Albert Einstein once said “If A is success in life, then A = X + Y +Z. Work is X; Y is play; and Z is keeping your mouth shut.” I’m not sure about Z, but all are important elements of a balanced and productive life. Attaining and maintaining that balance is crucial for success in successfully completing an online education program.
We frequently ask Virtual College students how they maintain balance in their lives as they pursue an associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degree online. The answers are sometimes amusing, but underneath the humor is a very obvious dedication to completing something they started. One student wrote, “I have a job that goes until about 6:00 in the evening. Then I go pick up my two kids, go home, fix dinner, help with their schoolwork, get them in the bath and get them to bed. So my school day starts about 10:00 p.m. With luck, I get to bed about 1:00 a.m. But only a year and a half left – and then hopefully a better job and more time with the family – or sleeping!”
Obviously, self-discipline is very important to succeed in an online degree program. You have to make time to get the class assignments done and submitted, and you have to make time to study and learn the material. Our best students have learned to be organized and to make the most of the time they have available.
Most online programs today use a learning management system, or LMS, to facilitate the delivery of course material. You may be familiar with Blackboard, Moodle, Angel, WebCT, or other systems. They are similar in function, providing a “virtual classroom” for online students. They’re accessible anywhere you have an internet connection, and while I wouldn’t try to do a whole course on a smartphone, it probably could be done. Most don’t require that you be a tech guru, but you do have to be comfortable learning new ways to do things.
Log in at least three times a week to make sure you know what’s going on. If you have technical problems, get help at your earliest opportunity. If you’re taking an exam online, turn off everything on your computer except the exam (no music streaming, etc.). I would also suggest that you make sure you have all the bandwidth that’s available in your house or apartment. The kids watching Hulu or Netflix in the next room will eat up a lot of your internet connection and could cause problems while you’re taking the exam. Have them watch a DVD instead for that hour or so. Taking care of this before going into the exam will go a long way to ensuring that your computer won’t lock up on you or kick you out of the exam space.
Contact your professors and support services early in the semester or course term. A lot of people think that an online course isn’t interactive just because people are separated by geography. Not true. As an instructor, some of the best interactions I’ve had with students have been in my online classes. Be proactive. In addition to your submissions, share some of your thoughts with your professor. Ask questions – especially if you are having trouble with any of the assignments. Find out early what student support services are available and appropriate for a given class – library online databases, tutoring services, writing centers, financial aid, etc. – and connect with them for assistance.
Stay in close contact with your advisor. Talk to your advisor at a minimum of once a semester, more often if necessary. They will reach out to you throughout the year. When they do, respond as soon as you can.
I think the final thing, but perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is “How badly do I want this degree?” There are sacrifices to be made, a lot of hard work to be done, and there will be times when the end is not clearly in sight and your determination may waver. As Stephen Covey (author of The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People) said, “Begin with the end in mind.” Start your educational journey knowing all the good things that will come from attaining a higher level of education, and stay focused on your goal.
If you have any questions about learning at a distance, or about our programs, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re always here to help you.