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Why self-motivation is the key to online study success

One of the most common questions I get asked whenever I tell someone I am studying online is: ‘How can you possibly find the time for that?’

It’s a fair question. In the times we find ourselves in, there are a great number of things screaming for our attention; most of us can’t find the time to adequately relax, let alone add more deadlines and commitments. In spite of the extant realities of our lives, there are ways to ‘create’ time for ourselves. These little nuggets of spare minutes here and there may not seem like much, but over time, they can amount to hours and even weeks when added together.

Twelve years ago, I was an on-campus student at Griffith. While in my first year, I attended an introductory class in International Relations. During the first lecture I remember the lecturer vividly saying: ‘The key to passing university is organisation.’ Well, it was just as true then as it is now; perhaps even more so. 

Studying online is quite different than the on-campus environment. There is no tangible feeling of classmates, no discussions at the campus café or uni bar, and there is certainly no expectation from tutors to ‘prove’ you have done the weekly tasks. Therefore, that organisation requirement is compounded with a need to self-motivate. It can leave you in a position thinking that with limited accountability you are freer to choose what you engage in and what you leave out. Though, as someone who has studied on-campus and now online, let me tell you, it doesn’t matter; the work needs to be done. Without strict lecture and tutorial times it can seem too open and easy to ignore weekly material or readings, and sure, maybe it is. However, the material is designed and laid out in a specific order for a reason – just like on-campus classes are. 

The distractions of other equally important commitments such as work, family, and any other commitments provide any decent procrastinator with more than enough ammunition to palm off university tasks to ‘a later time’ – a time that rarely, if ever, comes. Did you really commit to undertake this study to tap out at the first chance? Of course, you didn’t. You have goals, ambitions, things that you want to get out of the course you are undertaking. Things, that in many cases, go well beyond the degree you will earn at the end of it. So, organise, make the time, motivate yourself and get it done.

Currently I am doing three subjects online per study period, roughly 12 subjects per calendar year. I have familial commitments, work commitments, and I still want to be as involved in the social aspects of my life as I was before returning to study. It can be done but, as I found out, you need a plan. Before each study period begins, I thoroughly read the course outlines. Before classes begin, I make sure I know exactly what is expected of me. From there, I work out when the assessments are due, and what other competing things I have in the two weeks prior to the due dates (I plan to have my assessments submitted one week before the due date, to allow a broad margin for error, in case of unforeseen issues). By collating this information in advance, I can plan out the entirety of the study period and know before classes commence, that I have the time. Thus, the only person to blame if I don’t get it done, is me. 

Then it is the case of working backwards. Plan out the study period, the assessment weeks, then each individual study week, ensuring adequate time is allocated. As the study period progresses, you will undoubtedly find that some of your subjects come easier to you than others. Use the extra time you gain in those subjects to expand the time you need in the more difficult ones. With a little bit of persistence and discipline, you will find that the time you were worried about not having was more than enough to get the job done – often with limited sacrifices to other areas of your life.

Completing any form of higher education is an admirable task. Though, it is still a task and like any task, pretending it isn’t there, or ‘winging it’ rarely ensures it gets done. By organising yourself, allocating your time in advance, and honestly appreciating what is in front of you, you will be able to maximise your study time, get the most out of your learning experience and develop greater organisation skills. 

As former Navy Seal and author Jocko Willink says over and over: “Discipline equals freedom”, he believes it so much, he made that a title of one of his books. Be disciplined, stay organised, do the work, and you will find that your time at university is something to be enjoyed; not a burden to bear.

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