I used to love road trips, and always enjoyed the chance to break up my usual routine. Then I started online learning. Quickly, I found out that breaking up my routine, or sloppy learning on the go, could wreck my studies if I wasn’t careful. Instead of risking it, I came up with these study tips to keep myself on track:
Save your course work to a safe location online, in case your laptop gets damaged in transit while learning on the go. Distance learners are often held to a higher standard by professors, and some have a dim view of students who don’t complete assignments due to hardware problems. It’s the digital equivalent of "my dog ate my homework. You may be able to archive your files on your school’s learning management system (ex. Blackboard, Desire2Learn, etc.) or save them to a free storage service like Dropbox.com. At the very least, email yourself everything you’ll need -- and maybe some helpful study tips -- in case your computer doesn’t survive the trip.
Research your destination before you leave, and make sure that you have at least one backup option for internet access if there’s any chance that you’ll need it during the trip. As unlikely as it may seem, not everyone has high-speed internet yet. Or the internet at your hotel might not be reliable. Nothing will thwart learning on the go like a dysfunctional Wi-Fi connection. I’ve stayed in several hotels on road trips that had hit-or-miss connectivity.
Does your instructor give their lectures online as a download? Even if you haven't tried it before, this may be a good time to start. Transfer them to your mobile device (ex. iPod, iPhone, Blackberry, etc.) so you can listen to them while you travel. It helps to pass the time, and to keep the coursework fresh in your mind. And, if you’re flying, don’t forget to switch the device to “airplane” mode!
When you’re traveling, how much time you actually have to study can be unpredictable at best. Set small, incremental goals on what you can accomplish while learning on the go, so you don’t bite off more than you can chew. For example, don’t plan to get an entire draft of your term paper done over Christmas... it’s easy to get distracted over the holidays. Type up an introduction, or finish up your reference list, then take a break to see how much time you have left, before attempting anything else. Or, if your course requires short participation activities, like group discussions or online quizzes over reading, tackle those first while you have the chance. Try to focus on short-term milestones instead of entire long-term to-do list to help manage both your time and your sanity.
Many people, myself included, have a “study zone” where they’re the most productive. Whether it’s the home office, the library, or a sports bar, some places are easier for us to focus at than others. Do whatever you can to take your “zone” with you. What about it helps you study? Does it have to be quiet, or loud? Would you be comfortable sitting in the corner of a coffee shop, or do you need space to walk around? Think about where you’re traveling to, and what you could do to have the same environment while you’re there.
About the Author: In addition to pursuing and writing about higher education, David Handlos works as a Lead Software Performance Engineer at Fiserv. He has also worked for Kansas State University as the webmaster, managing both the College of Engineering and Engineering Extension web sites. Handlos holds a Bachelors of Science in Computer Engineering from Kansas State University and a Masters in Information Systems which he earned online from Dakota State University.