How to Develop a Self Disciplined Routine for Online Studying

The creation and expansion of the internet has literally changed the world as we know it. In the world of education, development of online courses has given those who find it difficult or impossible to attend traditional classroom sessions the opportunity to learn a skill, enhance their resume, obtain a degree or just learn for enjoyment. Full time employees, parents with small children at home, disabled or chronically ill persons and their caretakers, and even students who find it challenging to fit all of their courses into a weekly schedule can take advantage of online courses, or e-learning as it is sometimes called. Regardless of the reasons for choosing an electronic delivery method, there are significant differences between traditional classroom participation and attendance in an online course. Without self-discipline, the semester tends to "slip away" before the student realizes that he or she has fallen behind. Being successful in online study takes a certain degree of self discipline.


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    Read the syllabus. In a traditional classroom environment, the professor or instructor typically spends a majority of the first class period going over the syllabus and schedule for the class and answering questions that may arise. However, in an online course, this is your responsibility.
    • The syllabus is considered on par with a legal document in some institutions and you are bound by its parameters, so be familiar with them.
    • Ask questions via e-mail or other communication tool about anything you would like to have clarified.
    • Many professors will make allowances if difficulties come up. However, this is for things such as recovering from surgery, or a parent dying, or a natural disaster. Not submitting your test because you had to make Christmas dinner is not.
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    Consider the challenges you will have in an online class format. In most lower-level educational settings, the environment is structured: Accounting meets Monday and Wednesdays at 9:30, for example. But many classes allow the student to essentially participate whenever and wherever the student desires. While this comes with incredible benefits, there are also some common pitfalls. For example:
    • Do you tend to procrastinate? If so, you may need to structure your learning so you do not try to cram a semester's worth of education into a frantic week.
    • Is time organization an issue? Online learning means you are responsible for your progress, so if you have a hard time with using time wisely, you will have to problem-solve.
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    Keep a calendar. Buy one, download one, create one on your PC, laptop or phone, but get a calendar! Especially for adults, it is difficult to keep track of dates. And you cannot rely on your instructor to remind you of every assignment and exam date; his or her job is not to keep your organized.
    • Consider keeping a checklist of things that you need to do so you can check them off one by one. Sit down and fill out that calendar at the beginning of the course so that you will always know ahead of time what is due on what date.
    • Check that calendar on a daily basis! This tool is useless if you do not refer to it.
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    If you have a question, ask it! In online courses, the professor has no way of knowing you are confused, or need clarification, or help if you do not speak up! You may enjoy the anonymity of an online course, or you may hate missing out on the classroom interaction, but there is no reason to have a question go unanswered just because you are "home alone" when the question arises.
    • If you ask a question of your professor (especially in a text) and get a short, terse response, do not take it as a rude response. A simple question will likely yield a simple answer. Also, If a professor has 50 students, it is not really possible to give an elaborate answer to each student. Or, if you need a more detailed answer, simply ask for it.
    • Consider talking to your professor face-to-face in his/her office if that is possible or he/she may ask you to phone or a Skype session.
    • Most professors and instructors prefer to a more complete answer via e-mail or other communication tool. "After-hours" is usually when instructors have time to devote answers to questions. Very often online professors have classes on a campus, or have another job such as a high school English teacher, a practicing doctor, or is a stay at home father.
    • Many courses provide or even require students to interact with each other online. Take advantage of the diversity of backgrounds and experiences of your classmates. Share study tips, discuss study topics, even share (sparingly) personal experiences.
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    Schedule study time. You would certainly schedule time to attend a traditional classroom course, wouldn't you? It follows that since you are eliminating the travel time and classroom time required for a traditional class, you would have time to schedule study time for your online course. But "life" has a way of distracting us from non-specific tasks like "studying."
    • You may need to be assertive with your family and friends. Tell them that you need time to study for your online course. "Online" does not mean simply the time you spend on your computer; you need time alone to do the studying or homework required just as you would for a traditional course.
    • If you have young children, you will either need to study when they are asleep or when someone can watch them. Young children will simply not let you study uninterrupted. Sitting young children in front of a television or computer is not recommended.
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    Set up an appropriate study space. What this is will vary a bit from person to person, but it will have minimal distractions. Keep it clear, except for a laptop, tools (e.g. calculator, pencil and scratch paper), and maybe a fidget toy or two to stimulate your brain as you work.
    • If you are a fidgety sort, sit on an exercise ball or give yourself a five-minute break to walk around the room.
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    Start early on your assignments, and make up for missed work early on. Give yourself more time than you think you'll need, just in case you have a problem you didn't foresee or a hectic day in which you can't work.
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    Have integrity. On-line courses are subject to the same code of ethics as any college course. And cheating, plagiarizing, or otherwise committing academic fraud on-line is as serious as doing it in a traditional classroom. Also, as a student, you may learn how to cheat, but you will not actually know the material that you have paid so much money to gain.
    • In some courses, you have unlimited access to study materials. For instance, if you are writing your Master's of Education thesis, you will need to cite studies, books, quotations, research, and so on. And your professor will have a sense of whether you have actually done the work, or have plagiarized or falsified your efforts.
    • In some cases, tests are timed so that students do not have time to look up the answer to every question.
    • Exams are sometimes given on campus at testing centers that are proctored. If you are required to take the final exam in a proctored situation, check the syllabus for the percentage of your grade that depends on that exam. When a student passes every online exam with flying colors then fails miserably on the final exam in a proctored testing center, professors generally understand this as an indication that the student has been cheating.
    • The same goes for plagiarism. The internet has opened a world of research at our fingertips. What a temptation to just "cut and paste" another person's idea and/or findings and present it as our own. Again, your instructor has ways to check that.
    • Most educational institutions have a Student Code of Conduct that addresses cheating and plagiarism. Read it; as it applies to you.


  • In many colleges, you will be required to sign an acknowledgment that you have read, understand and will follow the syllabus before you are cleared to continue with the course.
  • Check with your professor or instructor early in the course to see if he/she will accept assignments early. Most are happy to do so and welcome the opportunity to get a portion of their grading done ahead of the due date.
  • Do not turn a student discussion board topic into a complaint session about the course or the instructor. That has a way of coming back to bite you.
  • As soon as you open the door for a screaming 5-year-old or agree to go out for a pizza with your friends, you have compromised your commitment to study for your online course. If at all possible, create a support group of family and friends who will agree to give you specific study time.
  • Spelling counts! Most professors or instructors are readers - they have achieved mileposts in education that enable them to do what they do. Readers typically are good spellers - not always, but usually. When they see misspellings in essays or even e-mails, they may subconsciously form opinions about the writer - lazy, not conscientious, etc. Use spell-check or a dictionary - it's right at your fingertips on the internet!
  • Before communicating with your professor or fellow students, read an article about "netiquette." Do not use "text" language, especially with your professor - we do not speak "text." Use proper grammar and spelling. Oh, and courtesy - please and thank you!

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Categories: Education and Communications