It’s free, there’s no real pressure, you can take it at your own pace - these are some of the best things about online learning, but they’re also some of the worst. They sometimes mean you never quite get past the second or third hurdle, you never really get going; there’s the initial excitement but then procrastination sets in and soon you’re ignoring the reminder emails and telling yourself you’ll do it next weekend.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
1. Put aside some time, and really stick to it.
Don’t just say to yourself ‘Tuesday nights are learning nights’ - physically block out the time, set an event on your phone (with an alarm) or, if you’re still a pen and ink person, write it in a diary. Tell friends and family the time, and get them to remind you. Having that properly allotted time will help you plan better. There’s something about failing to fulfil an appointment or a commitment that makes us feel somewhat guilty too.
2. Ditch the distractions
If you keep bouncing to Facebook or Twitter every five minutes when you should be learning, you’re not alone. It’s almost an unconscious behaviour for lots of us. But there’s an easy fix, apps like SelfControl allow you to specify a list of sites you can’t visit for a fixed amount of time - allowing you to focus solely on your learning. Scary if you’re social media fiends like us, but a lifesaver when it comes to remaining productive.
3. Set yourself a goal
Whether it’s knowing 100 words of Italian, being able to explain what a gene is or knowing where to invest that 50 spare quid - having a tangible goal that you can achieve thanks to your learning is a good motivator. Tangible is key here - if you make it something specific you can check you’ve achieved it. Write it out somewhere nice and big, and have it in your eyeline - it’ll remind you to keep on going.
4. Get a good notebook
Sounds like a weird tip, especially given the fact that this is an online course, but having something you’ve bought especially might help you get excited about your learning. If it’s not a notebook, it might be a well-organised file on your computer, or a notekeeping app. Either way, have somewhere special where you can write notes and ideas down - that way you have a place where you can fully immerse yourself in your chosen subject.
5. Don’t stress about the workload
This can’t be emphasised enough. If you’re worrying about the amount you need to get through on the course, learning becomes a chore. The beauty of online learning is you can usually do it bit by bit - you don’t need to spend a whole hour, or write pages and pages of notes. Take it at your own pace and remember why you started in the first place.
Jess Weeks is a Copywriter at FutureLearn - a provider of free online courses. Her favourite words are: lexicon, expunge and dunk. She’s not sure if raising an army of turtles can be considered a career dream.