In my last blog “It is a long road ahead but it is worth it” I talked about what motivated me to return to study and my struggle in finding the course that I am passionate about. Having passed that stage, “the motivational stage” as I call it, it is now time to get into “the reality stage” because, as Abigail Adams said, “Learning is not attained by chance; it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.” This, one might say, is where the rubber meets the road.
As a student with a family and a full-time, demanding job, with constant traveling to some of the world’s most disaster-affected countries, I must admit that making time to study has not been easy. Between 10 to 12 hours of work a day and maybe an hour to have dinner with my family, I am so fatigued in the evening that the last thing on my mind is opening my Computer Assisted Learning (CAL) Course. Even when I did, I would fall asleep right away! I am committed to this MSc (remember my first blog) so I decided to read what study strategies other busy people have suggested. I read a very well-written blog by fellow blogger Anase entitled “A day in my study schedule” in which she provides a succinct description of her day. Her daily routine is quite amazing and worthy of praise. But, it cannot work for me because we have different schedules. And she doesn’t pretend that her routine is a one size fits all approach. As she puts it, “remember how important it is to know yourself in order to devise a suitable schedule for you.”
With Anase’s advice in mind, I set out to find a schedule that works for me. I tried using the Google calendar and Apps to set up daily study time, but this proved too difficult to keep up with. It seemed that whenever the App prompted me that it was time to study, I often found myself in the midst of a work-related task that I needed to complete. Not being able to keep up with a commitment to study left me drained emotionally, and quite honestly a bit frustrated.
Distance learning has many advantages, including the fact that with no set class times, you decide when to complete your assignments and readings. You set your own pace and schedule, so you control the learning environment. However, for a person who spent his entire educational years, from elementary school to my Master degree in an instructor-led environment, switching to distance learning would not be an easy feat. I recall reasoning that I thrive in an environment where I can have face-to-face interactions with teachers and classmates. This, however, is not an option at this time in my life.
Dr. Randall S. Hansen, founder of Quintessential Careers, stated in blog entitled ” Distance Learning Pros and Cons” that “if you are a procrastinator or one of those people who always needs an extra push to complete work, you may have a hard time making time for your online classes.” Well, I do not consider myself a procrastinator, but I do have a hard time pushing myself to complete my coursework. I also know that my lackadaisical attitude toward my studies would not help me achieve the dream I had in Guinea, the capital city of Conakry, in the middle of the worst Ebola Virus Disease.
Making time to study as a busy professional
Hence, I set out to find a study approach that works for me, and that could be helpful to busy professionals who are in the same situation. In the process, I realized that it is important to define a schedule that takes into account all facets of one’s life and to realise that commitment is the most important element of a schedule. Since adopting the following rules, I found it relatively easier to make time to study:
1. Tell family and friends that you are embarking on a study journey. It is important for my closest friend to know that I may not be readily available to join them on many occasions. I have had to turn down many social events on weeknights and weekends because participating in them would result in my not keeping up with my study time.
2. Prepare a time management plan and stick to it. In light of my busy work schedule and family commitment, I found out that I can only dedicate two hours a day to go through my CAL material on weekdays, then four to six hours on Saturday and Sunday.
3. Do not compromise when it comes to your study time. I have become very stingy with my time by making sure that my study time takes precedence over social and non-work related activities, except for events where my presence is required.
4. Map out the number of CALs you need to get through for each module. Study hours for each module are given in the module guide, and I used it to see how long it would take me to go through all the materials, if possible twice.
5. Be kind and gentle to yourself. On the day I missed my study time for any reason, I would have to try finding time to make it up by, for example, waking up earlier, going to sleep later, or doing an extra couple of hours over the weekend.
Like any kind of educational program, distance learning comes with a host of pros and cons. But, since you have already embarked on this journey, remember to find a schedule that works for you, and be flexible. I found that sharing the interesting facts I am learning from my coursework with friends and family is a way to keep me motivated and to enlist their support along the way. Finally, make sure to connect with the study materials and to have fun because as Alfred Mercier said “What we learn with pleasure, we never forget.”
Issa studies Demography and Health by distance learning.