We asked two Adam Smith University professionals to put together some information on what it takes to be successful in college. Ruth Ann Flippin, Registrar, at Adam Smith University, said that she finished college while raising two children. That takes a lot of effort. Similarly, the Director of Information Technology, said he did his degrees partly through online education and partly through correspondence. All distance learning options require significant effort.
Ruthy studied Sociology, working nights and weekends to finish her in-person classes. Trying to balance work, children, and those aspects of one’s personal life, such as relationships can be difficult. But it can be done. Wesley Upchurch can attest to that fact as well. Trying to run a business, raise a child as a single parent, and other things in life can make finishing that degree difficult. Though he had already earned a Bachelor’s Degree, he went back and finished another degree he started long ago. He joked on Twitter, that while it took him 4 years to earn a Bachelor’s Degree, it took 14 to finish his 2-year degree.
So, what advice did Ruthy and Wes have to share with us? We asked them to put their heads together and come up with a few methods of success in Distance Learning. Because both hold now holds administrative roles at one of the oldest distance learning schools, the pair should know a thing or two about succeeding in online education. They told us that you should read for understanding, organize tour time, and study when and where it’s effective. Lastly, find balance and better ways.
Method One: Read for Understanding
It’s easy for students to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information that they are expected to take in, process, and understand. But there are proven methods of approaching college-level reading that make the task easier.
One such approach is outlined by Dave Ellis in his book, Becoming a Master Student. In this book, he teaches a system for reading and understanding that he calls “Muscle Reading.” Using this method, he divides a study session into three separate parts, each containing three steps. Those huge 500-page college textbooks can make even the best readers feel overwhelmed if they try to just dive in without knowing what they are expected to take from it. But when approached incrementally, in steps it becomes much more approachable. There are things you can do before you read, while you read, and after you read to ensure you take from the book what is most important and that you have a firm grasp on that material.
Dave Ellis says that before you read the material it can benefit you to preview the material, outline it, and ask questions (even write them down). While you read, you should read, underline and highlight key parts, and answer those questions you came up with while previewing the material. Then, after you have read the material, recite what you learned, review the material, and review it again. This is the “Muscle Reading” technique.
Method Two: Organize Your Time
Learning from a distance has many advantages but it also presents some difficult challenges. One of the main advantages is that, in many cases, you can work at your own pace, instead of according to a set schedule. This provides more flexibility, but it also means you must organize your time if you want to fit your studies into your life. And it means that you are responsible for allocating enough time to finishing your studies.
Of course, you have to accommodate other obligations, such as family, job, volunteer work, and personal health and relaxation. And you can’t neglect your duty to any of these. Doesn’t it seem strange that the advantage of working from wherever you want and at your own pace is also the greatest challenge? Not having a fixed schedule means you must make your own. You will find life pulling you in different directions.
If you’re like most people, you have a job where someone else tells you when to arrive, what to do while you’re on the job, and when you can go home. Ruthy says, if you’re a parent, much of your day is determined by your children’s schedule. So, to succeed as a distance learning, you have to structure the rest of your life, that part that is your own. Planning is a must if you want to arrange the pieces of your life in a way that your education doesn’t get left behind as you go about your day. You’ve got to treat it like a job, except this is a job where you are the boss. But how can you do this? She says to be realistic about your daily study goals, be flexible, and make the most of your spare moments.
Method 3: Study When and Where It’s Most Effective
We talked about organizing your time to ensure that you find a place in your busy schedule for completing your studies, but it isn’t always about making time for studying. Sometimes, it’s about where and when you study. While, we’ve probably seen people study at the mall, on a public bus, or in their living room with their family, that probably won’t work for most of us. We can’t focus when we’re distracted or after the kids have gone to bed and we’re exhausted (unless we just happen to be a night owl). So, how do we study when and where it’s most effective?
Wes says, understand your own patterns. Most people are morning people. This is why many of the greatest religious leaders suggest bible study and prayer in the morning. But he, like Ruthy, is a night owl. He says it makes more sense to study when you are physically and mentally at your sharpest. But also, you’ve got to avoid burnout, so avoid Marathons. It doesn’t do any good to push yourself beyond your mental capability to remain focused. He might make his career doing information technology, but he’d be the first to tell you that you should respect your mental limitations. There comes a point where it might be better to get up and do something else for a while, like that much-neglected laundry or just let the dog outside.
But they also said study when and where it’s most effective. What exactly does that mean? It means finding a place that is conducive to study and ideally free of distraction. A quiet corner of your home could do wonders. Or maybe, if you can get away it might be worth it to read in a hammock at the park, where it’s unlikely anyone is going to bother you.
Method 4: Find Balance and Better Ways
Yes, we know you can’t give up the other obligations in life. That’s why you have to find time to study, when and where it’s most effective. But you’ve got to also get your other affairs in order and make sure that education remains a priority in your life. You’re far less likely to finish school if you constantly find yourself worrying about finances, health, or other endeavors. Both Wesley and Ruthy agree balance is necessary and useful. In many cases, the root cause of our self-doubts and worries about not being able to finish what we started is the result of not having learned good habits. We need good life skills and should develop better habits in other areas of our life.
When our body doesn’t get the exercise and nutrition it needs, our brain doesn’t function at its peak potential. We have to be healthy to perform in all areas of life and that includes school. So, don’t neglect proper nutrition or allow yourself to become stagnant. Choose healthy foods and snacks. This can help you avoid sugar crashes. Take a walk. This not only resets your mind, but physical activity helps you sleep better, which means you’ll perform better in all aspects of life.
Get your financial affairs in order. Those that worry about paying for education on top of all the other bills, might be tempted to give up or never begin. Maybe cutting the cable bill would alleviate some of the concerns. Proper planning and budgeting make all the difference. You may have to make sacrifices to achieve your educational goal, but remember education is the best investment you can make in life. Wes is quick to remind us that everything else in life can be taken from you, but knowledge cannot.
Ruthy points out that those closest to us can be our greatest allies to finishing what we started. So, you should ask your family members to support you in your journey. They can help keep you focused, take on some of the burdens, and remind you to never give up. And even if the family isn’t an option, whatever your struggle is, you should find a group that supports your journey. Connecting with others in your industry, finding support for any mental health issues, or even just a group of friends to encourage you really can make a difference.
So, how do you find success?
We didn’t share with you their personal struggles, but you should know that both Ruthy and Wes overcame great obstacles to find themselves where they are today. See, that’s the thing. We all run into roadblocks. But where there is a will there is a way. You might have to reorganize your life a little. You might have to find your own quiet place. But you can balance life’s demands and education. Many have done it before you and that degree is worth it.
About Ruthy Flippin and Wes Upchurch
Ruth Ann Flippin and Wesley Upchurch both serve on the Board of Adam Smith University in administrative roles. Their lives crossed paths, not once but twice. First in Columbia, Missouri, but secondly at Adam Smith University. Adam Smith University is an innovative University that has been providing distance learning options since 1991. For more information on Adam Smith University or for additional study tips, visit AdamSmith.edu.
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