When I was part way through high school, I decided that enough was enough and decided to quit going to school. I realized that if I could complete my studies on my own, I’d be able to work fulltime and save significantly more than I’d be able to if I continued attending school in person. I absolutely loved it and finished high school early and have continued in self-directed education in my adult life (most recently a bachelor’s degree in psychology).
I’m fortunate in that I was able to choose to learn this way and that it’s something that works well for me, but I thought I’d share some tips for those who are perhaps new to this way of learning this fall. COVID-19 has turned our world upside down and an already stressful time of year is even more harrowing this year. I hope these tips make life a little easier!
- Set out a schedule (and modify it as needed).
When I get my syllabus for a new course, I will schedule my own deadlines for when I need to have chapters read by or assignments completed. Depending on the course, I sometimes find I’m a little too optimistic in how quickly I can get items completed, so after starting the course I’ll sometimes have to modify these timelines.
Hint : I love Google Tasks for this as it is easy to move the dates around, and it’s so satisfying to mark them as complete! I use Tasks for the overall goal for the day (ie. read Chapter 1) and write on a sheet of paper my smaller goals (read page 1-10 (break), read page 10-20 (break)).
- Setup your ideal workspace.
I absolutely cannot listen to music or TV shows while I’m doing work! Some days I find the sound of people talking nearby to be too distracting to allow me to focus. For other people, these sounds are their white noise. Find what works for you and be willing to make changes as you need.
- Recognize when it’s just not working (but be honest with yourself).
Some days you’re just not going to be in the right frame of mind to retain anything you’re reading or to produce any material of value. Recognize those days and give yourself permission to step back and take some time away from your studies.
BUT, this isn’t an excuse for you to keep pushing off your studies! Be honest with yourself – is it really not working today, or would you just prefer to not be doing it? I like to give myself a goal of reading five pages before I decide to call it quits.
- Put. Away. Distractions.
I’m going to say it again. Put. Away. Distractions.
And once more because I know you’re arguing with me about this. Put. Away. Distractions.
YES this means your phone. Put it out of reach and out of sight. YES this means logging out of Facebook and Messenger. YES this means closing your email. I really like to put whatever I’m working on into full screen mode (F11 on my PC keyboard, I’m not sure for you MAC weirdos 😉 ) so there are no temptations to open a new tab or “just quickly Google this one thing”.
If you need to, keep a piece of paper nearby to jot things down that you think of while you’re studying so you can followup on them later.
- Give yourself breaks.
Perhaps it’s my type A personality, but I frequently get into moods where I convince myself to just power through all thirty pages and get it done!
Spoiler alert : it doesn’t end well.
It’s so important to give your mind a break, as well as your body. Make sure you’re standing up, stretching, looking away from electronics to rest your eyes and drinking water!
- Stay organized.
Since you are no longer packing up to move between classes or between school and home, it can be tempting to leave your things out for when you return the next day. Personally, I find it better to tidy up when I’m finished, put my papers back into the binder, etc. Not only does this help to keep you and your things organized, but it’s a nice way to close out the day by physically closing books and putting away everything you had used.
- Read to learn.
This is a hard one for me! Make sure you’re actually reading, learning and absorbing versus just getting the work done. Just because you read it doesn’t mean you’ve understood or retained it! Trust me, this will save you time in the long run.
I hope these tips are helpful for you! I know that self-directed study isn’t for everyone, but for me it was life changing and I hope that for at least some people, this opens additional doors.
Please remember to be kind to yourself. You’re doing double the learning right now; your regular studies and learning how to learn on your own. Give yourself time to adjust and make changes as needed.
What about you? Have you previously participated in remote learning? Do you have any tips to share? Alternatively, are you a brand new remote learner who is struggling with something in particular? Let me know in the comments!