Online degree and certificate programs make it easier than ever for people at all stages of life to go back to school. But if you’ve never taken a class online before, it’s different from an in-person course. You need to have the discipline to sit down and do your coursework without the structure of a classroom environment. That doesn’t come naturally to everyone.
However, you should look at the challenge of taking an online course as an opportunity to learn self-discipline and time-management skills. When you approach an online degree program in the right way, you can get just as much out of it as you can out of a traditional in-person program. Here’s what you need to do.
Start with the Right Tools
You can’t succeed in an online degree program without the right tools. You’ll need a laptop, or at the very least a tablet with a keyboard so you can write papers, do assignments, and access course materials. You’ll need high-speed internet. You’ll probably need some different software programs, from basic stuff like Microsoft Office to more specialized programs specific to your field of study, like AutoCAD for engineering. You’ll also need books and other course materials.
Learn How to Use Your Time Wisely
If you want to succeed in earning an early childhood administration certificate or degree online, you will need to hone your time management skills. You might find it helpful to plug your assignment deadlines and exam dates into your weekly planner when the semester starts and you first get the syllabus. You might also find it helpful to sit down each Sunday and block out study time throughout the week. As you move through the semester, reflect on how much time tasks are taking you so you can block out more or less time for them as needed.
If you’re having trouble finding enough time for your schoolwork, look for smaller blocks of time when you can squeeze in a little work. For example, maybe you can respond to your classmate’s discussion board post while you’re waiting for dinner to come out of the oven?
All the scheduling in the world can’t help you if you’re not disciplined enough to sit down and follow through with the schedule you’ve created. You will have to summon the wherewithal within yourself to take your coursework seriously and sit down to work when it’s time to work. If you’re having trouble concentrating for long blocks of time, try the pomodoro method of time management.
Participate and Collaborate
Part of the benefit of going to school is forming connections with classmates and professors. Those people can become treasured friends and, yes, valuable professional contacts if you take the time to nurture those relationships when you’re in school. Participate in online study groups, group chats, and discussion forums. Exchange contact info with classmates so you can talk to one another about assignments and run ideas by them. Go to your professors’ office hours to ask questions, get help with assignments, or learn more about the field.
You’re going to need a plan to escape distractions if you want to complete your online degree. Unless you live alone in between two cemeteries, you’re going to have to deal with ambient noise at home. Kids in the house, a spouse puttering around, or an upstairs neighbor seemingly moving all of his furniture at once can really make it hard to concentrate on studying. If you don’t have a quiet space to retreat to at home, you can try using earbuds or earplugs, or you can go to the library. If you live near campus, you can still use the on-campus facilities, like the library, even if you’re an online student.
Keep Your Study Materials Organized
When you’re a busy adult going to school online, you have to make your study time count. You don’t have time to waste searching for the materials you need to do your work. Keep your study materials and study space organized so you can find everything you need quickly and focus on getting your work done instead.
Online classes can be challenging if you’re used to face-to-face learning. You may not have the in-person connection that you’d have with traditional learning, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have one that’s just as lasting and valuable when you make the effort to create it. Give your online classes 100 percent of your effort, and you’ll benefit from what you learn for the rest of your life.