Now that you’ve evaluated how you have done things in the past, you’ll want to think about how you might create a schedule for managing your time to improve on that! The best schedules have some flexibility built into them, as you will undoubtedly have unexpected situations and circumstances arise during your time as a student.
Your schedule will be unique to you, depending on the level of detail you find helpful. There are some things — due dates, exam dates, and discussion times, for example — that should be included in your schedule no matter what. But you also might find it helpful to break down assignments into steps (or milestones) that you can schedule as well. Again, this is all about what works best for you — do you want to keep a record of only the major deadlines you need to keep in mind? Or does it help you to plan out every day so you stay on track? Your answers to these questions will vary depending on the course, the complexity of your schedule, and your own personal preferences.
Your schedule will also vary depending on the course you’re taking. So, pull out your course outline and try to determine the rhythm of the class by looking at the following factors:
- How often does your instructor expect discussion board contributions? When are initial discussion board contributions due?
- Will you have tests or exams in this course? When are those scheduled?
- Are there assignments and papers? When are those due?
- Are there any group or collaborative assignments? You’ll want to pay particular attention to the timing of any assignment that requires you to work with others — they take a longer time to complete when you are learning online because it can be more complicated to schedule times to get together.
You can find many useful resources online that will help you keep track of your schedule. Some are basic, cloud-based calendars (like Google calendar, iCal, Outlook), and some (like iHomework) are specialized for students.
We all have exactly 168 hours per week. How do you spend yours? And now that you’re a student, how much time will you be willing to devote to your studies?
Question: Do I really need to create a study schedule when I’m taking an online course? I can honestly keep track of all of this in my head.
Answer: Yes, you really should. When you take a face-to-face course, you are expected to attend class on a regular basis. There an instructor will give you reminders about assignment due dates, exam times. In an online class, you don’t have this built-in structure. You’re going to have to take responsibility for tracking class requirements yourself.
Question: Realistically, how much time should I spend studying for this class?
Answer: This is a good question, and a tough one to answer. Each hour of class (per week) is equal to one unit of credit, which means that you can think of each credit as an hour. A good practice for studying is to study two hours for every hour of class. So, if you are enrolled in twelve units, your schedule should give you twenty-four hours of study time every week.
Question: Ok, so aside from class time requirements, should I account for anything else as I draw up my schedule?
Answer: This depends on how detailed you want your schedule to be. Is it a calendar of important dates, or do you need a clear picture of how to organize your entire day? We think the latter is more successful, as long as you stick with it. This is also where it will be helpful to determine when you are most productive and efficient. When are you the most focused and ready to learn new things, in the morning, afternoon, or evening? Check the Quest for Online Success course site for online tools that can help you plan your time.
Question: My life and school requirements change on a week-to-week basis. How can I possibly account for this when making a schedule?
Answer: Try creating a variable schedule in case an event comes up or you need to take a day or two off.
Question: The way you’ve talked about scheduling and time management makes it sound like a good idea, but it’s also totally unrealistic. What’s wrong with cramming? It’s what I’ll probably end up doing anyway…
Answer: Cramming, or studying immediately before an exam without much preparation beforehand, has many disadvantages. Trying to learn any subject or memorize facts in a brief but intense period of time is basically fruitless. You simply forget what you have learned much faster when you cram. Instead, study in smaller increments on a regular basis: your brain will absorb complex course material in a lasting and more profound way because it’s how our brain functions.