Time Management Tops List of Challenges for Online Students

Flexibility and convenience are the hallmarks of online education. Effective support can keep them from becoming academic pitfalls.

The opportunity to learn anytime, anywhere, and on just about any platform is one of the biggest draws of online education. It drives the enrollment decisions of students who may have little access to — or interest in — the traditional idea of college, and it inspires programs to try new approaches to instruction, support, and just about every other part of the learning experience.

But what makes online education so appealing can also make it difficult. The students who benefit from flexibility are those whose days are filled with nonacademic commitments, such as employment, childcare and other obligations. These commitments can make it harder for students to find their footing in school or stay focused over the long haul.

Students need help finding ways to focus on academics — and they know it. 

Students identify their biggest academic challenges

When asked about their biggest challenges in completing their academic goals, almost 90 percent of online students said that managing their time and balancing school with other commitments was either “very challenging” or “somewhat challenging.” Time management eclipsed every other potential issue, including preparing for exams, completing difficult assignments and choosing classes.

The findings come from a survey conducted by InsideTrack and UPCEA, which asks online students and institutional staff about the challenges online students face and how student support services are helping meet those challenges. To date, 25 institutions have completed the survey.

Are staff and students connecting on priority areas?

Students aren’t alone in identifying time management as a potential risk area. Responses indicate that staff also see managing time and balancing commitments as an important priority area in helping students succeed. 

But it may not feel that way to all students.

Only about half of the students surveyed said that they felt staff were very supportive or somewhat supportive in helping them manage time and balance commitments. The results indicate that while students and staff may be focusing on the same issues, there’s still an opportunity to collaborate on identifying the right strategies for each situation.

Providing effective support for time management

It’s no surprise that juggling school, work, family and everything in between can get in the way of student success. 

Previous InsideTrack research found that difficulty managing commitments was the top reason that post-traditional students left school without a degree.  Most of the students participating in the survey fit a similar profile. More than 80 percent are 25 are older, and 73 percent are employed full time. 

The risk factors may be present. But the good news is that students and staff are both aware that successfully completing an online program requires strategic — and sometimes creative — approaches to time management. 

For some students, it may be carving out dedicated time each day for coursework. This time can be a respite from other pressures, and a welcome chance for students to focus on themselves. 

Other students may benefit from integrating coursework into their other daily activities, building academics into multiple areas of life. Studying can be part of the usual routine, in the everyday mix along with other obligations and favorite pastimes. 

Whatever the approach, the key to success is adapting time management to a student’s particular needs and finding solutions that fully leverage the institution’s resources. By understanding the many different hats a student wears each day, staff and students can work together to ensure that one day, one of those hats is a graduation cap.

Learn more about the survey and get a snapshot of other results.

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