The Balancing Act: 10 Strategies for Successful Online Learning

women organizing her calendar so she can study online
women organizing her calendar so she can study online

Today’s technology has made online education highly effective and accessible, extending the reach of university programs to working professionals with career advancement aspirations. Since students can continue to work full-time and manage other obligations, flexibility is one of the key benefits of non-traditional higher education. This balancing act, however, requires extra attention to time management strategies for online students.

Recognizing that there are still only 24 hours in a day, this blog offers 10 practical strategies for successful online learning.

1. Stay Organized

Establishing a regular routine is essential to keeping all gears running smoothly. Think of “flexibility” as the freedom to create your own schedule, not to abandon schedules altogether.

A significant advantage of online learning is the convenience of attending class and studying from home. This introduces new variables though, such as different time zones and work schedules that will affect when you can meet with professors and classmates. There will also be plenty of distractions and other responsibilities vying for your time.

Dr. Scott Blandford, Laurier Assistant Professor and Program Coordinator for Policing and Master of Public Safety, offers helpful hints for planning a weekly schedule. He suggests blocking off two time periods each week in your personal/family schedule dedicated to your school time. One block is for reading and note-taking and the other block is for completing the class module. “This requires a family commitment and support for your education,” Dr. Blandford emphasizes.

By creating a schedule and planning ahead with a weekly to-do list, you’ll be better prepared to stay on top of assignments and deadlines, minimizing stress.

2. Prioritize

Keeping life in balance is essential—prioritizing personal, professional, and academic commitments. At this phase in your life, education will be a top priority, but it won’t be your only focus.

The perennial best-selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Dr. Stephen R. Covey, urges readers to “Put First Things First®.” According to Dr. Covey, “Putting first things first means organizing and executing around your most important priorities.”

If accomplishing professional goals is a priority for you, Wilfrid Laurier University’s online programs are designed to equip you for success. By prioritizing your education along with your work, you’ll move more quickly toward your goals.

3. Get Comfortable Saying ‘No’

Trying to do too much leaves us scattered and less focused on what we really need to do. Jacob Morgan, a writer for LinkedIn, says, “I learned that in order to see my own professional and personal success, I had to invest time in myself.” He advocates for setting boundaries and firmly keeping them. “When you say no,” he says, “you’re really saying yes to something you want to do.”

As you learn to let go of some things, it will also be critical to build a personal support system. Your network of friends, family, fellow students, and professors can be a source of help and camaraderie in working toward shared goals.

4. Reminders Help

With multiple responsibilities and countless tasks each week, we’re all sure to forget something if we rely only on our memories.

The calendar app on your phone or laptop can be a great way to stay organized. Block out study time in your calendar, and set up notifications and reminders. One way set reminders is to download the Brightspace Pulse app (available in the Apple Store or Google Play). Once a Laurier student logs in with their MyLaurier credentials, it automatically connects and synchronizes. This allows notifications to go directly to your phone with assignment due dates, discussion boards and updates relating to the course. Apply your solidly developed work habits to your life as a student. Whether it’s the latest technology, a paper agenda, or even the classic wall of Post-it notes surrounding your workspace—whatever works for you, works!

5. Set Up Your Dedicated Space

One of the biggest challenges of online study is the difficulty of staying on task when working and studying from home. If you’re a parent, setting up at the kitchen table is bound to lead to distractions. Having a dedicated study space to coincide with your schedule is a great way to get the physical separation required to focus on extended studying.

Setting aside a separate area for schoolwork also helps you delineate your time for breaks—as you actually step away from your study nook. Planning for designated study breaks will give you allocated time for household demands like family needs, pets, and chores, allowing you to stay focused when it’s time for schoolwork.

As a bonus, creating a dedicated study space allows you to create an ergonomically healthy environment, too. This is important, since you will be spending a significant amount of time in your school space!

6. Keep Good Notes

Even if your professor provides detailed outlines and stellar visual presentations, there is no substitute for taking notes yourself. Note-taking helps you not only to remember important points, but the exercise also keeps you engaged with the verbal content and guides you to think more carefully about what you’re hearing.

Different contexts may call for different forms of note-taking. Research shows that using a keyboard to take notes allows you to collect verbatim information quickly and efficiently, but writing by hand may help you process the concepts more thoughtfully and understand the material better.

person taking notes while doing online course

7. Be Realistic

Even the most disciplined students will have days that are less productive or when life’s little emergencies disrupt a carefully planned schedule. Don’t focus on perfection or an expectation for straight A’s. Set reasonable goals, pace yourself, and accept the inevitable bumps along the way.

Dr. Blandford recommends starting with only one course at a time as you learn to adjust to the time management demands. “Education is about the journey, not the destination,” he says. Because your degree program is part of lifelong learning, Dr. Blandford explains, “It’s not about getting there as quickly as you can.”

It’s also important to communicate with your professors if you run into challenges during a course. Faculty are there to help, and they may even allow extra flexibility for turning in your work when they see the initiative you’re taking.

8. Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute

What makes a successful online student? Planning. Pulling all-nighters may work for full-time resident college kids with little responsibility during the day, but for online students balancing multiple roles, cramming doesn’t pay off. Not only will you be less productive in your schoolwork, the exhaustion may spiral into other areas of your life.

By preparing ahead of time and pacing yourself throughout the week, you’ll learn more productively. Developing a solid understanding of the course content means not only better grades, but valuable application for your career as well.

9. Get Personalized Support

As a student at Laurier, you’ll find unparalleled one-on-one support throughout the entire student journey. Enrolment and success advisors guide you all the way from the admissions process to graduation.

With our 24/7 platform, online students have access to multimedia resources and audiovisual components, for a flexible and interactive online learning experience and communication beyond the classroom. Through the MyLearningSpace online portal, you’ll be able to discuss coursework with your instructors and fellow students. You can even reach out to support personnel online, such as our expert librarians.

Communication with professors is not only essential to staying on track but will also enrich your learning experience. Dr. Blandford says that professors are eager for interaction and he urges students to reach out with questions. “Don’t feel like you’re imposing,” he insists. “Instructors are teaching these courses because they’re passionate about the content, and they’re happy to talk.”

Laurier’s Writing Services department provides one-on-one consultations, workshops, and online resources to equip students in developing effective writing skills. Additionally, Laurier provides templates for task lists and course trackers to help you stay organized.

You may be remote, but you’re not alone!

10. Reward Yourself

According to Canadian award-winning innovation leader Jennifer Moss, one of the best ways to reward yourself is through a simple practice: gratitude. She explains that practising gratefulness lights up the brain’s reward pathways, promoting emotional well-being. Moss’s suggestion to start a “gratitude board” is a simple idea that can help you celebrate your success. Consider a new habit of posting notes for yourself each week about what you’re thankful you accomplished in your schoolwork.

Reward yourself for achieving your weekly goals by indulging a bit with a fun activity or treat you love. You’ll feel as though you’ve earned this little bonus, and you’ll begin to associate these small pleasures with getting your work done!

Online Learning at Laurier

By implementing these strategies for successful online learning, you’ll find that pursuing your educational goals is within reach even when you’re balancing school with your already-busy life. Because online programs at Laurier provide a flexible framework, you can complete your work anywhere, anytime. With curriculum developed by experienced professionals in the field, content will be relevant for your career and immediately applicable.

Are you ready to elevate your future with online learning? Connect with an advisor to get started on your Laurier application today.