The ability to manage your time and prioritize commitments is crucial for success in an online course. While online courses offer much flexibility and the advantage of working on days and times that fit your schedule, time can also work against you if you misjudge how many hours your assignments will take or spend too much time on activities that will not help you be successful in the course. While every online course has different requirements, a typical rule of thumb regarding time is to expect to spend a minimum of 3 hours per week outside of class for each credit hour of class time. That means, for a 3-credit course, you should expect to spend 9 hours per week outside of the classroom. This is in addition to the three hours of class time that you would have spent in the classroom had the course been face-to-face. That makes a total minimum of 12 hours per week spent on a 3-credit online course. Remember, that is the minimum that you should plan for. It is quite possible that your online course may require additional time above and beyond the minimum. Below are a few tips and strategies that might help you manage your time and prioritize your commitments.
Tips and Strategies
Prioritize All of The Commitments in Your Life
When planning to take an online course you will need to determine whether or not you will be able to make it a priority in your life. We just learned that an online student should expect to spend a minimum of 12 hours per week on coursework. Prior to the beginning of the semester, it is often helpful to create a list that includes all of the responsibilities and activities that are important to you — remembering to include your online course in this list! Be sure to include all activities such as sleeping, eating, studying, work and leisure time. Now, rank this list and try to determine the time demand of each of the items. You may find that you might need to adjust the time allotment or re-rank a few priorities in order to dedicate enough time for your course, but keep in mind that it is very important to have a well-balanced scheduled for success.
Make a Plan and Stick To It!
Once your responsibilities and activities are prioritized, you will need to make a plan and schedule your time. If you have never used a calendar or planner before, get one! You will find that it will be your friend. Begin by looking at the entire semester. If a Course Schedule is posted, print it out and note important dates on your calendar. You will want to make sure to included dates that modules open or close, due dates for assignments and exams and other important class events. Next, schedule events in your life outside of your class. These would include, work, family commitments, leisure activities, travel plans, etc. Compare the timing of these events with the schedule for your course and note any conflicts that might need attention or advanced planning.
Once the basic structure of your semester is outlined, it is time to look at each week and identify which days within each have open time that may be scheduled for work on your course. When scheduling your course “work time” keep in mind your personal habits and preferences and choose times that best fit your lifestyle. For example, if you are an early riser, and work best in the morning, perhaps that would be a good time for you to work on your course. Likewise, if you go to bed early, late night would probably not be the best time for you to work. The important thing is to find time that works for you and ideally schedule your time in advance. It is often helpful to set aside the same times and days of each week, keeping in mind, of course, you may need to be flexible as unforeseen things arise. The important point here is that one of the biggest keys to success is to create a schedule, plan a routine and stick to it.
Avoid Falling Behind
Even with a carefully laid out plan, many online students find themselves in a position where they fall behind. Once behind, it can be very difficult to catch up. Many students make a common mistake when this happens by not rescheduling their time and instead following their original schedule and focusing on the late work before moving on to new material. They then remain behind on the next assignment, and the next and find it extremely difficult to get back on track. Should you find yourself in a position where you have missed an assignment or have fallen behind, the best thing you can do is to immediately take a look at your schedule and re-prioritize your commitments to accommodate for making up the work and continuing on with the new material being presented.
Break Down Large Tasks Into Small Ones
If your course requires large project, research paper or other major activity or assignment, a great strategy is to break it up into smaller tasks. Even though there might not be intermediate due dates for the individual pieces involved in the major task, they can still be included in your schedule and added to your calendar. For example, when faced with a midterm research paper, you can set weekly goals for yourself and included them in your schedule. In one week, you may want to draft an outline of your plan for the assignment, then have additional deadlines set for completing research, then another deadline for the draft of the paper, and finally the ultimate due date. Breaking down a larger assignment in this manner makes it more manageable and will most likely result in a higher-quality submission.
Do Not Procrastinate!
We have already discussed the importance of setting a schedule and sticking to it. Doing so requires a great deal of self-discipline and the formation of good study/work habits. The nature of a face-to-face course may make it a bit easier for some students to stay on track since there are designated meeting times with an official “check-in” with the instructor and classmates. An online course with no synchronous components could lead to the temptation of procrastination. Suggestions for avoiding this pitfall include logging in regularly to check for course mail, announcements and discussion postings, beginning assignments early and not waiting until the last minute that an assignment is due to submit.
Plan For Exams
Many online students make the mistake of not properly preparing for online exams and quizzes. Study time for exams should be worked into the classwork schedule that you create and should be considered to be an important part of your routine. While some online courses allow students to use their textbook or class notes while taking an exam, settings on the exam itself may restrict the amount of time a student has to utilize these tools. Preparation in advance, is therefore key.