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Common Challenges When Studying Online

By Rachel Whitney | Test Consultant

INSIGHTS // Articles

9 Jul 2018

#Agile|#E-Learning|#Training

INSIGHTS // Articles

#Agile|#E-Learning|#Training

By Rachel Whitney

9 Jul 2018

Being a trainer for a number of years, I have heard and seen firsthand the common challenges people make when studying a course online. I also have made these mistakes myself, so I thought it would be useful to highlight them so you can avoid them if you are about to start studying an online course.

Common Challenges When Studying Online

When studying online courses, there are a number of common challenges candidates have. I will highlight five of these in this article to give you a head start in your study and get the most from the course.

#1. Not allocating enough time to study the course

There is always that initial enthusiasm to study a new online course, and more often than not, the initial study period starts out well. However, when our busy lives get in the way, the time to study seems to becomes less and less. The mistake then is not allocating time to study.

A tip to avoid this mistake is when you first enrol on an online course, look at the duration of the same course running in a classroom. If the course you are studying online is run in a classroom over three days, then convert that to total hours of study using a seven-hour day. That will give you your first baseline of the minimum time you have to give yourself to study.

When I used this technique to study an online course that took three days in a classroom, I firstly calculated three hours a week to study and knew seven weeks would complete the course. However, I also added a third to the total time to study as a contingency, as people in classroom course training may revise in the evenings.

I added an extra hour a week to my study schedule and allocated two hours to Monday evening and Thursday evening a week to study. The course I was studying also included an exam to sit, so I booked the exam on the eight week to keep me motivated to study each week. 

Knowing the total amount of time needed to study an online course before you start will help you stay focused and less likely to give up on the study, particularly when you have a realistic idea of how long you are going to need to complete the course.

#2. Not being in the right environment

When studying online, it is important to set yourself up in the right environment. Below are some examples I have heard over the years that cover not being in the right environment.

  • Not having a good set of headphones to hear the audio on the course
  • Not having a good consistent internet connection to stay connected to the online course
  • Trying to study in a busy and noisy office
  • Trying to study when it’s too late at night and you should really be asleep
  • Trying to study at home but keep getting interrupted (e.g. by children, pets, email notifications)
  • Trying to study at work whilst you should really be doing work.

It is best to find the environment that suits you and stick to being consistent in having the same environment that works for you every time. By doing this, you are giving yourself the best chance of learning and retaining the information you are learning.

A number of people I have trained have mentioned listening to instrumental music helps them stay focused when studying online. I suggest you try it next time to see if it helps you study, but make sure the music is only instrumental, as someone singing may be too distracting.

#3. Not knowing what your preferred learning style

If you are unsure of how best you learn then you may make the mistake of giving up on studying the course, as you may lose interest.

Neil Fleming in 1987 identified four styles of learning which he gave the acronym VARK which stands for Visual, Auditory, Read/write, and Kinaesthetic. He has created a questionnaire that has 16 questions to find out your preferred learning styles. A brief description of the four learning styles are shown in the diagram below.

Four styles of learning

If you are interested to find out what type of learner you are, have a go at the questionnaire. Once you know your preferred learning style, then you will be better equipped to study online.

My preferred learning styles are visual and auditory, so I make sure the audio to the online course is always on and I watch each slide as it is displayed throughout the course.

Neil Flemming also suggests learning strategies you could apply the next time you study online.

#4. Not asking for help when you don’t understand something

One of the biggest benefits of studying online is being able to study when it suits you. However, a potential drawback is there is no one to ask if you don’t understand something in the course. 

If you were in a classroom, there would be a trainer to ask to clarify what you don’t understand. When you study online, people often make the mistake of thinking there is no one to ask.

Most online courses do have a way of contacting someone to clarify something for them. If you get to a point in your online study where you really don’t understand something, try locating the option to contact a trainer in the organisation that will assist you in clarifying the point for you.

As a trainer, I have had many emails sent to me to clarify points for people who are currently studying an online course. At Planit, we provide this support for all of our online courses.

#5. Procrastination

Procrastination is the art of putting off the need to get something done in favour of doing anything other than the thing that needs to be done. 

For me, knowing that the course is online convinced me that I can access it whenever I want. As a result, I always told myself I will find the time to study it, but instead it became an excuse to not get around to starting it.

There are a number of ways to combat procrastination which include any of the following:

  • Break down the task into smaller sections that become less overwhelming
  • Plan your time to study and plan to have all your resources (e.g. notepad and pen in place before you start studying
  • Start with something you like doing
  • Clear distractions during study time (e.g. turn your phone off for period you will be studying)

I particularly like this quote about procrastination:

The two rules of procrastination:

1) Do it today.
2) Tomorrow will be today tomorrow.

~Author unknown

Maximise your studies

There are many great benefits to be able to study online courses. However, to ensure you get the most out of studying, make sure you don’t make the common mistakes listed in this article.

This means ensuring you allocate enough time to study, and understand your preferred learning style, to make the most of learning your course. It’s also important to create the right environment for you to study in, and if there is something you don’t understand, try to reach out to someone who will help you figure it out.

Finally, if you had to stop your study for any reason, try not to procrastinate starting or re-starting it!

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