Online learning has become a great way for busy professionals to study whilst balancing a busy professional and family life…but, as I’ve learnt recently, it’s not without its challenges.

First, a bit of background. A couple of years ago I studied for a professional marketing qualification through the Chartered Institute of Marketing in the UK, delivered via distance / online learning.

Now switch to my professional life, I am the General Manager for the ICCP and also Operations Director for Claims Class – the ICCP’s training partner. My role at the ICCP involves supporting our members and helping Associate members to develop their skills and expertise as a claims practitioner so that they can attain full membership. We have various initiatives to support this, including our mentoring programme, monthly CPD webinars and routes to membership through training. My role at Claims Class includes management of our course portfolio and students.

So, between both professional roles, I have a pretty good grasp of the importance of continued learning and professional development. But through my own studies, it has been interesting to experience things from a student perspective and understand first-hand the challenges that students go through when studying online.

I’ve discussed the pros and cons of online learning, and the types of personality types that thrive in an online environment in another blog and I would say that I share the characteristics of both the Type A and Type B student personality types:

  • Highly motivated, but can fluctuate at times
  • Highly focused, but can lose focus at times
  • Ability to fit study in, regardless of work or family responsibilities (fortunately I didn’t have a family at this time, so this made things easier)
  • Good time management and sets structured study times
  • Comfortable with online learning systems and navigating online content
  • Like to study alone but also thrives on student/tutor connection and like to feel part of a community

On paper, these qualities look like a recipe for success but nevertheless, I have still struggled with certain aspects of the online learning experience and have had to put simple systems and processes in place to help myself overcome them. As a result, I’ve broken these down into 6 tips for success when studying online:

1. Find your why – it’s been proven by psychologists that we don’t have endless resources of motivation and willpower. It’s there in spades when we start something new, but it can quickly fade. So, what do you do when this happens? Find your WHY. Your why is the absolute core reason or reasons why you are doing what you’re doing. Let’s take my why as an example:

Why am I studying a professional marketing qualification?

  • I want to have the skills, knowledge and understanding to empower me to do my job well and add value to my business
  • I want to gain recognition for my skills and expertise as a marketer
  • I want to position myself amongst the leading marketers in the UK and to continue to learn from best-practice
  • I want to become a Chartered Marketer with the Chartered Institute of Marketing in the UK. This course is part of the route to getting there.

When you are clear on your why it becomes easier to maintain motivation and keep studying to get to the end goal that you had in mind when you started. Find your why, write it down, and stick it somewhere you will see it every day (your
fridge, the wall behind your desk, etc.).

Your why can also be broken down. If your course is a demanding one, for example, that consists of a number of modules and lots of study hours, thinking about completing it can be overwhelming. Breaking your why down into smaller chunks helps you to focus on what needs to be done now and studying therefore, becomes much more manageable.

2. Get organised and know your resources – After signing up for an online course you’ll usually be given access to a student website full of resources. Take time to review everything thoroughly, understand what is mandatory to go through, what is optional to go through (but possibly valuable to spend time on) and make use of everything available to you.

3. Plan – Most people will be familiar with the phrase ‘by failing to plan you are planning to fail’ and this definitely applies in the context of learning. It’s crucial to create a study plan and stick to it. In my case, I printed monthly calendars (something like the one below), wrote my study days in and what I would be studying on that day. It’s also important to add key dates such as assignment deadlines and make sure you are on track to meet those deadlines. Keep the plan with you and tick the days off as you go.

4. Take Breaks – As part of the planning process, plan study breaks. If you’re a gym bunny, plan your gym time. If you’re going on holiday, plan your dates and study around it. By creating space for the activities that you enjoy, you’ll return to studying with renewed energy and are more likely to avoid burn out.

5. Ask questions – The online learning space can be a barrier, but only if you let it get that way. It’s easy to feel like you’re in it alone and don’t have support but tutors want to help, they want you to be successful and they expect you to ask questions. Make a note of questions that come up as you’re studying and email them to your tutor at the end of each week. If you prefer to talk, arrange a call with your tutor and email your questions in advance so they have time to prepare and can offer the best support possible.

6. Make connections – Online learning providers will often provide student groups or forums. Join them and engage with them. It will help you to feel part of a community and keep you going. If there are students in your area, you could also set up monthly get-togethers.

Nina Hewitt-Tyrrell is the General Manager of the ICCP. Looking for an online course on contracts and claims? Check out e-courses from Claims Class.

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