One of the great things about distance learning is the ability to study while holding down a full-time job.
It overcomes the logistical headaches that come with college courses that require attend classes during the day or in the evening.
Between work and family life, that can put a real strain on you and your relationships. Especially as you’ll also need to squeeze in hours of study between classes too.
This is especially problematic if you have children who are too young to be left unsupervised. Or you work shifts, as taking a longer lunch break or finishing early isn’t always an option.
Distance learning allows you to fit your studies around family and work commitments because it solves the logistical headaches traditional courses can cause.
However, you still need to study which can feel a little daunting if you work full time and you don’t have a teacher giving you a weekly steer.
Even though you have two years to complete your course, managing your studies is crucial to completing your course in good time and with a good mark.
Time Management is Key
Having two years to complete your course and the freedom to study when you want can be a huge help when you’re busy. It can also catch you out for the same reason.
Because traditional courses have set start and end dates, you know when work needs to be completed by. Distance learning has no such constraint which means you have to create that structure yourself.
Without a firm plan and structure to your learning you will find procrastination is all too easy. Let it go on for too long and before you know it you’ll be rushing your work and your grades will suffer for it.
That’s why it’s important to start planning as soon as you have enrolled. Consider the following:
- When do you want to complete the course by?
- How many assignments do you need to turn in between now and then?
- What existing commitments are already in the diary that can’t be moved. i.e. work, holidays, birthdays etc.
From there you can figure out when you can fit in study sessions to comfortably complete your assignments. By planning things out to this level you will be able to complete your studies within the time frame you have given yourself.
If you work full time this can seem easier said than done. However, by following this method you can see how realistic it is to get the work done based on the deadline you set.
If that deadline is unrealistic then you can move it back to give you the time and the breathing room to get your studying done and still have a life.
Create a place to study
Working towards a qualification is not just about a certificate. It is an investment in yourself that will help your career for the rest of your working life.
As such it’s important to give yourself a suitable place to study. If you have a spare room, then set up a desk big enough for a computer and room to make notes.
Failing that, a clutter free kitchen or dining table will do. Although with this option you probably won’t be able to leave you work out for the next nine to twelve months. So make sure you have something to store your notes that’s easily accessible for your next study session.
However you store your equipment, make sure your study station is as easy to set up as possible, so it doesn’t become a chore.
Wherever you end up studying your online course, you should be able to sit comfortably for a couple of hours. And have enough room to work.
It may also be worth investing in a comfortable office chair.
Actually do the work
Planning is only half the battle. A great plan and smart workstation won’t deliver the assignments.
Modern life is full of distractions so getting down to study – which is hard work – is surprisingly easy to put off.
This is because it takes a lot of energy to learn new things, which our brains don’t like. It’s tiring. This is called system 2 thinking.
It would much rather do easy things that are familiar, like watching TV, playing Angry Birds or endlessly scrolling through Facebook. This is system 1 thinking. This doesn’t require much energy at all.
It is system 1 thinking that allows us to drive almost on automatic pilot and why we’re suddenly startled by the realisation we’re halfway home.
Because our brains will try to protect us from hard, system 2, thinking it’s important to eliminate distractions from your study space. Leave your phone in another room.
If you’re working somewhere other than a study, make sure it’s clear of clutter and there are no chores to pull your focus away from studying.
If there’s a weekly programme that you’re loathed to miss, plan your studies around it. Don’t try to study through it because you won’t concentrate. And definitely don’t study with the TV on in the room with you.
It’s so important to give yourself the time and focus to work through the course material and your assignments. Because ultimately you’re doing the course for you and it’s only you you’re hurting by not putting in the effort.
Use the resources
Read your course materials. They are there to provide you with all the knowledge you need to pass the course.
While it is tempting to merely to skim through the books and do a Google search for clip notes, you will not get the depth of understanding you need to achieve the higher marks.
Remember you’re studying for your own personal gain so cutting corners is setting yourself up to fail.
Your tutor will be looking for more from your assignments than a basic answer to the question. They want to see you understand the material and you’re able to draw conclusions or insights beyond the obvious.
That only comes from reading all the materials. While some courses require far more reading than others it’s up to you to do the work for the course you chose to study.
Factor in Breaks
Spending a whole evening studying non-stop is a great way to learn very little. The adult brain can concentrate for a maximum of thirty minutes at a time.
That means during a two-hour study session you should factor in an additional twenty to forty minutes for five to ten-minute breaks.
Take your study breaks away from your desk, ideally by taking a short walk. Whether you just walk around your garden or take a stroll around the block, it will help to clear your mind.
Resist the urge to check your phone, or watch TV they are both too great a distraction and a potential time suck.
It takes 20 minutes for the average person to regain their train of thought after a distraction. That means you will waste 20 minutes of your 30-minute study period trying to get back into the zone. By which time it’ll be time to take a break again.
Try to avoid snacking during study periods. Instead eat something nutritious beforehand so you have the energy to work, rather than wasting time during. Similarly, drink water during study periods rather than anything caffeinated.
Tea, coffee and energy drinks are all strong diuretics, so you’ll spend half your time getting up to go to the bathroom.
Support is available
Distance learning doesn’t mean you’re on your own. Every student is assigned their own personal tutor who they can contact if they need support.
They can answer any question you have about the course or the material. They will be qualified in their field so there is absolutely no need to struggle if you get stuck.
After all, you’re learning so sitting on your hands while you panic isn’t going to help you do well with your course in the long run.
Don’t let it get that far. If you don’t understand something or you’re worried you’re not progressing as well as you should, drop them a line. They will help you.
Equally, give your tutor time to respond so you’re not anxious waiting for a response and you also have time to ask follow-up questions should the need arise.
learndirect offer a wide range of online learning courses including fully accredited Access to Higher Education Diplomas and A Levels in order to help you realise your ambitions.