Success in your Distance Learning course will depend in part on your ability to maintain a consistent schedule without attending an on-campus class every week.
The organizational and time-management strategies below will help you balance your home, work, and school commitments.
Begin by making a realistic schedule of how you currently spend your time. You can use this tool from Study Guides and Strategies to develop a schedule. Then read through the advice below and think about how you might apply each of these strategies to the semester ahead.
Use all of the resources that you have to keep you organized in your online course. This might include to-do lists, Google calendar, smartphone reminders, a daily or weekly planner, or well-placed reminders and motivational notes that relate to your goals. Put due dates from the course syllabus and learning management system (Blackboard) into your organizational resource. Study Guides and Strategies has a page on how to create effective to-do lists.
Make a list of activities that you can give up. Reward yourself by adding the activities back into your life during semester breaks. Do not take on extra activities during the semester if you can't fit them into your schedule.
Plan study time and study breaks into your schedule. Consider the time of day that you're best able to focus and the amount of time you can usually effectively devote to a study task. Try 50 minute blocks, but if the material is difficult or you can't focus for that long, try less time, such as 30 minutes. Breaks should include water, a healthy snack, and a brief activity that will refresh you so you can return to studying.
Make the area you've designated to work on your distance learning course a no-distraction zone. Eliminate both external distractions (video game consoles, piles of laundry) and computer-related distractions (browser tabs with social media sites or favorite games). If possible, have a back-up study space (such as a library, computer lab, or coffee shop) that you can retreat to if your dedicated space becomes distracting. Plan your work so that you have work you can do away from the home area, such as reading your text or editing a draft of a paper.
Each week at a designated time, look over your syllabus and the learning management system and plan your work for the week ahead. Review feedback and grades on assignments that have been returned as well as how you felt about completing your work, and determine if you need to spend additional time studying or perhaps set up a meeting with your professor. Review the material that you've learned so far and how it relates to new material.
Consider starting with your most difficult subject when you sit down to work, as that's when you'll have the most energy. Plan for a few days of turn-around time for communications with your professor and time to process feedback.
Break down large projects into smaller tasks and set deadlines for those tasks. Get started as early as possible so that you fully understand the scope of the project. You may find there were tasks associated with the project that you didn't anticipate.
Find time between larger tasks, such as riding the bus, waiting (for a bus, an appointment, for a friend, for your child's soccer game to begin), walking, or exercising. These are good times to review memorized content such as definitions, dates, or theorems, to use your smartphone or tablet to check your course messages, assignments, or discussion board, to do a library search for a resource, or to review tasks or notes.
Take advantage of tutoring, the Writing Center, services such as Connect to College, the CCRI library, and websites, listservs, and online discussion groups that relate to the topics you're learning. (But be careful to follow the college's academic honesty policies and do not ask for direct help with graded assignments.)
These "26 time-management hacks I wish I'd known at 20" by Etienne Garbugli might also give you ideas for staying on track in your online course.
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