In today’s world, moving away from home to attend university or college is almost the equivalent of a rite of passage. It is considered an essential part of moving from the middle ground of adolescence, to the much more challenging ground of adulthood. And since others have discussed the preparation time of adolescence and early adulthood, the book Do Hard Things which I recently reviewed is an example, I do not feel it is necessary to dig into it here.
If you haven’t yet seen the other articles in this series, you can check them out below:
Determining if Distance Learning is Right for You:
Once one understands why one wants to learn, in other words, once you understand why you value learning and what your personal philosophy is with learning. Only then can you decide if going on campus, or doing distance learning will work the best for you. Online learning may not work if you are a visual or auditory learner, or have trouble remaining motivated. At the same time, if you have to move to optimize your learning, can never focus in lectures, and are at least moderately self-motivated, you may well prefer online studies to being in a classroom on campus.
Drawing from my own experience, you do not necessarily need to be self-motivated as money or deadline motivated to do well with online studies. I found the short, intensive courses that make up the majority of Moody Bible Institute’s online curriculum, to be very motivational due to the weekly, and sometimes twice weekly, deadlines. When your grade decreases by ten points if you are late, and a failing grade is around 65-70%, then the easy marks, and the danger of losing them by being late become much more valuable. Of course, paying cash and not using student loans also makes every course more individually valuable, you don’t want to work those hours a second time for the same course.
During my three and a half years of taking Moody online courses, I was a professional procrastinator. Not so much by choice, but because of how long it took my brain to synthesize information. I did my reading in the first two days of the week, delayed until the day it was due to do the discussions, and usually ended up delaying most of the weekend before powering through the papers on Sunday afternoon and Monday (all papers were due Monday at 10pm). It was not that the courses were individually hard, but that my brain processed the readings slowly.
Working While Studying
One thing I frequently encountered in my courses, was a person taking one or two courses per semester, and working full time as well. Many of them were working in ministry related positions, and were getting the education that they needed to completely fulfill those positions. However, I never met one person my age that was working and studying at the same time. Actually, I never met anyone my own age that was even doing distance learning.
I worked my way through university in three distinct ways. First, I had a part time job at my church as one of the custodians, a position I worked from grade eleven until my third year of university. The pay was average minimum wage, but it was something I could do and it helped pay nearly half of my tuition. It also meant that I actually went into town and talked to people, and could use the church internet for some of my university related downloads.
The second thing I did was work for a summer at the local Bible camp. I did this more for the experience of working and living away from home, even though I could go home to visit every weekend. This summer’s work only covered half of a semester’s tuition, but the lack was made up for by my third method of earning income.
The third thing I did was become an online Virtual Assistant, which I did for three years. I still do editing, and some ghostwriting online so that I have income and a business that can grow or shrink as I have time to dedicate to it.
For a little bit of extra “fun money” I also signed up for a fun points program online. The program, after using it for a year, managed to pay nearly 90% of my textbook cost in my last year and a half. With that particular program, I only spent 5 to 10 minutes on it per day, and often even less as I was not trying to earn a huge amount. Most days I earned 5-10 cents, which adds up to about 35$ per year which can go a surprisingly long way on Amazon for used textbooks.
Thanks to the writing and editing I did over those three years, and also the time I spent crafting papers for my university courses, I ended up becoming fairly good at writing and reading fast. These skills now stand me in very good stead as an author, and full time writer, and are the main reason that I spent the summer volunteering as a writer in Jerusalem.
Balancing Your Time:
Working and studying, whether you are on a university campus or at home doing it by distance, is challenging. Both place large demands on your time, and if you have family and friends who also need your time, your time can be gone before you know it.
The number one time saving technique that I employed while studying full time, was a simple technique to make double use of my reading efforts and time.
I did this in two ways. First, at the start of a given week I would review all requirements, and assignments that were due that week, or and also those that were later in the course but might still tie into this material. For papers and discussion boards directly related to the reading, I would make the outlines based on the actual paper descriptions in the course syllabus.
Then, I would read and as I read, I would take quotes and plug them into the syllabus based paper outline. When I finished the reading, I would have a collection of quotes, with page numbers, inserted into my paper outline. Then, when I was finally ready to write the paper, all I needed to do was write the connecting phrases and paragraphs in between the quotes.
Getting quotes while reading, on average, saved me two hours per paper per week. The practice also helped me retain more of what I read, and improved my papers and the grades I received.
The number two way I improved my time management, was by learning to increase my reading comprehension and speed. While watching for and taking the quotes helped with comprehension, it was employing a few minor speed-reading tactics that seriously improved my study time. Those tactics were reading any and all chapter previews, and scanning the headings before I started reading. Once I knew what the chapter was about, and how it was structured, I was in a much better position to remember, retain, and get through the material as efficiently as possible.
While I do not know your average reading speed. If you are going to do distance learning of any type, or university for that matter, I would highly recommend figuring out your reading retention rate and your reading speed. In a distance learning course, with no video lectures, if you can read and retain 500 words in under five minutes, you will only need to spend half of the “recommended” per-credit hour time on the course.
I actually found that, provided it was a heavy reading course, I only needed to spend one quarter of the recommended time. Why? Because, I read like a maniac and grabbed my quotes while I was reading. I didn’t have to go back and re-read it, except for the pre-exam studying (exam weeks I spent double my personal average), and I retained a surprising amount of the material. An average theology textbook chapter would take me 15 minutes to read and take quotes from. Maybe thirty minutes max if I started going back and forth in the Scriptures to argue with the textbook.
Making Time for Fun:
Balancing and making wise use of one’s time is always a good plan, whether or not you are studying or in university. But, as a young adult and just out of high-school, sometimes it feels like there is no time for fun between work and studying. Well, there is time, but you have to be a little creative with what you do.
While in university, I ended up with three main “fun” distractions that I would indulge in.
The first distraction was a long walk. This provided a way for me to let off steam, and mentally arguing with texts and grapple with concepts. As well as having the benefit of getting fresh air, and some sunlight on sunny days, oh, and that essential thing called exercise…
The second distraction was going to the local coffee shop, ostensibly to use the internet, but also to have the chance of getting off the property, enjoying a cup of tea or coffee, and sometimes getting a snack. I got to know many of the regulars at the coffee shop, which also meant that I could have a nice chat when I didn’t feel like doing anything other than enjoying my drink. The library also worked, when the coffee shop was not open, and if you know your librarians and have a quiet library, it can be quite fun.
The third way was probably the worst, and that was to play a computer game. Lord of the Rings Online ended up being my go-to distraction, stress reliever, and general fun game. The game itself is free to play, and being an online multiplayer game, there ended up being plenty of opportunities to make friends, talk, and generally enjoy oneself. It was always fun to hear the guys in Australia and New Zealand complaining about the heat, when I was staring out the window at snow falling.
Remember that no two people will ever do anything in the exact same way. What worked well for me, may need many a tweak and adjustment to work for you. Whether you work your way through college or university in a traditional manner, or in a non-traditional manner that is paired with distance learning, you should do what is best for your learning style and learning values.
While this does not mean that university life should be all work and no fun, it is necessary to balance both sides of the equation. All fun, to the exclusion of work, will entail stress and missed deadlines. All work to the exclusion of fun will equal burnout and frustration. Find the balance that works for you, and don’t be afraid to make adjustments as often as you need to.
Back To You:
What would you suggest for someone who was working their way through university? What do you think of online learning options? Leave a comment!