Five Steps to Success: One Online Student’s Tips for Making Online Learning Work For You

Angela (Peggy) Krajnovic does it all. She’s a Registered Nurse, Preschool Director & Founder of the Flamingo Island Preschool in Richardson, TX, and an online master’s student at BU Wheelock.

She somehow found time in her schedule this week to talk about how her classes at BU fit into her busy lifestyle, and to offer her fellow students–especially those who are experiencing remote learning for this first time this semester–some advice on how to get the most out of their BU classes.

Step 1: Embrace Flexibility & Organization Amidst the Chaos 

As a part-time student in BU Wheelock’s online Master’s in Curriculum & Teaching, she’s taking two classes this semester: SC 570 Middle/High School Science and SO 572 Social Studies.

Peggy credits the flexibility and organization of BU’s online classes with “making the impossible, possible.”

“The structure of a traditional BU online course consists of a set of well-organized modules that weave together discussion board posts, written assignments, readings, and online weekly Zoom video conferencing.” That regular structure helps someone like Peggy figure out how to fit learning into a work schedule that can stretch to 50 (or sometimes 80) hours per week. “It’s a good idea to create a general timeline of assignments due and reading ahead,” she recommends.

Step 2: Trust Your Juggling Skills & Feel No Shame When You Reach for the Energy Drinks

For graduate students like Peggy, juggling work, family, and the curveballs life likes to throw us is a practiced skill. To be successful as an online student, she trusts the discipline she’s developed over her career and adult life.

“Graduate school requires moderate sacrifices and meeting deadlines under pressure,” she says. “In the end, it’s up to me to impose that order.”

In-between work and raising her own children, Peggy squeezes in reading assignments and post to class discussion boards on the go. “If I’m at the doctor’s office, I can watch online lectures or required viewings through my cell phone. If you have internet, education at BU is 100% possible.”

She notes that the care her instructors take in setting expectations for each course goes a long way in helping her plan ahead for her assignments. “Late-nighters” are an inevitable part of grad school, but when professors intentionally schedule assignments to be due at 5 am, or immediately following a weekend, it shows support and consideration for the realities their working students face.

Still, it’s up to Peggy to make it through those marathon evenings. “Keep a few energy drinks in your fridge for those moments and know it’s totally normal!”

Step 3: Identify (and Identify With) Your Motivation 

Anyone motivated enough to start their own business, raise a family, or earn an advanced degree is bound to be familiar with the frustrations that can come from taking on a big challenge.

For Peggy, the key to getting over those inevitable moments of discouragement is to put her focus on what motivates her to achieve.

“My drive to learn comes from the young students I serve,” says Peggy. That understanding connects who she is with what she does with her time, and keeps her centered on what is most important to her.

Whether your motive has to do with earning good grades, getting a raise at your job, or just increasing an knowledge, her recommendation is the same: “continual self-reflection” keeps you connected with the motivation needed to pursue your goals.

Step 4: Know What You’re Getting Yourself Into & Don’t Be Afraid To Say No

Most online graduate programs are designed to flexibly accommodate a variety of learning styles and schedules. But, that doesn’t mean they are any less rigorous than in-person programs.

Peggy estimates that she spends a minimum of 15 to 20 hours each week focused on her studies. For some students, that number is higher, and for others, lower. It all depends on the individual.

“Making sure I have time for work, family, and ‘having a life’ can be a challenge,” she says. “Sometimes, I need to admit to myself that I just don’t have time to do everything.”

It helps to have family and friends who understand not to take it personally when their mom, partner, and BFF has to sacrifice some of their shared time in service of their academic work. “A large part of being successful is ensuring they understand that temporary sacrifice is necessary.”

Step 5: Don’t Give Up on Yourself or Your Studies.

With so much of one’s schedule obligated to specific others, it’s important to set aside some time that’s purely for oneself. For Peggy, that can mean walking, jogging, or yoga. Even 10 minutes of time to yourself can “clear one’s mind of stressors or burdens so you can focus later on completing that assignment.”

Deliberately taking that time helps Peggy consistently bring “a positive, consistent, and dedicated attitude” to her studies. It’s worth it, she says, to read in the car or at the grocery story or whenever else she can squeeze it in, in order to gain back time to focus clearly on the other parts of her life.