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Lack of Time for Learning Online? Try These Goal-Setting Strategies!

written by: •edited by: Donna Cosmato•updated: 3/21/2012

Distance education students, learn how to make the most effective use of your time and resources with these goal-setting tips and tricks!

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    Whether busy with parenting or leading a full-time career (or sometimes both!), distance education students are bound to confront many obstacles when it comes to managing their time effectively. Online programs are often more flexible than residential programs in that they do not have the structure of a set schedule of lectures and in-class assignments. Likely, the class meets online once a week, or assignments are due at particular times of the month or even at the end of a semester. Some learners simply have to complete all of the work by a given date and send it back. This can lead to challenges for all online students in finding the time or motivation required to complete a distance degree. Here, you will learn how to set goals over the course of your study that will confront these challenges and optimize your time.

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    Create a Time Budget

    Many people take online degrees or certificate programs because they already lead full and busy lives. Many of these programs are offered on a part-time or evening basis, and often course times are set to allow students a degree of flexibility. Because of this flexibility, it is very important to make a realistic budget of your time that will allow you estimate what you can accomplish and to see if there's anything you may need to give up in the process.

    Use a weekly planner, or use a piece of paper to chart out a typical week of your schedule. Fill in all of your obligations and things in your life that cannot budge: your work hours, family dinners, appointments, meetings, spending time with your children, sleep. Add in the things that aren't as necessary but that you'd still like to do during your week: Do you jog or bike, or do you see a weekly movie? Is there still any empty space in your schedule? Do you have room for learning?

    Many people are amazed by what visually blocking out a schedule can do. They can find space in their day that they never realized was there. This visual medium allows a quick and easy shift of scheduling events to put more free time together in your day to allow for learning. Use the free time in your schedule to set realistic goals for when you can get work done. Schedule in your learning time on the page and devote those hours to your education. If you can, setting aside time every day for course work will help you the most.

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    Micromanage Your Deadlines

    Long distance goal-setting is extremely important in completing a distance program, even more so than residential programs. The coursework of many programs is only due at particular times of the year: once a month, at the end of a semester, and some programs may even require a portfolio of all course materials that isn't due until the end of the year! It is essential for students to break down their workload into manageable portions to complete throughout the year so those deadlines don't spring up out of nowhere.

    This means setting daily, weekly, or monthly goals throughout the year that will help you avoid procrastination and ensure that you can micromanage a large amount of work. Look through your course outlines and examine all large course objectives and deadlines. Estimate the total work required for each and break these daunting tasks into smaller, manageable pieces. Then assign these pieces to time periods that you hope to have them finished by. In essence, you are setting up your own deadlines for completion. For example, if a large research paper is required, plan to have your research completed by week A, your first draft completed by week B, and revisions completed by week C. Divide tasks realistically and you’ll see that you won’t have an immense amount of work waiting for you a week before the deadline.

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    Plan for Unpredictability

    Even the most goal-oriented distance education student will come across obstacles they didn't expect. The next step in the goal-setting process is allowing for unpredictability. You may have planned every day of your semester, but make sure you leave room for life to get in the way. Unexpected things can, and do, happen.

    Plan on having your material ready at least a week before course materials are submitted. That way if anything comes up, you are prepared and can push back assignments if need be. Giving yourself a little room for error will leave you less stressed later on if something should come up over the course of your year. If you can manage it, plan with even more leeway than that.

    As well, become familiar with your resources before you even begin your courses; you will have a much higher chance of succeeding when it comes to using your time effectively. Your university library or local public library can be important tools for your course work. In case of a downed Internet connection, a busy move during the year, or other events that sometimes arise when we didn't expect them, having a plan in place for resource and information gathering will help you complete your work and stick to your goals.