Getting and Staying Organized in the World of Online Learning

Stacey Ahuja- WSU Global Campus Virtual Mentor

Are you new to the world of online learning? Are you a seasoned online learner in need of a new strategy? Or maybe you already have well-established system for organizing your schedule, but you’re on the lookout for a helpful new tip.

Whatever your situation, I’d like to offer some words of advice and tips that I used during my time as a busy student. I found online learning to be quite different from my experience as an on-campus student, and, to be honest, I was a little shocked when I first began taking classes online. This is a very comprehensive list, meant to serve as a relevant reference for students during the entirety of the semester. So, here goes:

Start early at the beginning of a semester.  Most of WSU’s online courses are accessible during the weekend prior to the official start of the semester. Use this extra time to get into the class, look around, and learn what will be required of you. Personally, I always used this weekend to complete the steps outlined below, as getting everything organized and calendared is slightly time consuming, and I wanted to be ready to start with course content on day one without having to fool around with organizational matters. 

Print Schedules and Syllabi. I liked to print out each course schedule and syllabus and keep them in course-specific folders. I also saved them into my course-specific folder on my computer. Do not get rid of any course syllabus after the class is over. You never know when you may need them. If you need to transfer courses, or plan to go on to graduate school, syllabi may be requested by future institutions to evaluate the courses you’ve taken. You’ll thank yourself for having them handy if they’re requested.

Calendar Everything.  Create a master calendar containing all of your important assignment due dates and test periods, including discussion posts and participation posts. I did this with a calendar (iCal and printed forms), but you can also use an Excel spreadsheet that contains all of your classes and assignment/exam/paper due dates so that you can see everything in one place. This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t do it. Plus, doesn’t it feel good to physically check something off of your to-do list?!

Create a weekly schedule…and stick to it.  This next step is something that helped me immensely, and I couldn’t have functioned without this level of organization: Each Thursday or Friday, I would write out the next week’s schedule so that I knew exactly what the following week looked like. I referenced each of my class folders with schedules and assignments, and I would write on a physical calendar or make a list; but do what works for you.  If you actually dedicate and schedule the specific time (think: appointments) that you will do certain tasks (e.g., read chapter 1, post discussion question, post participation post, take test, etc.), you will find that you’re more likely to stick to the plan and you will not fall behind. I’ve seen too many people fall behind in content-heavy courses due to lack of planning. When you schedule each task in this way, a week early, it gives you a good guide to follow, generally cuts down on scheduling surprises, and helps to keep yourself accountable to, well, yourself. This level of organization is crucial for people who also have jobs and are caregivers, because you already have a busy calendar. Just squeezing in study time whenever there’s a spare moment doesn’t usually end well.

For multi-step assignments, print instructions.  Many classes have large projects with specific steps due in intervals throughout the semester. I printed all steps of the instructions and wrote the due date in the top corner of the first page of each step. This streamlined my planning so that I had the step number and due date in one quick-reference place.

Work ahead when you can.  You’ll find that if you have completed your work for the week, you might have some free time on your hands, or you might have freed up some time to work on a paper that is coming due. Papers always seem to take more time than you think, so it’s nice to get rolling on those well in advance. One caveat here: if you’re working ahead on your discussion questions, it is best to save those in a Word doc and then post them during the week that they’re due because some instructors do not allow future discussion posts (it’s always best to ask your instructor’s preference here).

DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT procrastinate.  Never leave anything until the last minute! We are operating in an online environment and technology can, and does, fail. If you’re trying to submit a paper or take an exam at the last minute and your internet goes out or Blackboard goes down for maintenance, this is going to create unnecessary stress and potential missed points, neither of which are good.

Take a break (you deserve it!).  Scheduling your coursework is important, but it is also important to schedule downtime as well. You may be saying “what downtime?!” but I promise you, even if it’s 1 hour to do something for yourself (more if possible, though!), it will help you avoid burnout. Speaking from experience, if you don’t actually schedule it, you probably won’t do it. So be sure to specifically schedule some quiet time or something non-study related for yourself. Even when you have a full study day, take a few minutes every hour to sit quietly, eyes closed, and give your brain a break. 

Pay attention to announcementsthey’re important.  Always read announcements from your instructors, as they contain important information and reminders. Virtual Mentors sometimes send important emails as well, so it would be an excellent idea to make a habit of reading all course related emails and checking in to the Virtual Mentor forum periodically. The best practice here is to subscribe to the Questions for Instructor and Virtual Mentor forums (if they are available in your course) and read any notifications that are posted. This is another one that seems obvious, but I’ve had instructors tell me that students often ignore important announcement and miss tests (yes, tests!) and assignments that they were reminded of in announcements. 

Don’t be afraid to reach out.  Lastly, ask for help if you need it. If you’re struggling, let your instructor or TA know that you need help. You can also reach out to your course Virtual Mentor for any non-instructional help or guidance. Don’t get weighed down. WSU cares about your success and we will help in any way we can!

Thanks for reading. If anyone picked up just one helpful tip, then I’ve done my job!  Happy learning to all!  J

Stacey Ahuja

WSU Global Campus Virtual Mentor