Online Study Skills and Managing Time (Text Version)

Study Challenges

Studying is essential to any educational endeavor, but the online learning environment presents some unique studying challenges that you might not face in a traditional classroom environment. This means that in order to excel in your online class, you'll need to make sure your study skills are top notch!

Discipline, responsibility, motivation—these are characteristics that all students need in order to get the most they can out of their classes. But online students sometimes face additional challenges because of the degree of independence that the online learning system grants them. This is why it's so important for you to be able to honestly and effectively assess your own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to your study skills and habits, and to develop a process for yourself that will enable you to be most effective.

We've created this module on study skills and time management to help you identify your tendencies and habits, and provide you with strategies for improvement.

After completing this module, we want you to know:

Step 1 - Time Management

We've broken things down for you into 3 easy steps, so let' s go through them one at a time.

Step 1: identify your time management style.

One of the first things you'll want to do is to identify how you manage your time, we've created the following 6-question quiz to help you determine your time management personality profile. Keep in mind that your responses should reflect what you probably would do in a given situation, not what you think is the "right" answer.

Personality Profile

The following form is for reference only on this page; results are not submitted.

1. Your instructor just gave your class the prompts for your first essay, which is due in two weeks. How do you proceed from here?
2. You are working on a group assignment that requires you to split up responsibilities with 3 other classmates. When would you typically finish your part?
3. Your instructor just posted the instructions for your next assignment and you read them but don't quite understand what he's asking for in a certain part. What would you probably do?
4. The course you are taking requires you to post on a weekly discussion forum by Sunday night each week so the class can talk about everyone's posts on Monday. When do you submit your posts?
5. You have an important assignment due Monday morning, and you have a social/work/family obligation that will keep you busy for most of the weekend. It is now the Wednesday before the assignment is due. How would you approach this dilemma?
6. You have to read 150 pages before your next class meeting. You have 4 days to do so. What would you most likely do?

Identify Your Time Management Style

Now that you have a picture of the time-management personality types out there, do you feel like your personality profile fits the student you have been in the past? Has your previous way of doing things worked for you, or do you think it's time for a change? Remember, we can all always improve! See if you fit into one of the following categories.



PERSONALITY TYPE: The Pressure Cooker


Step 2 - Create a Schedule

Now that you've evaluated how you have done things in the past, you'll want to think about how you might create a schedule for managing your time to improve on that! The best schedules have some flexibility built into them, as you will undoubtedly have unexpected situations and circumstances arise during your time as a student.

Your schedule will be unique to you, depending on the level of detail you find helpful. There are some things—due dates, exam dates, and discussion times, for example—that should be included in your schedule no matter what. But you also might find it helpful to break down assignments into steps (or milestones) that you can schedule as well. Again, this is all about what works best for you—do you want to keep a record of only the major deadlines you need to keep in mind? Or does it help you to plan out every day so you stay on track? Your answers to these questions will vary depending on the course, the complexity of your schedule, and your own personal preferences.

Your schedule will also vary depending on the course you're taking. So pull out your syllabus and try to determine the rhythm of the class by looking at the following factors:

You can find many useful resources online that will help you keep track of your schedule. Some are basic, cloud-based calendars (like Google calendar, iCal, Outlook), and some (like iHomework) are specialized for students.

We all have exactly 168 hours per week. How do you spend yours? And now that you're a student, how much time will be willing to devote to your studies?

Q & A

Ok, let's switch gears here and spend a little time with a time management Q&A. Here are some of the questions most frequently asked by students:

Student 1: Do I really need to create a study schedule when I'm taking an online course? I can honestly keep track of all of this in my head.

Answer: Yes, you really should. When you take a face-to-face course, you are expected to attend class on a regular basis. There an instructor will give you reminders about assignment due dates, exam times In an online class, you don't have this built-in structure. You're going to have to take responsibility for tracking class requirements yourself.

Student 2: Realistically, how much time should I spend studying for this class?

Answer: This is a good question, and a tough one to answer. Each hour of class (per week) is equal to one unit of credit, which means that you can think of each credit as an hour. A good rule of thumb for studying is to study two hours for every hour of class. So if you are enrolled in twelve units, your schedule should give you twenty-four hours of study time every week.

Student 3: Ok, so aside from class time requirements, should I account for anything else as I draw up my schedule?

Answer: This depends on how detailed you want your schedule to be. Is it a calendar of important dates, or do you need a clear picture of how to organize your entire day? We think the latter is more successful, as long as you stick with it. This is also where it will be helpful to determine when you are most productive and efficient. When are you the most focused and ready to learn new things, in the morning, afternoon, or evening? Check the Quest for Online Success course site for online tools that can help you plan your time.

Student 4: My life and school requirements change on a week-to-week basis. How can I possibly account for this when making a schedule?

Answer: Try creating a variable schedule in case an event comes up or you need to take a day or two off.

Student 5: The way you've talked about scheduling and time management makes it sound like a good idea, but it's also totally unrealistic. What's wrong with cramming? (It's what I'll probably end up doing anyway…)

Answer: Cramming, or studying immediately before an exam without much preparation beforehand, has many disadvantages. Trying to learn any subject or memorize facts in a brief but intense period of time is basically fruitless. You simply forget what you have learned much faster when you cram. Instead, study in smaller increments on a regular basis: your brain will absorb complex course material in a lasting and more profound way because it's how our brain functions

Prioritizing Time

Finally, Step 3: Get better at prioritizing.

Due dates are important. Set your short and long-term goals accordingly. Ask yourself:

Your time is valuable. Treat it accordingly by getting the most you can out of it.

Above all: avoid PROCRASTINATION.

Procrastination is the kiss of death to the online learner because it's incredibly difficult to catch up once you've fallen behind. Do you have a problem procrastinating? We're going to ask you a few questions in this final segment and if you find yourself saying, "Sounds like me," more often than you say, "No way," you'll really want to be on your guard so that procrastination doesn't become an issue for you.

Procrastination Check List

Consider the following issues:

  1. My paper is due in two days and I haven't really started writing it yet.
  2. I've had to pull an all-nighter to get an assignment done on time.
  3. I've turned in an assignment late or asked for an extension when I really didn't have a good excuse not to get it done on time.
  4. I've worked right up to the minute an assignment was due.
  5. I've underestimated how long a reading assignment would take and didn't finish it in time for class.
  6. I've relied on the internet for information (like a summary of a concept or a book) because I didn't finish the reading on time.

If these sound like issues you've struggled with in the past, you might want to think seriously about whether you have the tendency to procrastinate, and how you want to deal with it in your future classes. You're already spending a lot of time, energy, and money on the online classes you're taking—don't let all of that go to waste!

Procrastination Pie

But don't worry! We are here to help. The following five pieces of our "procrastination pie" provide some strategies for overcoming these challenges:

  1. Keep your studying "bite-sized": when confronted with 150 pages of reading or 50 problems to solve, you may understandably feel overwhelmed. What if you decide that you will read for 45 minutes, or that you will solve 10 problems? That sounds much more manageable.
  2. Turn off your phone, close your chat windows, and block distracting websites. The best advice we've ever heard is to treat your studying as if you're in a movie theater—just turn it off!
  3. Set up a reward system: if you read for 40 minutes, you can check your phone for 5 minutes. But keep in mind that reward-based systems only work if you stick to a code of self-honor.
  4. Study in a place reserved for study ONLY. Your bedroom may have too many distractions (or the ever-present temptation of a quick nap…), so stay out of there when working on school assignments.
  5. Use checklists: Make your incremental accomplishments visible. Some people get great satisfaction and motivation from checking items off a "to do" list. Be very specific when creating this list, and clearly describe each task one step at a time.


Congratulations! You're well on your way through this Quest for Online Success course. In this module we've provided many ideas for time management, assignment organization, and avoiding procrastination, but there are still hundreds of additional resources online. Seek out some of these for further help – you're sure to find tools and strategies that will work well for your individual style.