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Online learning is on the rise, even if the concept is still considered relatively new in Malaysia as of 2017. Its main benefit is, of course, breaking the time/distance barrier. You can be taking an open course from MIT, an Arabic class from Bayyinah’s Dallas campus, or a cake decorating class from London from the comfort of wherever your PC/laptop may be.
I probably never mentioned this before but my MBA was an online program even though, technically, it is a hybrid online program. Classes, presentations, and midterm exams were all conducted online, but I still had to fly to Penang at the end of every semester to sit for my final exams.
Despite the undeniable benefits that such an online program afforded me, I was painfully aware of the challenges that come along with online learning especially since it took me seven long semesters (3 1/2 years) to finish my MBA due to work and family commitments. And now that I’ve finally completed my MBA, I realise that I would probably benefit other people if I shared some topics on how I managed to survive online learning.
1. Get your mindset right. The right mindset will see you through all the challenges of online learning. You cannot control situations but you have absolute control over how you respond to those situations. Ultimately, you are the only one who can see yourself through this journey. This is very important because there will be numerous times when you’d want to give it all up and it’s only you who can convince yourself to go on. There will be times when you’d get fed up with remote discussions with your groupmates and, again, it’s up to you to go on and find a way to make things work. There’ll be times when your final project seem impossible but only you can get yourself grit your teeth and just go ahead and deal with it.
2. Break it down. Set your goals, identify what needs to be done in order to achieve them, then break everything down into smaller, more manageable chunks. This will keep you from feeling overwhelmed and, at the same time, will help you manage your time better by identifying which things to prioritise and which ones to (possibly) delay.
3. Make the most of networking. Even though this is one journey that you have to do on your own, remind yourself that you are not alone. Make friends with everyone, especially your seniors, as they would be able to give you invaluable tips on how/where to get things done. Be active in your MBA WhatsApp group or your group mailing list, whichever is applicable. Make friends with your lecturers and your program director because they would be able to advise you, as well.
4. Document everything. The mind is a strange thing. It can remember the oddest minute details but can leave out the most critical ones. Follow up discussions with email summaries, or at the very least, by text/WhatsApp.
5. Set multiple reminders everywhere. Use sticky notes, Google calendar, Evernote, whichever works for you. And set multiple alarms. Do this for everything — discussion dates, thesis submission schedule, meetings with your supervisor, homework deadline, robe pick up date, graduation rehearsal, flight schedules, everything! For more critical tasks, set an alarm, say, a week in advance, plus three days in advance, a day in advance, and an hour in advance. It may sound redundant now but you’ll thank me one day.
6. Avoid the recordings. Most online courses offer the flexibility of accessing recordings, in case you can’t attend the live class. Listen to me and listen to me well — attend the live classes as much as possible! It is always tempting to avoid the live classes and just listen to the recording, but trust me, you’ll find you’ll hardly ever access the recordings. The added benefit of joining the live class is, obviously, the ability to ask questions right there and then.
7. Back everything up. This one’s self explanatory. Create multiple backup of files in your hard disk, a portable hard drive, a USB drive, and your regular backup drive.
8. Prepare for the worst case scenario. In case your internet connection at home fails, can you use your mobile phone as a wifi hotspot? In case of a blackout, is there a 24-hour cafe with internet access that you can go to? In case any of your groupmates have issues with their microphones during a presentation, make sure everyone prepares scripts of their portion and share that with everyone else so that the group leader (or any group member) can take over that part of the presentation.
9. Cover your camera and turn off your mic by default. Accidents do happen and when they do, you wouldn’t want your classmates to see you in your pyjamas or hear your child crying in the background, would you?
10. Check email and your online learning portal at least once a day. Online classes rely on emails and portal announcements and you wouldn’t want to miss a crucial announcement, would you?
11. Ask questions. One of my favourite teachers once remarked, “The only stupid question is the one you do not ask.” For all you know, that question burning in your mind may just be the very same question that everyone else in class is dying to ask. Just make sure to first read the syllabus, course notes, instructions, what-have-you before asking your question.
12. Email your instructor. All online classes that I’ve attended so far always provide an email address for any queries. You can always email your questions if they are too long or if they are very specific questions that will not benefit anyone else in class.
13. Get organised. Keep all your textbooks and notes in one place. Create separate folders for every class so that you can save files specific to that class to that folder — notes, homework, additional reading, etc.
14. Learn to say no. Even though online learning gives you the flexibility of learning at your own time, you still have the same 24 hours in a day. Just like any other class, online learning will take up a huge chunk of your times, thus, you’d have to learn to turn down unnecessary social commitments or cut down the time you normally allocate to certain hobbies/activities.
15. Life happens. Finally, keep in mind that there will be times when real life just has to take precedence over your online class. Sure, it may be the final 30 minutes of your last class of your toughest subject, but your child is burning with fever. Attend to your baby and set a reminder to watch the last 30 minutes recording afterwards.
I sincerely hope these tips will help you with your online learning journey. It will definitely not be easy but I assure you that it will all be worth it in the end!
P.S. I did not merely survive my online MBA; I succeeded. I made it to the Dean’s List and had my first journal article published soon after graduation ;)
Dear Selangor Government,
I have a bone to pick with you!
Starting the 1st of January, 2017, the whole of Selangor is now #bebasplastik (plastic bag-free). Sure, it’s “good for the environment” but I say: shame on you, Selangor government, for taking the easy way out! Why do the ban at consumer level only? What are YOU doing on manufacturers’ level? Do you have a program in place that bans manufacturers from using certain types of packaging that can neither be recycled nor reused? At the very least, plastic bags get a second-lease in life (or maybe even more) as a garbage bag, as a shoe bag, for wrapping extra clothes to school, and so on. But is there any legislation for plastics used in electrical and electronic equipment?? In the UK alone, more than 10 million tonnes of packaging waste is produced every year. I dare say Malaysia produces so much more, especially for small electronic items like this!
Don’t even get me started on plastic water bottles. Why aren’t those banned, as well??
What about coffee pods? Why is there no regulation about coffee machines that use these single-serving pods?
In Hamburg, Germany, a ban has been in place since January 2016 for “equipment for hot drinks in which portion packaging is used” – specifically singling out the “Kaffeekapselmaschine”, or coffee capsule machine, which accounts for one in eight coffees sold in Germany, due to these products causing “unnecessary resource consumption and waste generation.” Why can’t we do the same thing?
And finally, don’t even get me started on the waste segregation enforcement supposedly set in place since June 2016. What a joke! Our family dutifully bought the colour-coded bags and segregated our household waste like any good law-abiding citizen. But guess what? The garbage collectors simply grabbed ALL of the bags and dumped them all into the same lorry! Fast forward to February 2017, we segregate all recyclables into one bag and even when we specifically tell the garbage collectors what’s inside it, they simply dump it with the rest of the trash.
I may be only one irate Selangor resident but I can assure you there are thousands more who feel the same as I do!
Rant over. Over and out.
January marks the beginning of a new school year for Malaysia. For parents whose children are going to school for the first time, separation anxiety can be cause for major concern. Not all children happily skip to class after parents drop them off; a good number of children would cry, cling to their parents, and/or put up a major struggle not to get into the classroom.
Sound familiar? Yup! I know the feeling all too well. I went through this phase with all six children and, I’m telling you, it never gets any easier!
It starts off as a feeling of dread that builds up during that short drive to school as you try to keep a semblance of calm as you navigate the early morning snarling traffic, which peaks when your child goes into major meltdown just as soon as you pull up the school entrance. “Tak nak schooooool! Nak Mamaaaaa!!!!” (I don’t want school! I want Mama!)
Your anxiety mounts as you feel torn between the instinctive need to comfort your child and the need to show up at work on time. Just five more minutes, you promise yourself, as you pull your child aside to hug him and shower him with kisses and promises to be back later. His cries reduce to a whimper and his hands release your clothes from what used to be a death grip. And the moment you utter, “Okay, Mama really needs to go to work now,” the whole wailing and screaming thing starts all over again. But at this point, you have no choice but go so you leave your child with his class teacher, leaving you feeling wretched and awful and a complete failure as a mother, guilt eating away at you throughout the day.
One week later, you go through the same pain and anxiety every single day. For some children, it can take two weeks, a month, maybe even longer.
So what’s a working mother to do??
First off, try to find out if there is any specific reason why your child cries. Talk to your child — young children are usually incapable of making up stories. Talk to his teacher — if your child is too young, he may be incapable of expressing what exactly is bother him. Could someone in class be possibly bullying your child? Is there anything in school that could possibly merit your attention?
If you find a valid reason, you might need to consider a different class, a different school, or maybe even re-think sending your child to school at all, perhaps wait for another year before doing so.
If you find that it’s purely separation anxiety, there are a few things you can do to help ease it, both for your child and for yourself:
1. Children can pick up on parents’ feelings. If we show some sign that we, ourselves, feel separation anxiety, I assure you, they can feel all that anxiety coming from you. So, when you drop your child off, make the trip as pleasant as possible (sing songs, talk about funny stuff, etc.) and do your best to appear calm and okay.
2. As you drop your child off, look him in the eye (squat down, if you have to, like Prince William does) and assure him that you will pick him up later or see him later at home, whichever is the case. It is very important to establish eye contact with your child as you make your promise. Then in the evening, when you pick him up or when you see each other at home, make it a point to remind him of your promise that morning and how you fulfilled that promise. Do this every single day.
3. When you drop him off, don’t prolong the agony for both of you. Drop him off. Do as in #2. Quick hug and kiss. Exit.
4. Let your child bring something extra everyday, like some treats to share with classmates, a special packed snack or lunch, maybe even sneak in his favourite toy inside his school bag (just make sure to label it with your child’s name and to inform his teacher, so that it wouldn’t get lost).
5. Find out the names of his classmates and talk about them at home. On the way to school, mention how those friends are excited to see him and how much fun they are going to have.
6. Maintain contact with the teachers. Find out how long it takes him to calm down. Does it affect him the entire day? Or does he stop crying the moment your car disappears from view? What helped me a lot was WhatsApp — my Little Dragon‘s teacher would take his pic between 30 minutes and an hour after I leave and that image of him interacting in class instead of crying allays any fears or anxieties that might be brewing in my head.
7. Give him some time. Some kids take a week to adapt, some a month, some even as long as two months.
All the best!
In the early 1990s, no one knew where or what Malaysia is. I used to enter IRC chat rooms and introduce Malaysia as a country in Southeast Asia located between Singapore and Thailand. When I’d tell French language speakers “J’habite en Malaisie” (I live in Malaysia), inevitably they’d ask me in jest “Tu as du malaise?” (Are you unwell?).
Then the Petronas Twin Towers were built and, I dare say, finally put Malaysia on the world map and stopped all the nonsense about malaise.
I realise it’s a man-made wonder but it is a wonder, all the same. These towers never fail to evoke deep within me feelings of amazement, of belonging, of being home.
Pics taken with an ASUS Zenfone 3 on auto mode.