Contrary to popular belief, success in online degree programs has little to do with the personality, ability level or academic calibre of a student. Indeed, according to recent studies below-average students actually perform better in distance education courses if they finish them, while average or above-average students perform about the same as in traditional classroom settings.
Far more integral to distance learning success is the ability to adopt and use specific work habits and specialized study skills. Here are, in what we believe to be in their order of importance, the key habits and skills students should adopt in order to maximize their learning potential and academic success in online degree programs:
- Continually strive to keep yourself motivated
We believe consistent motivation is the key ingredient for success in distance learning. While hopefully the subject you choose to study will in itself be consistently motivating to you, there are some other things you can do to help maintain your interest and enthusiasm over the long-term:
- Form "virtual study groups" with like-minded people you meet online. If you don't have anyone in mind for this, ask you instructor to make some connections for you.
- Continually ask for feedback from your instructor on your progress. Keep a steady, open dialogue at all times.
- Simply maintaining a high level of organization can be motivating in itself. If you keep records that show you exactly much you are achieving as you progress through the program, it can help give you day-to-day inspiration required to make it through your program.
- Discover your own effective, idiosyncratic motivators. This may include some sort of reward system for doing various taskes, or booking a deserved trip at a date you would like to have completed the program by, or dressing in full, "power" work clothes when you go to your computer to work. We are all different!
- Manage your time efficiently and diligently; avoid procrastination
While most colleges and universities will require you to take responsibility for being aware of and meeting deadlines, this is even more true in distance education programs. If possible, place yourself on a weekly schedule to cover all material and complete all assignments. Typically, you should block off at least 10 hours per week for each distance education course you take. Regular use of a date book proves to be a great help for many people.
- Choose a work environment or work environments that are productive for you
For some, this will mean a place free of all social, audible and visual distractions, while for others this may mean a social atmsphere with people working diligently but quietly around you (like a library). If you don't already know what you perform best in, try both and measure your performance. For some, a frequent change of atmosphere may boost productivity levels - distance learning permits you to learn in this manner like no other form of learning. Do try to find locations that are ergonomically sound.
Also included in this point are the technical aspects of distance learning. If possible, equip yourself with the fastest internet connection available (DSL or cable preferable), and the best and/or most compatible computer hardware you can acquire. Keep in mind, used equipment can often easily exceed your technical needs, and save you up to 50% or more in aquisition costs.
- Learn about all of the resources available to you, and use them strategically
When you begin a particular course, you will likely be presented with
contact information (email, phone, physical address, etc.) for the course instructor, as well as any TAs and relevant support staff. Do not
ever feel reluctant to make full use of these contacts should you have any questions. As well, view your fellow students, as well as former ones
in the program you are taking as valuable resources you are entitled to make use of.
Outside of your actual courses, there are often many more resources available to you at an educational institution than most people realize. Librarians can become your best friends (just don't have any overdue books!).
Often you will find career guidance centers, archivists, IT support staff, specialized centers of research and study
whose responsibilities do include looking after student needs. Familiarize yourself with all aspects and features of the institution you attend.