Completing An Online Course: 13 Time Management Tips

Completing An Online Course: 13 Time Management Tips
Summary: We’re all busy—family, work, school, life, life, work, work... One of the biggest challenges faced by online learners is managing time and carving out enough time and space to complete the requirements of their online course or program. When learners don’t manage time well—when they put off all the readings, discussions and learning activities off until the last moment—they invariably fall behind and inevitably struggle to complete their course (as high rates of attrition in online learning attest). 

Time Management Tips To Complete An Online Course

A key issue for online learners, especially part-time online learners who must balance study or continuing education with work, is time management. Below are several strategies that can help online learners (you?) manage time over in order to successfully complete an online course:

  1. Make the course a priority.
    For the duration of the course (or online program), make the course your professional priority and you are expected to complete every reading, every assignment, every discussion and every school-based activity. Can’t do that? Then, if you can, consider taking the course another time when you can devote more time to the effort. Better still, find someone in the course who will agree to be your partner or study buddy.
  2. Take the course with a friend or colleague.
    Online learning has been described as "a lonely experience." Make it less lonely- and increase your chances of both completing the course and managing time well- by seeing if a friend or spouse will take the course with you. This may or may not be for credit and his/her role may be more informal than formal. Online learners are more likely to complete a course of study when they have actual colleagues. And it doesn't hurt to have someone to help you manage your time.
  3. Set aside one hour a day to work on the course.
    Think of the hour per day as your class time. Can’t spare a whole hour? How about 15 minutes four times a day? How about during lunch hour? Make the course/readings/discussion the very first thing you do when you open up your computer in the morning. Then it’s over and done with for that day!
  4. Make a study plan.
    Set fixed times during the week to work on the course. If you have a learning partner or team, decide what days you will meet to go through course readings and participate in the online discussions.
  5. Make a calendar or schedule.
    Naturally, given the vicissitudes of life, some weeks will be easier than others for doing all the course requirements, so look ahead and make a calendar. Figure out what weeks look very busy and plan how you’ll get your online work done ahead of time to compensate for your lack of time during those busy weeks.
  6. Get rid of distractors.
    That may mean closing the door to keep family members away, going to a café, turning off your cell phone, not opening your email program, or turning off the TV. Figure out what distracts you from your online course and eliminate it as you work on your course.
  7. Set goals and incentives.
    Give yourself, or have someone give you, incentives for completing a module or assignment within a certain time period. Set personal learning and time goals. Give yourself a treat when you’ve finished a module or a discussion (but don’t reward yourself when you haven’t!).
  8. Jump ahead and do what you can when you can.
    In terms of workload, most courses start out light and become increasingly more involved each week. So, if you’re finished early with Module 1, go onto Module 2, and so on. With the exception of discussion forums, you may not need to wait for everyone else! The beauty of online learning is that you can do it at your own pace.
  9. Divide labor with your partner.
    (If you have a study partner), with your partner, decide who does what to lighten the load. Maybe your partner does reading 1 while you do reading 2. Then use a think-pair-share or some other knowledge exchange protocol to share information.
  10. Explore ways to multitask that don’t contribute to cognitive overload.
    Can you download podcasts on your mobile phone or MP3 player and listen to them as you run? Can you access the course on your tablet and do the readings at the gym? In multitasking, it’s important to avoid cognitive conflict (e.g., reading while watching TV doesn’t really help) or cognitive overload (reading while on a Skype call, for example). As the Roman writer, Publilius Syrus (Sorry, I was a Latin teacher. I don't get many opportunities like this), noted about multitasking over 2,000 years ago, “He who does two things at one does neither.”
  11. Be mindful.
    As you “do” your course, focus on what you are doing and push away distractions. This focus on your course should help with completing course work and doing it well. Give yourself timelines (for example, an hour) to complete a task.
  12. If your course has some kind of an e-portfolio, start working on it during week 1.
    Week by week, you can work on your e-portfolio. If you do a little at a time each week, you won’t be panicked and overworked at the end trying to create an e-portfolio at the last minute.
  13. Ask for help.
    If you are struggling, don’t understand or feel really lost, always ask for help—from your partner, your colleagues in the course (assuming it’s a cohort-based online course) and your online instructor.