balance on slacklineBalancing work with distance learning can be difficult. There’s no physical instructor to guide you through the material. You never see your peers; you only communicate with them through virtual forums. Meanwhile, lectures dissolve into PowerPoint presentations and extra readings. In short:

For all the freedom that an distance course offers, there are also a number of hurdles that must be overcome. And these obstacles only increase when you’re also working.

I’ve taken many distance courses in my life, and made many mistakes. There have been classes I’ve failed and others from which I’ve had to withdraw because I did not manage time appropriately. There were moments I procrastinated and semesters in which I simply took on too much.

All these failures, however, have enabled me to learn what works and what doesn’t. Based on my experience, I’ve discovered that these 4 ways of balancing distance learning with the demands of a job are the key to getting stuff done and not stressing yourself out. Follow my advice and I can promise that you’ll be a more productive student and employee.
Trust me: I’ve learned the hard way.

1.Don’t Take on Too Much

One semester I thought I could take on four distance classes. Oh, was I wrong. Within two weeks, I was so far behind I knew I would never catch up. Anxiety, anguish, and despair filled my chest, and I had to resign myself to this simple truth: I had taken on too much.

Traditionally, every credit hour in-class is supposed to translate to 2-3 hours of work outside of class. For a 3 credit course, that means you should expect 6-9 hours of work outside the class. But distance learning takes away the 3 hours in class. All the material that the professor would teach in that time, you must learn on your own.

This means that a simple 3 credit distance course translates to 9-12 hours of time studying, reading, researching, and writing every week. When I took on 4 classes, I was taking a total of 16 credit hours. That means I should have been studying 48-64 hours per week. Even working only a part-time job, this was way too excessive.

I would advise no more than 6-8 credit hours a semester if you’re working part-time and no more than 3-4 if you’re a fulltime employee, especially if you’re new to online learning.

2.Create a Weekly Schedule

There are only a limited number of hours in a week (168 to be precise). If you’re an distance learner, it can become easy to forget the clock is even there. Sometimes I thought I could tackle all the work without ever thinking about whether or not I’d have enough time to do so.

And the results were tragic. Overly caffeinated and highly fatigued, I spent many nights in a stress-filled frenzy trying to complete my work. If only I had created a schedule to balance my time. Then I might have avoided that eventual psychotic break.

Learn from my mistakes and don’t drive yourself crazy. Use a weekly planner, your phone’s calendar, or some other tool to schedule time for distance learning. And always keep track of when assignments are due.

3.Remove Distractions

One of the most difficult obstacles I had to face when taking distance courses were all the distractions. From social media to my cell phone to the noise of my family members moving throughout the house, it was often difficult to stay focused.

When creating your weekly schedule, make sure you select times for distance learning in which you will be free to work without distractions interfering with your thoughts. If you have kids, it’d be a good idea to do your distance learning when they’re asleep or at school. If you are married, or living with other people, makes sure they know when you will be studying. Hopefully they’ll be kind enough to let you do your work during those times without interrupting.

Also, make sure you:

  • Turn your phone off.
  • Keep your browser away from Facebook, Twitter, and social media.
  • Have all your books and materials with you before you start studying.
  • Stay in one place for the time you’ve allotted.
  • Keep your mind on the coursework in front of you.

4.Take Time for Yourself

Too much stress is never healthy. If all of your focus is constantly on work or school, you will eventually burnout. In order to keep your mind running at full capacity, you need to take time for yourself. Even if you spend only 30 minutes a day doing something you love, that time will help you to relax and better deal with the pressures of being a student and an employee.
Here are a few easy ways to take time for you:

  • Exercise: hit the gym, go for a walk, or take a jog around the block
  • Have coffee or lunch with a friend
  • Watch an episode of your favorite television show
  • Sit down with a good book or even join a book club
  • Cook a meal
  • If you have kids or pets, play with them

Any of these things can ease the stresses of work and distance learning. Of course, there are many other ways to take time for you. Just make sure that when you do, you’re doing something that you love!

Conclusion

Hopefully you’ll be able to balance your distance learning and work better than I was. Just remember to take it one day at a time and don’t allow yourself to get too stressed out. Remember to take on only what you know you can handle, schedule your time appropriately to make sure that you get everything completed, avoid distractions that could interfere with your study time, and take a bit of time off every day to focus on you. If you follow this advice, I’m sure you will find success in no time.

Editor’s note: While Stratford offers a variety of online services such as exams and instructor contact through our student portal, eService, students currently receive all textbooks and study guides through the mail.