Descriptors for busy lives tend to suggest a sense of drowning; being ‘snowed under’ or ‘swamped’. The more positive expression of ‘having a full plate’, somehow struggles to adequately portray the complexity of modern living.
If it weren’t for the persistent need to professionally develop or bolster existing skills at a campus or training facility, the life juggling act could be simplified.
This education conundrum though, like all conundrums, has been solved – the solution is of course online learning. Steady advances in related technologies and these teaching methodologies have facilitated many busy, mobile and aspiring professionals to pursue further study. (And they tend to be more reasonably priced too).
Some tips for selecting, embarking upon and getting the most out of online learning
- For the ultimate self-paced learning style; one which maximises the flexibility that characterises online learning, select asynchronous learning. It is a form of instruction which is unconstrained by time and place. BUT unless you are exceptionally disciplined, be wary of it. It can cause feelings of isolation and retention rates are typically disappointingly low.
- For a compromise, select the synchronous form of learning. It is live, so in terms of time you are somewhat constrained. (But if you find yourself down a mine shaft when your webinar is scheduled, the recordings can be accessed when you emerge). In terms of place, though, you do retain your flexibility. (As long as you have the gear; a computer, an internet connection and, in order to verbally interact with fellow students and lecturers, a microphone).
- Make the most of it. I suppose this applies to any experience, but certainly your learning one will be enhanced. You are isolated when studying online so try to do all you can to feel a part of your virtual classroom. Some specific ideas follow. Join the forums and be an active participant. During webinars ask your lecturer questions. Get to know your fellow students; a cohort drawn from around the world. They have the potential to become an important part of your network.
- Take advantage of your lecturers. They are not limited by location so you have access to the best minds from wherever they are in the world. Furthermore, most will be active in industry because the short webinars facilitate their busy lives just as they do yours. (A very pleasant image, from a couple of years ago, comes to mind: It is of one of our lecturers sitting under a tree, his computer in front of him, presenting to his students. His colleagues continue with their Christmas lunch at a table a short distance from him; saving his dessert.)
- Manage your time carefully. Be diligent and be sure to work out how you can best accommodate the demands of your study week by week. Don’t be too ambitious; pace yourself and be kind to yourself.
- Learn as you go. Many of you will work and study simultaneously. This gives you the chance to augment your new information by testing it at work as you proceed through your course or qualification. This has two advantages; it reinforces your newly acquired knowledge and provides you with the opportunity to nut out any problems with your lecturer and fellow students.
- Make use of the practical applications. The online technologies are such that these are indeed possible and improving rapidly. They come in the form of remote laboratories and simulation software.
- If the college offers you a dedicated coordinator, fall in love with him or her. This person will become your main support and your biggest fan; assisting you, cheering you on and willing you over the line.
- Do due diligence on the institution offering the course or qualification. This is essential whether it is a government or private college. Sadly there are unscrupulous vendors out there cashing in on education. On the other hand, genuine and passionate educators exist too.
- And finally, choose the right course or qualification for you. Look for state-of-the-art content, which is industry relevant and driven, and then go for it.