In a previous post, I discussed how to get back on track when you feel overwhelmed. This article is aimed at getting the train out of the station in the first place.
There is a difference in how you study subjects for classes that you take face-to-face and those you access online. One of the best actions you can take in distance learning is to read ahead. Set up a folder on your computer for each subject. Skim the text, then make an outline for each class. The outline will give you the big picture. You can then fill in the gaps through the lectures and homework. With an outline, you will know what questions to ask in the short time you have available with the teacher. During the meeting, pull up your outline and fill in the detail directly. Or take notes on your computer, and electronically cut and paste. Being able to use your computer during class time is an advantage that distance learners have over most traditional students.
College students are often told to set up a quiet area for study, where they will not be interrupted. This is often not a realistic possibility for most distance learners. If you are not already working in an office where you face constant interruptions, multi-tasking, and change of direction on a moment’s notice, that is where you are headed with your new degree. You will do yourself an enormous favor if you can learn to shut out distractions no matter where you end up studying: on the train on the way to work; during your lunch hour at your desk; at the kitchen table with the kids screaming for dinner. Let the full-time onsite college students set up their study rooms with the proper lighting and the QUIET, I’M THINKING signs. Most likely, you will not have that luxury. Instead of being frustrated because the common wisdom about studying doesn’t fit your real life, adjust your mental attitude to work with the hand you’ve been dealt. You’ll end up way ahead of the game in the end, anyhow.
Traditional students are also often told to set up a schedule. Study the same things at the same time every day, goes the conventional wisdom. Once again, a schedule is a luxury you may not get. That’s okay. Your brain only works in high gear for a short period at a time, anyway. After ten minutes to half an hour at the most, your brain cells suffer fatigue and need to be recharged. Don’t feel bad about only having ten minutes here or there to fit in your homework. Given any opportunity, pick a subject, concentrate on it, then, when time’s up, shift focus entirely.
If you can manage a schedule, take short breaks often, standing up to stretch and walk around a bit. Have the materials ready for at least two courses at one time. Focus on one subject for one period of study, then switch to the other after a break. Your brain will continue to chunk the data you’ve ingested so far on the first subject, even as you concentrate on the second. When you return to the first subject, you may be surprised at how much more sense it will make.