Develop Self-Motivation Skills Before Starting Online Courses
By Jordan Friedman
For the most part, students in online degree and certificate programs are learning on their own. There’s no pressure to show up to a physical classroom filled with other students and an instructor, for example, and many online learners need to complete their coursework and attend live sessions around a full-time job and family obligations.
That’s why, experts say, self-motivation and discipline are essential qualities for online students. Prospective online learners should keep that in mind as they decide whether they possess the needed organizational skills and determination to succeed in an online course, and practice these self-motivation skills during the admissions process.
“If they go in with a mindset of taking charge of their learning, that really will help them be successful” in online classes, says Debbie Morrison, a digital education consultant. “It’s going in with the thought process of, ‘I’m in charge, I’m going to be seeking out the information I need, asking questions if I’m not clear on something, logging in regularly.’”
Life outside the classroom already takes up a lot of online students’ time, Morrison says. Given that online learners usually don’t have set times they need to attend class – or, if they do, it isn’t as frequent as they might in a traditional setting – they need to prepare and set parameters in advance.
“Even if you are doing it synchronous, where there are some classes taking place, you’re sitting there alone and you may not be saying anything, so it’s very hard to actually become a stakeholder in the class when you’re doing it online,” says I. Elaine Allen, co-director of the Babson Survey Research Group, which conducts research on education, including online education.
Here are some ways online students can become self-motivated learners in their online education program. Prospective students should remember these tips to both aid them when completing their applications and understand what might be expected of them to succeed as they decide whether online learning is a good fit.
• Block off times for studying each week: In an online course, students – especially working adults – should set aside the time they will need strictly for coursework, experts say.
If working adults don't carve out time, they'll be catching up until 1 or 2 a.m., Allen says. "It's very important to treat it as though it is a class where you're going to have to show up."
• Keep the end goal in mind: As an online student, remember the ultimate goal – the degree, for instance, or career advancement – and stay motivated by working toward it.
• Create a calendar for assignment due dates: By writing down all the assignments they have to complete and their due dates, online students can stay motivated as they check off items one by one, Morrison says. During the application process, prospective online students might similarly create a spreadsheet to keep track of when certain materials are due, for instance.
Darin Kapanjie, managing director of online and digital learning recommends that current online students use whatever technological means they find best – for example, phone alerts or email reminders – to let them know about certain "check points" they need to achieve each week, such as a board post on Monday and a group project meeting on Friday.
"Whatever avenue that you like to keep up with your regular communication, whether it be text or email or whatever, find a way to integrate that into your academic life so you're up to date," he says.
• Connect with students: Whether it's being constantly involved in discussion board conversations or creating a Facebook group for the students in an online class, online students might maintain their interest if they engage with and get perspectives from classmates, experts say – the same way they might reach out to online students at potential institutions before applying to get a sense of the workload and online course teaching styles.