Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That: 3 Essential Practices To Support Learner Time Management

3 Practices To Support Learner Time Management
Sergey Nivens/
Summary: If learners fail at time management, it does not matter how great your content is or how engaging your activities are - the knowledge and skills will not be acquired. So, how can you help?

Successful Learning Requires Time Management

"I barely managed to keep up. It definitely impacted my learning. I wish I had more time."

"I've fallen behind. How long will the course be kept open?"

"I had a bunch of work emergencies come up and I lost track of time. I can't finish the course."

If you’ve been involved in facilitating one or more online courses, chances are these comments are all too familiar. While there could be many things behind these statements, one major driver is time management.

As online learning designers, developers, and facilitators, it is easy to focus all your energies on helping your learners succeed through mastering the required knowledge and skills, while ignoring the essential things that make that possible. In other words, if learners fail at time management, it does not matter how great your content is or how engaging your activities are—the knowledge and skills will not be acquired. So, how can you help?

1. Know Your Learners' Time Requirements And Constraints

Different things impact the amount of time a learner will require to participate in the course. Here's 5 to consider:

  • Digital Literacy
     How familiar are your learners with the online platforms you'll be using? How comfortable are they with online learning in general? Provide orientation materials up front on how to use the platforms. Realize that online learning tends to require greater self-motivation and self-direction than face-to-face training. See "facilitate intentionally" below for ideas on how to support learners with this.
  • Language ability, fluency
    How fluent are learners in the language of the training? Are they equally comfortable with writing, speaking, and listening? The Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Framework suggests offering content and activities in multiple formats where possible. This can help learners who find listening easier than reading, for example. You may also consider providing extra time or other supports to learners who need it.
  • Accessibility requirements
    Do any learners need additional supports such as screen readers, extra processing time, or materials in an alternate format? Follow the accessibility requirements of your country and incorporate insights from the UDL Framework.
  • Familiarity with the concepts
    Are your learners novices? Experts? Somewhere in between? Novices will likely need extra time for new concepts, but experts tend to move more quickly. Distinguish between "nice to know" and "need to know." You can always offer additional resources for those that want to go deeper. Check out this article for more information.
  • Complexity of the topic
    Are there aspects of the content that need more time to be fully digested? Allow for extra time when dealing with complex topics and offer additional support for learners who need it.

Various factors also affect how much time a learner is able to give to the training. No matter how you have addressed the needs above, you need to be realistic with what you’re asking of learners, especially since learners typically have only 24 minutes a week to focus on Learning and Development [1 ]. Here are 6 considerations:

  • Working hours
    Are they full-time, part-time, or volunteer?
  • Internet access, speed
    Is their access consistent or do they experience interruptions? How fast is their connection?
  • Device access
    Do they have their own device, or do they share with others?
  • Motivation
    How interested are they in the topic? Is it required or optional training?
  • Supervisor support
    Has their manager/leader freed them up to participate in the training?
  • Working location
    Are they working from home or from an office? Do they have a dedicated workspace or are there a lot of distractions?

2. Leverage Your Tools

A course outline is a simple tool that can provide both information about the course content and clear specifications regarding the time requirements for the training. How long is the training? Are learners expected to log in at certain times or on certain days? Are there scheduled class sessions? How much time can learners expect to spend when they log in? Do any assignments require advance planning to complete, such as scheduling a meeting to practice doing a performance review?

Beyond the course outline, create a simple course checklist and schedule that lists items that need to be completed as well as their due dates. Provide space for learners to check things off as they go. While most Learning Management Systems (LMS) provide online tracking options, it can still be helpful to have a one-page list of requirements that can be saved and/or printed for easy reference. You can even use it to help yourself track progress through the course.

Tip: If you have asynchronous course discussions, encourage your learners to block out the time they need to engage with the course material before they post. Also, encourage them to post early so there is time to interact with the other participants.

If you use an LMS, chances are it has numerous features to support good time management. For example, you could create automated reminders about due dates, or simple encouragements to keep going. You could also show/hide modules or activities according to your schedule to keep everyone at the same pace.

3. Facilitate Intentionally

Not all learning experiences are facilitated, but for those that are, there are intentional practices you can employ. Here are 4 ideas:

  • Provide "office hours" for extra support, or even schedule check-ins with individual learners. In addition to helping learners manage their time, you can address questions, concerns, or misunderstandings.
  • Set up learning partners or small groups who can provide social support and accountability.
  • Schedule live classroom sessions where you will discuss what has been done asynchronously. This communicates to learners that the asynchronous work matters and they will be accountable for it.
  • Check in with learners who have not logged in and/or started the course (for shorter courses, this needs to happen quickly). You may consider setting a cut-off date and letting learners know if they haven’t started by then, they have the opportunity to take the course at another date.

In addition to the above, you can share specific practices with your learners to help them manage their time well. Here are some ideas:

  • Figure out what time(s) of the day is best for you to learn, and block out that time.
  • Remove or reduce distractions where possible. Turn your phone on silent. Turn off notifications on your computer. Go to a separate room or separate area.
  • Block out time in your calendar as you might do if you were attending a face-to-face course. Typically, shorter blocks of time more frequently work better than long periods.
  • Turn on your "out of office" replies. Communicate your availability with your leaders/managers, direct reports, and/or team members
  • Set reminders on your phone for key due dates
  • View learning as a part of your workday and worthy of your time

3-Second Recap

You can help your learners manage their time well by:

  1. Knowing your learners' time requirements and constraints
  2. Leveraging your tools
  3. Facilitating Intentionally

Putting these things into practice increases the likelihood that your learners will manage their time well so that they can master the knowledge and skills in the training.

[1] Watch Out, Corporate Learning: Here Comes Disruption