Sometimes, taking a course can feel like you are scaling a tall building, but the rewards can be great. It’s a wonderful feeling of achievement when you finish, but the journey can be challenging.
To succeed at online learning, you need more than ambition. You also need a sound strategy to turn those dreams into reality. Having completed more than 180 online courses since late 2012, I have developed some strategies to continue learning into the future.
Here are eight ways to finish that course and one approach for if it isn’t working out.
For your convenience, click on a section to jump straight to it:
1. Have a WHY:
Understand your motivation for taking the course. Is it to advance your career? Change to a new career? Learn about a topic because you were always interested but never had the chance before?
Where do you fit in this article that discusses various types of learners??
2. Don’t spend too much time choosing your course:
With thousands of online courses available, the options can be overwhelming. Take the time to choose carefully, but don’t spend all your study time deciding which course to do.
Read course information pages, the course outline or syllabus, and reviews from other learners to help decide.
3. Spend your time studying, not just thinking about it:
In love with the idea of doing a course, but when it’s time to actually start, you think of a million other things to do instead? This is classic procrastination. Yes, I am as guilty as many others.
It’s time for a Pomodoro or two. This technique, introduced by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s, is simple. Turn off distracting notifications and set a timer for 25 minutes. Focus on your course until the timer rings. Take a short break and repeat. It’s amazing how much you can achieve when you concentrate. If your mind starts to wander away from your course, bring your thoughts back to it and keep going. If you think of a task you need to do, make a quick note and get back to your course.
Want some more hacks to stay focused? Check out our crowdsourced list.
4. Make it a habit:
Time and time again, top achievers tell us that they made it to their current place in life by perseverance. Just doing what needs to be done day after day. Set aside a regular time each day. Even a short daily time adds up and you will finish that course! Or if daily doesn’t work, set your study habits for particular days each week and stick to them.
Making it a habit means there is less effort needed to actually start each day. Your routine says “Do this now,” and you can start without those internal debates about whether or not you should be doing something else “urgent”.
Phone and calendar reminders make it easier to stay organized, but don’t ignore them when they appear.
5. Time management:
Not sure when you will fit in your study? Look at your commitments and work out when to work on your course. Even though a daily habit is best, your own timetable may simply not allow you to study every day. Plan out times a few days each week, or even just one day, if that is the only way you can manage it. Then make it your highest priority and stick to your course at those times. Don’t let distractions get in your way.
6. Organize your work space:
Allocating study time is great, but it is less great if you spend half of that time searching for writing equipment and paper, and creating a virtual folder on your device. Try to get organized before you set your Pomodoro so you are not distracted by housekeeping tasks that could have been done in small snippets of time beforehand.
Here are seven tools that may help you learn more easily. Again, if possible, prepare what you need before your allocated learning time.
7. Think of the small steps and break it down:
Starting a new course can be exciting, but also daunting. If you are feeling swamped, figure out achievable interim goals. Aim for a realistic daily or weekly commitment. If you start slipping behind in your program, decide if you can catch up or if you need to re-assess your study plan.
Many people achieve more with SMART goals. And taking effective notes can cut down on the time you need to spend on your course.
8. Rewards for small achievements:
Give yourself rewards for your achievements. Just don’t spend so much time on planning or taking rewards that you skimp on your study time. And make sure you don’t get your reward until you have actually completed the task.
And finally: don’t be afraid to drop it if it isn’t worth the effort:
You may have started with high hopes, but discover that the course is not what you expected. It might not be as interesting as you thought it would be. Or is it too basic or too hard? Perhaps the time needed to finish the course is more than you are willing to invest, particularly if you are doing it purely for personal interest. I spent hours on the homework in my first astronomy course before the liberating realization that I really didn’t need to pass the tests. I could simply watch the videos and gain some knowledge without the stress and brain strain.
This isn’t an option if you need the course for a big picture goal such as career advancement. Sometimes we just need to knuckle down and grind our way through a difficult or boring course for the long-term benefits. If you are really struggling, though, you may be able to take a more basic or easier course before tackling the difficult one again.
How to Finish a Course was first published at Online Learning Success.