As South Africans start getting used to the reality that working and studying from home are going to be with us for some time, many students continue to struggle with finding a rhythm and routine that lets them master their work effectively.
But there are a few ways in which they can adapt and adjust to this new framework that will allow them to get back on track, a distance learning expert says.
“As a distance learning institution, part of our core function is to help students adjust to studying from home, often while they also continue working to earn a living,” says Sonia Magni, Academic Manager at Oxbridge Academy, a private college that serves more than 20 000 South African distance learning students every year.
“We’d like to encourage those who are tempted to give up on their studies now and wait until things return to normal, to rather stay the course and, with some interventions, still make a success of their educational journey. Because while life may never look the same again, the wheels of the economy will start turning again, and you want to be ready to grasp opportunities that will arise,” she says.
For those students struggling to find their feet, Magni suggests going back to basics:
1. KEEP THE END GOAL IN MIND
“Remember why you wanted to study, and what your goal was for yourself upon completion of your certificate or qualification. Just because the world looks different, it doesn’t mean that your dreams and aspirations are now null and void,” says Magni.
2. SET SHORT-TERM GOALS
Don’t think about the what ifs of the future.
“While keeping the end goal in mind might keep you motivated, it can also seem very far away if your course has a duration of 36 months. Accomplishing small goals is a rewarding feeling, as it reminds you that you’re one step closer to achieving your end goal,” Magni says.
“And ticking one or two important tasks off every day, each one bringing you closer to your destination, is a very empowering exercise in our current uncertain world. So commit to completing and submitting your assignments, ticking off your chapter of study for the day, or checking in with your student advisor.
“Visualise your goal, and keep working towards it, little by little, every day. By staying focused on those smaller individual tasks which lead toward your end goal, you can cancel out distractions when you sit down to study. Don’t worry about what may happen in the future. Do what you can do now, in the present.”
3. ACKNOWLEDGE AND TAKE PRIDE IN YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Magni advises students to draw up a progress chart, and check back every day to see how far they’ve come.
“We easily forget what we did yesterday, last week, or a month ago, and can lose sight of those hurdles we managed to clear. By reminding yourself daily of what progress you’ve already made, and what hurdles you’ve been able to overcome, you can continue to motivate yourself to work towards your end goal.”
4. FORM A VIRTUAL STUDY GROUP
Distance learning students have long been used to connecting with their remote study peers, to counter feelings of isolation. For those who find themselves in this situation for the first time, reaching out to others studying the same subject or course can make a world of difference, not just mentally and emotionally, but also in terms of workload. Remote study groups can share the load by, for instance, splitting summarising duties, sharing notes and newly discovered resources, or quizzing each other on coursework.
“If you haven’t yet done so, studying from home now gives you the opportunity to start working with some of the tech tools that allow for effective and collaborative remote work – skills that will stand you in good stead in the future. You could, for example, start a study group over Skype with fellow students, or start using file-sharing programmes such as Dropbox,” says Magni.
5. STAY ORGANISED
Staying home all the time means the days flow into each other and one can quickly lose track of dates, which could spell disaster when you find yourself suddenly a day away from important exam dates or assignment deadlines.
“The way to counter this is to keep things visual, by putting up a huge calendar in your study area. This calendar should indicate all important dates and deadlines, and each day needs to be crossed out to stay on track. It also helps to add inspiring quotes or images from magazines that relate to your end goal,” says Magni.
“While we are all feeling uncertain and often overwhelmed these days, we shouldn’t allow ourselves to stagnate, waiting for better days. Self-discipline is arguably the most important signifier for making a success of distance learning, and should be cultivated during this time.
“This does not mean you should not be kind to yourself, as you deal with the fears and anxieties brought on by a world in turmoil. However, by taking ownership of what is in your control, and committing to furthering your education even under these circumstances, you will be empowering yourself and ensure that you exit this period with the best possible chance of starting out in the strongest possible position.”