How to Manage your Time While Enrolled in an Online Program

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Time management is among the most important disciplines for students of online graduate degrees to master. They often have to balance their studies with the realities of having to take courses remotely, the demands of family and working life, and other personal or business commitments. There are any number of needs challenging for the most precious resource a student owns: time; and this dilemma is certainly one students need to tackle proactively before the negative consequences of inefficient time management begin to affect them.

When taking online courses to earn a Master of Science in Management Information Systems from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, students will likely need to employ the best time management tactics they can to get the most out of the program. To start, here are 6 ways online students can manage their time while enrolled in an online program:

Woman working on a laptop

1. Website filters

While goldfish are mainly singled out for having short attention spans, humans may need to hold their tongues. The number of distractions there are online have proliferated exponentially to the point where Microsoft measured the average person’s attention span at 8 seconds—lower than that of a goldfish.

Students, as any regular users of the internet do, accumulate favorite sites to visit that may relate to news, entertainment, sports, their locality or streaming. While many students set themselves down with the intention of working straight through a task, a new tab (and lost time) is just around the corner. Those who find some trouble for themselves with keeping on task should investigate using free browser plug-ins that block certain groups of sites for a set amount of time to improve focus. Users can also single out websites to block or restrict access to that they know they’ll get dragged into. Some of the most-used free tools include:

• SelfControl (Mac).
• StayFocused (Chrome browser).
• KeepMeOut.

2. Don’t wait until the end

When there are other pressing responsibilities in life that demand attention, it can be easy enough to push off an assignment until a later date. However, doing this on a consistent basis is one of the most common pitfalls online students fall in. Taken as an individual assignment, it may not seem like much, but once these assignments start to pile up—or if chapters critical to the subject material of an exam go unread until the latest possible hour—just thinking about starting to climb a mountain of work is strenuous.

As a rule, if you need to postpone schoolwork, get it done within 24 to 48 hours (allowing for deadlines) of pushing it back. Setting reminders on phones and writing notes to oneself are good ways to keep on track.

There’s also a large group of students who believe they often work best under pressure or time constraints; and while this may be true—as everyone works best in their own method—it’s an unnecessary risk at times (consider an unexpected event like an electrical outage) and best resolved with proper time management to ensure quality and timeliness.

3. Utilize mobile

As far as modern devices go, phones nowadays have a lot more use than for only setting reminders. Students in online MS MIS programs know this. As a prevailing technology, mobile is a crucial learning block in an IT education. Experience gained in a program, specifically regarding cyber security, is highly applicable in the real world.

Smartphone ownership has exploded in recent years, and the continued innovation of such devices has brought the might of the internet and connectivity to the palm of students’ hands. Indeed, the rise in mobile has contributed to a significant shift in how online students participate in their web-based programs.

A 2016 study from The Learning House found online students used mobile to:

• Read required materials (55 percent).
• Communicate with professors (50 percent).
• Research for reports (44 percent).
• Communicate with other students (41 percent).
• Log into their program’s learning management system (40 percent).
• Complete assignment (39 percent).
• Access required lectures (33 percent).

There’s even greater room for students to make use of their devices for online learning. The same report found 34 percent of current or former online students surveyed used a smartphone or tablet (one, or both, of which 98 percent owned) to complete at least some of their coursework. Sixty-seven percent of prospective online students said they’d be interested in using mobile.

Have a spare minute while waiting in line? Got some downtime where nothing was planned? Other commitments canceled and a smartphone is at hand? These are all small windows of usable time in life where the mobile can further improve the quality and effort of studies.

4. Communicate with professors

Among the most important relationships in an online MS MIS degree program is the one between student and professor. On-campus students often have the benefit of proximity and physical office hours. Students taking courses online, however, may not have the same advantages, but the fact of the matter is professors are there to help students no matter the setup or communicative limitations.

To this point, students should try to make reciprocal gestures when professors reach out or try to engage while working on a lesson or reading. A two-way street of communication is a hugely beneficial one for online learning relationships. Professors may also keep virtual office hours, an important time and opportunity for open discussion for students to utilize if they need to. Efficient use of time is just as important as budgeting when it comes to time management.

If a student is falling behind, contacting the professor is one proven way to help remedy situations. Not only may an honest dialogue provide needed context, but professors have been there before and can draw from experience to recommend ways to get back on track and make better use of time. Again, they’re there to help, but students may need to make the first move.

5. Make a study buddy

It sounds a bit elementary, but having a study buddy keeps students up to date more than one might think. This may sound like “easier said than done” to online MS MIS students, but many strategies exist to making friends in a virtual classroom.

Sure, it can be hard to make friends, and particularly so when they are spread out geographically and may only exist to the student online, but when two students have one another to hold the other accountable on completing assignments or reading, the results speak for themselves. Participate in discussion forums to try and find individuals who might also be looking for a friend.

Besides the practical benefits of the arrangement, injecting a bit of socializing into what can become monotonous coursework—in the wrong conditions—can improve how students learn. Nose-to-the-grindstone approaches may work some of the time, but having a lighter atmosphere can contribute to a more conducive learning environment.

The popularity of social media can help in these respects. However, when using social media to connect with fellow students, be mindful of:

• Students’ own rights to their privacy.
• Which platform is best for communicating (Facebook, Twitter, podcasts even).
• How frequently you’ll need to post to communicate.

6. Plan the work and goals ahead

The simplest way to effect proper time management in an online graduate program is by planning out when and how to complete the work well ahead of the event. A component of that is by planning to reach or maintain specific goals throughout the course of learning. Particularly because they are left largely to their own devices to digest lessons and complete work, online students need to organize their online lives in a way that ensures progress can be achieved.
There are a few ways to implement this objective-oriented approach to keeping on task:

• Create two sets of schedules to keep by. Have an online personal calendar filled with due dates and set to push reminders a day before deadlines. Keep a hardcopy planner to reference as well.
• Make sure to watch key indicators like GPA and assignment and exam scores. Monitor them so they meet expectations, of the student and program alike.
• Set away specific times for online learning. Whether after dinner, in the early morning or a 30-minute break in the afternoon, have designated times to access materials or LMSs. Regular habits is an effective way to manage what time students have to use for the program.

What online MS MIS students should expect when entering a program

Enrolling in an online graduate degree program, like the Master of Science in Management Information Systems available from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, requires ultra-efficient use of resources. Most students take courses on a part-time basis, and personal life can stretch thin that already-limited amount of time to learn in.

Knowing this, students must be dedicated in developing and employing consistent time management strategies that work for them.

There are several small steps (as well as larger ones) online students can take to improve time management in their lives. These may take the form of: greater communication with professors and students, constructing conducive learning environments, or using online tools and resources to enhance the experience. Time management is a necessary activity for students to undertake to get the most of their online program.

For MS MIS programs, these considerations are no different. If anything, time management at the graduate level is even more important. Online students must devise, test and use strategies that are suitable to virtual learning, and which can be repeated.

To learn more about program specifics to plan for, contact an enrollment advisor today.