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Staying Focused, On Task, and On Schedule with Online Education

If you've decided to pursue an online degree or take courses at an accredited online school, time is certainly on your side, along with plenty of flexibility to work at your own pace and on your own time. But with that flexibility comes quite a lot of responsibility. Because most online education is self-directed, you will need to stay motivated and focused in order to stay on task and finish your courses to complete your degree. While many students are attracted to the autonomous nature of online education, others can find it difficult to maintain the self-motivation necessary for success. These guidelines will help you get started and stay on track with your online education.

Set a Schedule -- and Stick With It

Many online courses and degree programs offer very flexible schedules, allowing students to set their own pace and work when it's convenient for them. But many of these programs also set a time limit within which courses must be completed (usually a certain number of months). Students who procrastinate will find themselves rushing to the finish line at the end of that time period, which can put them at risk for not finishing the course and not getting as much out of it as they would with steady and consistent work. So, it's a good idea to set a schedule within the allotted time for the course.

  • Set deadlines for specific material in the course syllabus
  • Mark your calendar with your deadlines, appointments to log into the course, and key dates for interaction with the teacher and other students
  • Set a timer and reminders on your computer for all deadlines and appointments


Treat your deadlines and appointments as seriously as you would a meeting with a potential employer. After all, they are just as important as they will help ensure your employability upon earning your degree.

Login Consistently and Regularly

Don't allow the lure of other tasks to keep you from your goals. Make a point of logging in to your online courses as consistently and regularly as possible. It's a good goal to login daily, Monday through Friday, but at least two or three days per week can help keep you motivated. This regularity will help you mimic the Tuesday/Thursday or Monday/Wednesday/Friday meeting schedule typical at traditional campus-based schools, which helps students stay on a steady track toward completion of the course. And the more you logon, the more opportunities you will have to collaborate with other classmates and the teacher, which can also help you stay motivated and increase your interest in the course's subject matter.

Get the Right Equipment

Staying on track with online education is impossible without the right equipment for your courses. Fortunately, most online degree programs require little more than a relatively new (purchased within the last three years) computer and a high-speed internet connection. Depending on the course, you may need special software or a DVD player or other electronic equipment. Make sure you understand all the required equipment well in advance of when the course begins. If you don't have everything you need from the start, you are more likely to set a pattern of procrastination. And be sure not to skimp on your internet connection. This is not an area in which money-saving measures like settling for a dial-up connection will work in your favor. If your internet connection is slow, your motivation to logon to your courses and collaborate with other students will likely decrease, just as your frustration with loading pages and downloading materials will grow. Make sure your internet connection is fast to help keep you on track.

Set up a Work/Study Area

Having a quiet and private area in your home to work on your studies can help you minimize distractions and stay focused. If you have an extra room to set up as an office/study room, this is certainly ideal, but you need not dedicate an entire room to your online courses. A room divider, screen, or curtain can do the job of partitioning off a corner of a room for a desk and your computer and other necessary equipment. It also helps to let other family members, housemates, and anyone else living in your home know when you are studying so as to minimize distractions and interruptions. An attractive Do Not Disturb sign or Student At Work sign can be a handy addition to your study area.

Get Out of the House

Even if you have a private study area in your own home, you may find it nice and motivating to change your scenery every now and then. Some students who work on online course material on a laptop computer find it useful to work from internet cafes occasionally, especially if the laundry or dirty dishes at home prove too distracting to ignore. Take advantage of cozy cafes and free wi-fi as long as they enhance -- rather than hinder -- your online course productivity.

Discuss, Contribute, and Network

A great advantage of many online degree programs is the collaboration opportunities available. Many online courses offer opportunities to collaborate via online communication forums and discussion groups, e-mail exchanges among the teacher and students, and live chat tools. Taking advantage of these opportunities to network and collaborate with your teachers and peers can help improve your course performance, minimize the isolation that sometimes comes with online coursework, and increase the overall social feel and enjoyment of your courses.

Prioritize -- and Publicize -- Your Goals

Keep in mind the goals you set when you decided to undertake an online degree program or online coursework. Perhaps you wanted to earn a degree as a step toward a fulfilling career. You might have had in mind further training to take a new step in your career, change career paths, or earn necessary continuing education credits. Whatever your goals, remind yourself of them throughout the course period. Remembering the longer term goals that your courses are serving can help keep you motivated. Consider writing your goals on colorful paper and displaying them in your study area, in a visible spot that you are likely to see every day. A daily reminder can sometimes give you the nudge you need when you might otherwise be tempted to procrastinate. Also consider letting your close friends, family members, and colleagues know about your goals. Forming a network of close contacts who support you and your educational goals can provide a source of regular encouragement and accountability, helping keep you motivated and on track to complete your online degree.

Whatever steps you take to help stay focused on your online coursework, one of the most important things to remember is to always take your educational goals seriously. You signed on for your degree program for specific reasons, and those reasons should be honored through regular and consistent work. Respect yourself and your educational goals, and the steps you need to take to excel at your online coursework will likely fall right into place.

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