afraid to speak up–and do so as soon as you start feeling unsure about a concept or lesson. If you wait until the end of the semester, you won’t be prepared for tests and the confusion will snowball until it’s unmanageable. What your tuition pays for is access to a professor with deep knowledge of the subject you are studying. Use that resource as much as possible. If a professor can explain something in ten minutes that would have taken you an hour to look up and learn on your own, you’ve saved time and had a richer, more memorable learning experience to boot.
6. Set Your Own Deadlines
Whenever you are assigned a homework assignment or paper for your online class, make your own deadline for finishing it, and give yourself some lead time. By sandbagging your deadlines this way, you help yourself account for unexpected incursions on your time. Try to stagger your personal due dates throughout the semester so you aren’t overwhelmed with work at any one time. Once you get into a situation where you have missed a deadline and are trying to make up for it while also meeting your next deadline, it is hard to dig yourself out of that time debt.
7. Invest in a Laptop
Most online colleges have system requirements for the computer you use to access course materials. Getting a laptop that meets your school’s specifications will let you choose where you do schoolwork, and can allow you to fill gaps in your time by working on assignments, no matter where you are. You don’t needa laptop to take courses online, but having one means that you can make good use of time that would typically be lost, such as time during your morning commute on the train or waiting at the doctor’s office (just make sure that your connection is secure). Fit in your classes during times that would otherwise be wasted, and you’ll have much more free time during the rest of your day.
Other Ways to Maximize Your Online Learning Experience
Getting an education online doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t engage with your field of study in a hands on way. One of the best ways to learn a discipline using all your faculties is to find an actual job or volunteer position in that field. If you’re studying law, try interning at a law office. If you’re studying nursing, start volunteering at a hospital. Many of these types of facilities have a mechanism in place for accepting volunteer labor or taking on interns. This experience will look great on your resume, and will reinforce everything you learn in class.
Networking in Online Colleges
It can be hard to develop personal relationships with other students when your only interactions with them are electronic. Try finding out whether any of your fellow students live near you, and organize an occasional study group with them. Finding other students in your area who are studying the same subject, even if they are at different schools, can expose you to different perspectives on the material.
Lifelong Learning is Important, Too!
So you followed the above advice, got good grades, got your degree, got a great job, and things are looking good? Don’t stop learning! Many career paths require practitioners to attend continuing education classes every few years, or bump up their degree from a bachelor’s to a master’s to be promoted. Additionally, research indicates that continuing to read and learn as you age lowers your risk of memory loss and and disabilities like Alzheimer’s in old age. These learning tips won’t just help you out in college, they can serve you well throughout your life. Happy Learning!