Going back to school can be a daunting task, especially when you’re doing it online. At a physical school you will have a set time to go to class, teachers to guide you, and peers to work with. In contrast, with online courses there is no set structure. But this is where our guide comes in.

These tips will show you the door, but you will have to open it.

Tip #1: Create a Space

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It goes without saying that to get work done (studying counts as work) you will need a physical space. A space devoid of distractions, well lit, tidy, and zen.

These spaces could be an office (obvious), a public library, a kitchen table with caution tape blocking the entrance warning family and friends to not disturb, or sprawled in bed. The choices are endless, just find somewhere that is quiet, comfortable, and puts you in the right headspace.

Speaking of headspace, this is the true space you need to find. Your physical study location might change, and to make that work you need to create/find/conjure a ‘I’m going to study’ headspace.

How to get to your headspace:

  • Put your seat in its upright position
  • Switch your phone to airplane mode
  • Breath in
  • Breath out
  • Set a goal for your study session

Tip #2: Set Achievable Goals

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Have you set a New Years Resolution? Have you broken it already?

Many goals that we set for ourselves are unrealistic. We say we’re going to go to the gym five times a week, only have drinks on the weekends, read one book a week, but we end up failing to meet these goals. Then the snowball effect takes place, where one day of not going to the gym turns into two, into three, and we eventually become discouraged and give up entirely.

You need to start by setting smaller goals, SMART goals. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. This a mnemonic/acronym usually used in the context of business, but we can make it work here.

For each study session set a SMART goal. Go over the learning outcomes for the unit you are studying and pick one or two outcomes that you want to master. As time goes on you will become better at determining what is achievable in each study session and at that point you can fully flesh out the bigger goals.

As they say, you need to walk before you can run. Speaking of walks, sometimes they’re better with a friend. (Not so subtle transition)

Tip #3: Form a Group

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This is easier said than done when it comes to online learning.

You don’t have the advantage of classmates that are taking the course at the same time. And Saylor Academy’s online courses are self paced and always open, meaning that everybody studying your course will probably be ahead or behind you. That being said, we encourage all our students to participate in the forums, but we understand the difficulties in finding a group to help you study.

So, form a group in the real world. If you are taking a course for work then find a colleague that could use the same course. Find a friend (a good friend) and ask (or bribe) them into taking the course with you. If all else fails you can teach a friend or family member (pets count) what you have learned.

By teaching someone what you have learned you will be helping yourself retain the information. However, you wouldn’t want to do this randomly, you should instead set a time each week to discuss your course. This will be another goal that will help give you structure to your studies and help you set a schedule.   

“First I’ll take you for a long walk and then I’ll teach you all about small business management.”

Tip #4: Get out your Calendar

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Without a physical school, or a time sensitive MOOC (massive open online course), you will need to set your own schedule.

There is freedom to our online courses always being open with no time limit, but this can also make taking a course a little overwhelming.

Once you have taken a unit or two, and know what to set for SMART study session goals, you can begin to set your overall schedule.

Start by picking a day, or multiple days, during the week to study. Then, with your knowledge of how much you can retain/learn in a single study session, create a timeline with a completion date. Add a week for a course review onto that timeline.

Don’t forget to add in your teaching and/or group meet ups to your schedule.

You have your SMART goals set, a group, and a schedule. Now the fun begins.

Tip #5: Have Fun

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No matter what you are studying you should endeavor to make it fun. Sometimes the course you are studying is in itself interesting and in turn fun to explore, but this might not always be the case.

Adding in some fun:

  • Create a game out of fact/concept retention.
  • Reward yourself.
    • A favorite food.
    • Reasonable retail therapy.
      • There is something on your wishlist, so have it be conditional that you complete the course (or a portion) before buying. Reward yourself.
  • Take breaks, especially if your study session goes over an hour.

Honorable study tip mentions.

  • Take notes.
    • It can be easy to forgo in depth note taking when you know all the learning material will always be at your fingertips. Writing down notes while watching a lecture video or reading a document is another way to help you retain the information.
  • Quiz yourself.
    • Many Saylor Academy courses have unit quizzes, but you should create your own quizzes. After you create the quizzes, with the answers written down separately, don’t take them until your final review week.
  • Go old-school and print
    • You might be used to having physical learning materials to highlight and take notes on, so head to the printer.

You are almost ready.

All that is left to do is to highlight some Saylor Academy courses that can help you get started.

An obvious course to start with is Introduction to Learning on Saylor Academy. The course runs down how to set up your account and how to navigate through a course.

Another good course to start with is Time & Stress Management. The course title says it all, and it could be a good foundation for setting up your schedule for the courses you will eventually take.

Finally there is a course we host called LiDA (Learning in a Digital Age). We do not have an exam and certificate for this course, but it is a good resource to use.

Explore our course catalog and see if there is anything you need/want to study.

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