The concept of online learning scares many people and it’s a good idea to try it on for size before committing. Some people only want to be online to surf the Internet, update their Twitter feed, or catch up on emails–not to earn a degree. To them, universities are big buildings with massive lecture halls and a good bar nearby. However, that tide is turning with more and more adult learners looking for affordable and convenient online universities.
Perhaps you’re in that phase of your life that was once labeled “middle aged.” I’m almost there myself, although I steadfastly adhere to the modern adage that 40 is the new 30, and 50 is the new 40. Maybe when I turn 100, I will be told that it’s the new 70.
You’re never too old to go back to school to earn a degree or certificate. With a wealth of online schools out there to choose from, a person with a full-time job, a big family, a busy lifestyle–or someone with all (or none) of the above–can achieve greatness. It just takes sacrifice, patience, understanding and time management.
Here are a few more tips to better prepare yourself if you intend to return to school while being the “New 30” or the “New 40”:
1. Meet with the loved ones
If you have spouse or a family with an already hectic schedule, it’s vital that you sit down and explain that you’ll need some time alone to study or complete assignments. It’s a good idea to look at all the upcoming family events together–especially the weekends–and ink in when you’ll be at the laptop so that there are no surprises. Don’t ever plan your studying with an iron fist though. Compromising is key.
2. Plan your days, weeks and even months
Once everyone who is important to you is on board with your plan to return to school as an online learner, it’s time to chart out the course ahead. There will be lots of reading–you’ll feel like all you do is read–and that is why you need to examine your syllabus and create a solid reading schedule. Some of the more extensive humanities courses require 50-100 pages of reading in any given week. On top of the reading is the online class participation and writing assignments due most weeks. So, use an old-fashioned calendar, your smartphone, or whatever works best for you to schedule your educational tasks.
3. Create your ideal study space
Sitting down to read on your homes communal couch is a bad plan. You need to locate a quiet spot and set it up as your educational working space. Some people prefer a spare bedroom with a comfy chair; others are better online learners if they are at a desk. Either way, if you’re the kind who is easily distracted by a loud TV or an animated conversation, don’t exile your loved ones–instead maybe put on one of those handy ‘white noise’ machines and drown out everything with some crashing ocean waves. Or just shove in some ear plugs!
4. Don’t get sidetracked
In today’s distracted world of social media obsession, binge watching TV, and general pop-culture noise all around, it’s important to keep everything turned off during your study time. Be prepared to shut it all down for the two or three hours you’ve set aside to get your papers completed.
5. Interact with your peers and professor
Nearly all online classrooms are set up with peer interaction in mind and many of your peers have a great deal to offer you. So, engage in the discussion boards and utilize email if you’re stuck on an assignment. Additionally, don’t assume that just because you are studying in an online environment that your professor isn’t there to help you and engage you. Video chat, regular chat, emails and screen sharing are usually all options and make for excellent communication channels with a professor.
6. Take an occasional break
We all know the clichÃ© — all work and no play, etc. — and it’s valid! One of the most negative things you might do as a full-time online student is to immerse yourself in your schooling so much that you forget about the other important people, places, and activities in your life. So, schedule a family brunch or a bike ride with a pal on some of your weekends. School doesn’t need to consume your life
7. Pat yourself on the back
Once you start getting good grades in your first courses at school, there is no better feeling. Reward yourself and just go ahead and brag as much you want. Your friends and family won’t be bristled by your gloating; of course they’ll embrace it–especially if you’ve kept them as a big part of your life while you persevered with your education.
Ultimately, an adult learner with a busy lifestyle (and a boat load of commitments and stressors compared to a 19-year-old college freshman) can still succeed admirably — if they stay committed to the task and stay focused on the goal.
By Glynn Cosker
Online Learning Tips Contributor