Want to tailor your study schedule to fit in with your lifestyle? La Trobe students Hijab Shah and Lauren Sedger explain how studying online gives you the freedom and flexibility to go at your own pace.
Taking control of your education
There are all sorts of reasons someone might not be able to attend lectures and tutorials on campus, from financial or family commitments to the tyranny of distance.
Online education gives you the opportunity to study in your own time and in your own space. This was one of the main drawcards for Hijab, who was already juggling the demands of a new baby and work as a consultant when she started her Master of Human Resource Management.
‘When you have a family and a consulting business on the side, it’s really great to have that flexibility to work and study at your own pace,’ she says.
‘If I was at a bricks-and-mortar university, I would have to make childcare arrangements, drive there, park my car, attend my classes, and so on. It’s much easier for me to study at home.’
Control over her study schedule is also why Lauren chose to do her Bachelor of Food and Nutrition online. As a mature-age student with bills to pay, she couldn’t afford to cut back on hours at her casual job.
‘I’ve got fairly strict financial commitments every month and I need to work 20 to 30 hours a week, so the flexibility of online study suits my lifestyle better than an on-campus degree,’ she says.
‘It seemed too good to be true in the beginning that a degree like this would be offered online. Having the option to study full-time or part-time is really great. I like being able to pace myself and go at my own speed.’
Stepping up to the challenge
Outside of a formal university setting, procrastination can be a serious issue. For Lauren, constant distractions at home initially made it difficult for her to focus on her course work.
‘When I first started studying online, I struggled with the self-discipline needed to sit down for a couple of hours and focus on one thing, rather than the pile of dirty clothes in the corner, the dirty dishes from breakfast, or the book that I was dying to read,’ she says.
‘What helps me is creating a space where I can study without interruption, so I’ll often go to my local library or café and spend a few hours there concentrating on what I need to do.
‘I’ve also found it’s helpful to schedule study blocks of two to three hours, fill your diary with those study blocks and then stick to them as you would any other appointment that you’d scheduled.’
Hijab, too, had to teach herself to stay on track.
‘It’s important to manage yourself and your time really well, because when you study online the responsibility is on you,’ she says. ‘But it took me a while to get the hang of that and, in the beginning, I would often push my assignments to the very last minute.
‘You need to learn a lot of discipline and self-management to shut down that procrastination, and that’s a skill set that will help you not only with your studies, but also in the workplace.’
A lack of structure wasn’t the only hurdle for Lauren in the early days of her online degree – she also missed the social aspect of university life.
‘I think it can be easy to let your motivation levels slide when you’re not surrounded by people who have the same study goals as you, like you might be if you were studying on campus,’ she says.
‘So it’s important to connect with people in your field and other peers who are studying online to remind yourself you’re not in it alone.’
Reaching out to peers through online forums, Lauren says, gave her a sense of community, as well as access to practical support and advice from other people in her course.
‘La Trobe has forums, quite degree-specific forums, that are quite good for connecting with people, especially if it’s unit-specific, because then you’re able to talk about the content,’ she says.
‘I’ve found a lot of classmates are really open to chatting about the content you’re working through. You can also send emails and PMs through La Trobe platforms, and I’m a member of a couple of Facebook degree-specific groups that are quite helpful because a lot of the people on here seem to be having similar challenges to one another.’
As someone who has a lot on her plate, Hijab says online education is ideally suited to parents and busy professionals, or anyone else balancing multiple obligations, because it allows you to learn independently. Whenever you’re ready to study, the course material is there at your fingertips.
‘The online platform is the best you can get and it’s very interactive, with your discussion forums, lecture notes, additional readings, and everything else you need,’ she says.
‘It’s a complete package for you to develop yourself at your own pace.’
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