On Your Own Time – Solid Strategies for Online Study

Online education brings both exhilarating freedom and sobering responsibility. On one hand, You’re the master of your time. You can study when you want, if you want. You can work on your courses over early morning coffee, during your lunch break at work, or late at night after the kiddies are in bed. There’s no dress code; you can study in your yoga pants, your ratty jeans, or your underwear.

On the other hand, online studies have a bit of a downside. It’s all up to you?nobody is coaxing you along. Nobody is checking to see if you read the textbook. Nobody is forcing you to get assignments done. Nobody’s monitoring your ability to complete each course within the allotted time. Of course, you have a tutor (or that AU-equivalent, the call centre.) But they’re not going to mommy you along. They’ll help you if you ask for help, but you can’t rely on them to contact you out of the blue to see if your studies are on track.

So, how do you make yourself do the work? How do you avoid the end-of-course crush or the extension fees? How do you plan around all of life’s tempting diversions? What you need is a bit of discipline and a good plan.

Start early. You can usually access your course online a couple weeks before the start date. While you can’t submit assignments or contact your tutor before the course start date, you can preview your course texts, read through the study guide, and create a study plan. On the first of the month, you’ll be ready to plunge right into the course itself.

Forget the sixth month. A three-credit AU undergraduate course generally must be completed within six months. Pretend the sixth month does not exist. Plan your studies as though you only have five months?or fewer. If life sends you a surprise during those months, at least you’ll have a cushion to fall back on instead of a nasty extension fee or an incomplete course.

Over-schedule. Determine the number of hours you need to work on your courses each week to meet your planned completion date. Then bump that number up 25%. Something always seems to interfere with a certain percentage of study time. If you have to work late at the office, tend to a sick kid, or watch Season 5 of The Walking Dead, you’ll be able to manage the situation more calmly if you know you’ve still got enough study time planned.

Set interim targets and meet or beat them. Before your course starts, take a look at how it is structured. If your course is organized into units, divide the number of units by the number of weeks you want to take to finish the course. For example, if your course has ten units of study, and you want to be finished in five months, you’ve got about 20 weeks. So, That’s two weeks per unit. Write down the dates you plan to have each unit completed. Meet or beat those dates without fail.

Keep momentum. If you finish a unit ahead of time, reward yourself but move on to the next unit immediately. Study will be easier?and more effective?if you do it regularly, and you will come to no harm if you finish your course earlier than planned.

Guard your study time. Treat your planned study time as though it were as important as in-person class time. Be firm with family, friends, and employers if they try to lure you away. Just say, “No, I’m working on my course that evening; we’ll have to do it another time.” They will respect your study time only if you do.

Whether You’re taking one course at a time, or a full-time course load, starting off with good study strategies means a greater likelihood of finishing successfully. don’t leave your study schedule to chance. Put in a small investment of time now and you’ll reap the reward later.

Barbara Lehtiniemi is a writer, photographer, and AU student. She lives on a windswept rural road in Eastern Ontario

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