Online Study Skills and Managing Time (Text Version)

Study Challenges

Studying is essential to any educational endeavor, but the online learning environment presents some unique studying challenges that you might not face in a traditional classroom environment. This means that in order to excel in your online class, you’ll need to make sure your study skills are top notch!

Discipline, responsibility, motivation—these are characteristics that all students need in order to get the most they can out of their classes. But online students sometimes face additional challenges because of the degree of independence that the online learning system grants them. This is why it’s so important for you to be able to honestly and effectively assess your own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to your study skills and habits, and to develop a process for yourself that will enable you to be most effective.

We’ve created this module on study skills and time management to help you identify your tendencies and habits, and provide you with strategies for improvement.

After completing this module, we want you to know:

  • Why creating and sticking to a study schedule can be even more essential to an online course than a course taught on campus,
  • Factors to consider when developing a study schedule,
  • Why “cramming” for an exam or assignment doesn’t really work, and
  • How to stay motivated to complete your online course.
Step 1 – Time Management

We’ve broken things down for you into 3 easy steps, so let’ s go through them one at a time.

Step 1:

identify your time management style.

One of the first things you’ll want to do is to identify how you manage your time. Has your previous way of doing things worked for you, or do you think it’s time for a change? Remember, we can all always improve! See if you fit into one of the following categories.

  • Traits: You like to make checklists and feel great satisfaction when you can cross something off of your to-do list. When it comes to assignments, you want to get started as soon as possible (and maybe start brainstorming before that), because it lets you stay in control.
  • Strengths: You know what you want and are driven to figure out how to achieve it. Motivation is never really a problem for you.
  • Challenges: Sometimes you can get more caught up in getting things done as quickly as possible and don’t give yourself enough time to really mull over issues in all of their complexity.
  • Tips for Success: You’re extremely organized and on top of your schoolwork, so make sure you take time to really enjoy learning in your classes. Remember, school isn’t all deadlines and checkboxes—you also have the opportunity to think about big picture intellectual problems that don’t necessarily have clear answers.
  • Traits: You really know what you’re capable of, and are ready to do what it takes to get the most out of your classes. Maybe you’re naturally gifted in this way or maybe it is a skill that you have developed over time; in any case, you should have the basic organizational skills to succeed in any online class, as long as you keep your balance.
  • Strengths: Your strength really lies in your ability to be well-rounded. You may not always complete assignments perfectly every time, but you are remarkably consistent and usually manage to do very well in classes.
  • Challenges: Because you’re so consistent, sometimes you can get in a bit of a rut where you begin to coast in class, rather than really challenging yourself.
  • Tips for Success: Instead of simply doing what works, use each class as an opportunity for growth by engaging thoughtfully with the material and constantly pushing the boundaries of your own expectations for yourself.
PERSONALITY TYPE: The Pressure Cooker
  • Traits: You always get things done, and almost always at the last minute. Hey, it takes time to really come up with good ideas!
  • Strengths: You work well under pressure and when you finally do sit down to accomplish a task, you can sit and work for hours. In these times, you can be extremely focused and shut out the rest of the world in order to get done what needs to be done.
  • Challenges: You sometimes use your ability to work under pressure as an excuse to procrastinate. Sure, you can really focus when the deadline is tomorrow, but is it really the best work you could produce if you had a couple of days of cushion?
  • Tips for Success: Give yourself small, achievable deadlines, and stick to them. Make sure they’re goals that you really could (and would) achieve in a day. Then don’t allow yourself to make excuses. You’ll find that it’s actually a lot more enjoyable to not be stressed out when completing schoolwork. Who would have known?
  • Traits: You frequently wait until the last minute to do assignments, but it’s because you’ve been able to get away with this habit in many classes. Sometimes you miss an assignment or two, or have to pretend to have done reading that you haven’t, but everyone does that sometimes, right?
  • Strengths: You think quickly on your feet, and while this is a true strength, it also can be a crutch that prevents you from being really successful in a class.
  • Challenges: As the saying goes, old habits die hard. If you find that you lack a foundation of discipline and personal accountability, it can be difficult to change, especially when the course material becomes difficult or you find yourself struggling to keep up with the pace of the class.
  • Tips for Success: The good news is, you can turn this around! Make a plan to organize your time and materials in a reasonable way, and really stick with it. Also, don’t be afraid to ask your instructor for help, but be sure to do it before, rather than after, you might fall behind.
Step 2 – Create a Schedule

Now that you’ve evaluated how you have done things in the past, you’ll want to think about how you might create a schedule for managing your time to improve on that! The best schedules have some flexibility built into them, as you will undoubtedly have unexpected situations and circumstances arise during your time as a student.

Your schedule will be unique to you, depending on the level of detail you find helpful. There are some things—due dates, exam dates, and discussion times, for example—that should be included in your schedule no matter what. But you also might find it helpful to break down assignments into steps (or milestones) that you can schedule as well. Again, this is all about what works best for you—do you want to keep a record of only the major deadlines you need to keep in mind? Or does it help you to plan out every day so you stay on track? Your answers to these questions will vary depending on the course, the complexity of your schedule, and your own personal preferences.

Your schedule will also vary depending on the course you’re taking. So pull out your syllabus and try to determine the rhythm of the class by looking at the following factors:

  • How often does your instructor expect discussion board contributions? When are initial discussion board contributions due?
  • Will you have tests or exams in this course? When are those scheduled?
  • Are there assignments and papers? When are those due?
  • Are there any group or collaborative assignments? You’ll want to pay particular attention to the timing of any assignment that requires you to work with others: they take a longer time to complete when you are learning online because it can be more complicated to schedule times to get together.

You can find many useful resources online that will help you keep track of your schedule. Some are basic, cloud-based calendars (like Google calendar, iCal, Outlook), and some (like iHomework) are specialized for students.

We all have exactly 168 hours per week. How do you spend yours? And now that you’re a student, how much time will be willing to devote to your studies?

Q & A

Ok, let’s switch gears here and spend a little time with a time management Q&A. Here are some of the questions most frequently asked by students:

Student 1: Do I really need to create a study schedule when I’m taking an online course? I can honestly keep track of all of this in my head.

Answer: Yes, you really should. When you take a face-to-face course, you are expected to attend class on a regular basis. There an instructor will give you reminders about assignment due dates, exam times In an online class, you don’t have this built-in structure. You’re going to have to take responsibility for tracking class requirements yourself.

Student 2: Realistically, how much time should I spend studying for this class?

Answer: This is a good question, and a tough one to answer. Each hour of class (per week) is equal to one unit of credit, which means that you can think of each credit as an hour. A good rule of thumb for studying is to study two hours for every hour of class. So if you are enrolled in twelve units, your schedule should give you twenty-four hours of study time every week.

Student 3: Ok, so aside from class time requirements, should I account for anything else as I draw up my schedule?

Answer: This depends on how detailed you want your schedule to be. Is it a calendar of important dates, or do you need a clear picture of how to organize your entire day? We think the latter is more successful, as long as you stick with it. This is also where it will be helpful to determine when you are most productive and efficient. When are you the most focused and ready to learn new things, in the morning, afternoon, or evening? Check the Quest for Online Success course site for online tools that can help you plan your time.

Student 4: My life and school requirements change on a week-to-week basis. How can I possibly account for this when making a schedule?

Answer: Try creating a variable schedule in case an event comes up or you need to take a day or two off.

Student 5: The way you’ve talked about scheduling and time management makes it sound like a good idea, but it’s also totally unrealistic. What’s wrong with cramming? (It’s what I’ll probably end up doing anyway…)

Answer: Cramming, or studying immediately before an exam without much preparation beforehand, has many disadvantages. Trying to learn any subject or memorize facts in a brief but intense period of time is basically fruitless. You simply forget what you have learned much faster when you cram. Instead, study in smaller increments on a regular basis: your brain will absorb complex course material in a lasting and more profound way because it’s how our brain functions

Prioritizing Time

Finally, Step 3: Get better at prioritizing.

Due dates are important. Set your short and long-term goals accordingly. Ask yourself:

  • What needs to get done today?
  • What needs to get done this week?
  • What needs to get done by the end the 1st month of the semester?
  • What needs to get done by the end the 2nd month of the semester?
  • What needs to get done by the end of the semester?
  • Your time is valuable. Treat it accordingly by getting the most you can out of it.

Above all: avoid PROCRASTINATION.

Procrastination is the kiss of death to the online learner because it’s incredibly difficult to catch up once you’ve fallen behind. Do you have a problem procrastinating? We’re going to ask you a few questions in this final segment and if you find yourself saying, “Sounds like me,” more often than you say, “No way,” you’ll really want to be on your guard so that procrastination doesn’t become an issue for you.

Procrastination Check List

Consider the following issues:

  1. My paper is due in two days and I haven’t really started writing it yet.
  2. I’ve had to pull an all-nighter to get an assignment done on time.
  3. I’ve turned in an assignment late or asked for an extension when I really didn’t have a good excuse not to get it done on time.
  4. I’ve worked right up to the minute an assignment was due.
  5. I’ve underestimated how long a reading assignment would take and didn’t finish it in time for class.
  6. I’ve relied on the internet for information (like a summary of a concept or a book) because I didn’t finish the reading on time.

If these sound like issues you’ve struggled with in the past, you might want to think seriously about whether you have the tendency to procrastinate, and how you want to deal with it in your future classes. You’re already spending a lot of time, energy, and money on the online classes you’re taking—don’t let all of that go to waste!

Procrastination Pie

But don’t worry! We are here to help. The following five pieces of our “procrastination pie” provide some strategies for overcoming these challenges:

  1. Keep your studying “bite-sized”: when confronted with 150 pages of reading or 50 problems to solve, you may understandably feel overwhelmed. What if you decide that you will read for 45 minutes, or that you will solve 10 problems? That sounds much more manageable.
  2. Turn off your phone, close your chat windows, and block distracting websites. The best advice we’ve ever heard is to treat your studying as if you’re in a movie theater—just turn it off!
  3. Set up a reward system: if you read for 40 minutes, you can check your phone for 5 minutes. But keep in mind that reward-based systems only work if you stick to a code of self-honor.
  4. Study in a place reserved for study ONLY. Your bedroom may have too many distractions (or the ever-present temptation of a quick nap…), so stay out of there when working on school assignments.
  5. Use checklists: Make your incremental accomplishments visible. Some people get great satisfaction and motivation from checking items off a “to do” list. Be very specific when creating this list, and clearly describe each task one step at a time.

Congratulations! You’re well on your way through this Quest for Online Success course. In this module we’ve provided many ideas for time management, assignment organization, and avoiding procrastination, but there are still hundreds of additional resources online. Seek out some of these for further help – you’re sure to find tools and strategies that will work well for your individual style.


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