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 ;)