Online learning has a host of benefits compared with traditional formats, but it does require discipline and hard work to get the most out of your programme.
So long as you meet assignment deadlines and maintain steady progress, you can set your own schedule. This flexibility makes our programmes accessible to many people who might not otherwise be able to study, but it requires strict diligence to not fall behind.
Many of UJ's online students continue to work full-time, meaning that they have to make time for their studies amid all their other work and life commitments. Few things that are worth achieving come easily, but as our many successful graduates can attest, it is entirely possible to maintain a healthy work and life balance through the course of your studies.
It is important to remember that even though you may be studying by yourself at home, you are not alone on this journey. UJ provides support and assistance throughout your programme, and the online learning platform structure encourages students to engage with and encourage each other.
Here are some tips to help you navigate this online learning journey:
Time management strategies
Creating an effective study space
Staying motivated and engaged
Building a support network
TIME MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES
Time is quite possibly the most precious thing that we have. Managing your time well is essential throughout life, especially when you are studying online while juggling other responsibilities.
Mastering time management enables students to maximise their productivity, reduce stress and improve their academic performance. Here are some strategies you can use to better manage your time during your online learning journey.
Prioritise your tasks
When balancing multiple responsibilities, you will likely have a lot of things competing for your attention. This is when prioritising your tasks is important to avoid becoming overwhelmed and missing important deadlines.
A useful technique is to use the Eisenhower Box or Eisenhower Method to help you decide which tasks to deal with at a given moment. Assign each of your tasks to one of the following four categories: urgent and important, important but not urgent, urgent but not important and neither urgent nor important. This can help greatly in avoiding unnecessary distractions, while also ensuring that you don’t get so caught up in one task that you lose sight of the bigger picture or neglect anything important.
Create a daily schedule
Structuring your day can significantly enhance your productivity and reduce your stress. The flexibility of online learning means that you can schedule your studies at the times that work best for you. There’s no need to force yourself through 7 a.m. lectures if you are a night owl and likewise, you can schedule studies early in the morning before the household wakes up if you are an early riser who lives in a busy home.
Schedule your study hours and break times so that you have enough time set aside from other responsibilities. Try to stick to it as much as possible and only adjust it when you have to. Be sure to also set time aside to rest and relax so that you don’t burn yourself out.
Set realistic goals and break up tasks
You must be realistic about how much you can do in a given time. While it can be difficult to estimate how long it will take to complete a large and complex task, it becomes much easier if you break the task down into smaller milestones. This will make large projects feel less intimidating and it also helps give a sense of ongoing progress to keep you motivated.
Use time management apps
There are numerous time management apps designed to assist you in organising your tasks, setting reminders and tracking your progress. Use these tools to your advantage to stay on top of your responsibilities.
Procrastination can be a major barrier to effective time management and some people struggle with it more than others. Strategies to combat this include the “Pomodoro technique“, where you work for a set amount of time (usually 25 minutes), then take a short break (usually 5 minutes), repeating this process until the task is done. This combines well with breaking up larger tasks and helps maintain motivation and focus.
CREATING AN EFFECTIVE STUDY SPACE
We’ve covered the importance of setting aside time for your studies, but it can be beneficial to set aside a space for your studies. Each person’s home situation differs and not everyone has the space to set aside a room, but you can designate a space such as a desk or table that you work at regularly.
This workspace should be free of distractions. The space does not need to be large, but it should ideally be well-lit and allow you to sit comfortably (and with good posture) for extended periods.
Working on a mobile device such as a laptop does allow you the flexibility to study from anywhere and it may be tempting to work from the local coffee shop, but having a set workspace also helps you get into the study mindset. This isn’t to say that you can’t work from elsewhere, but the first barrier to starting a study session should not be answering the question of “Where can I find space to work?”
STAYING MOTIVATED AND ENGAGED
Keeping yourself motivated is important to get you through the duration of your course. Starting things is usually easy, but seeing them through to the end takes diligence and discipline and that comes with self-motivation.
Although most of the programmes offered take a year or longer to complete, they are broken into smaller modules. Each module lasts for seven weeks, with a one-week gap until the next one. This breaks the programme up into smaller and more manageable chunks. The week-long break also gives you some time to recharge and rest before taking on the next module.
UJ's online learning platform and our ethos encourage you to engage with your student peers. Chatting with other students facing the same challenges can provide much comfort and motivation.
Regular interaction with your classmates and instructors through online forums and group discussions will enrich your learning experience while also keeping you motivated and accountable.
Should you find your motivation wavering at any stage, it is important to remind yourself of your goals and why you chose to begin an online qualification in the first place. Remembering the reasons, whether they be for personal interest or career advancement, will help you to “keep your eye on the prize”.
BUILDING A SUPPORT NETWORK
There’s an old proverb that says “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This is as true for academics as it is for long-distance running.
As we mentioned above, the UJ online learning platform both allows and encourages engagement with other students in your programme. With these structures in place, there is no reason ever to feel isolated or that you are going it alone. Unlike some huge online course providers, you are not just an anonymous log-in name on the system.
Ideally, you will also have the full support of many friends and family, but this is not always the case. Even without the support of friends or family, most people can find at least one person – be they a mentor, colleague or friend – who they can turn to for support and motivation.
The university also places a strong focus on ensuring that students are supported throughout their studies. This is an aspect of UJ's online programmes that many graduates talk about with high praise. As some graduates have remarked, they were pleasantly surprised to have university staff phone them to ask how their studies were going.
As a UJ student, you will have access to UJ’s many support services, from academic and technical support to assistance with career placements and mental health services. To learn more about the support available, please have a look at our article on student support services.