While flexibility is one benefit of external study, it can sometimes be difficult to stay motivated when studying externally, due to lack of face to face interaction with other students and staff. Below are some common problems experienced by external students and strategies for tackling them.
Getting started can be challenging, as you may not know where to begin due to too little or too much information. Instead of delaying getting started, complete the ten steps suggested in 10 Steps to get started. Then establish a study routine by tending to each of the Weekly tasks for external study each week of study period. Don't delay making a start: it is essential that you logon to your course websites and get started on weekly tasks in week 1.
It is easy to feel isolated when you are studying at home. Use the discussion forums on your course's websites to connect with other students and develop study and support networks. If you have questions about any course content, email the relevant Course Coordinator or share those questions on the course's discussion forum. You may also like to connect with your peers and the wider university community by following UniSA social networks including Facebook and Twitter.
Often when students are anxious about beginning a task or encounter a problem, they procrastinate. And when studying from home, there are plenty of distractions to fuel procrastination: social networking, watching TV, surfing the web, playing video games, and spending time with friends, family, partners and pets. Rather than using these as distractions, try to use them as incentives for getting work done. For example, aim to read a difficult chapter or write two tricky paragraphs for an assignment, and then watch TV as your reward. Sometimes more practical actions can be beneficial. For example, if you find you are too easily distracted studying at home, try studying on campus or in your local council library. For further information, read the counselling resource: Motivation vs. procrastination.
Due to the many commitments students juggle each week - work, partners, children, family, sports, social, gardening, and housework - it can sometimes be difficult to accommodate study. In addition, if you do not keep track of when assignments are due, this can result in missed deadlines or intense periods struggling to meet the deadline, which are not good for your mental health. Plan your time well to manage your study. Create a weekly schedule and set aside 8-10 hours per week for each course you are studying, which will allow time to listen to lectures, complete weekly readings, work on assignments and carry out additional activities for that course. Also create a calendar for study period identifying the due dates of assignments, allowing you to plan ahead.
Many students experience writer's block at some point - some on a fairly regular basis - and it can be difficult to overcome. Talk to yourself or a friend to help you work out what you actually want to say in your assignment. Once you have your thoughts clear, the writing is easier. You can also focus on other tasks in the meantime or respond strategically. For example, if you are having trouble writing the introduction of an assignment, skip ahead to the body and return to the intro at the end. Alternatively, if you wrote the body first and are having trouble with the intro, re-read the body to remind yourself about the shape of the assignment. If you are stuck on a particular section of your assignment, skip ahead to another section and return to the tricky one later. And sometimes a change of setting or a short break can be beneficial: try relocating or taking a half hour off and see if that changes things. For other strategies, or for assistance interpreting the requirements of an assignment or reviewing a first draft, speak to a Learning Adviser.
After the first few weeks of study, review your workload. If you are not managing the work for all of your courses, or if your personal circumstances change, you can consider dropping or postponing certain courses to ease your workload. Do this before census date to avoid accruing unwanted costs, and discuss your options with a Learning Adviser or Counsellor if you are unsure.
As mentioned above, incentives help you study. Develop a rewards system that will encourage you to set and meet short and long-term deadlines. A rewards system involves rewarding yourself whenever you meet a study-related goal. At the short-term level this can mean taking a deserved break after you complete a task. At the long-term level this can mean planning outings/celebrations to commemorate major achievements like submitting assignments on time or passing your courses.
If you are new to external study, you may find it does not match your expectations, and might need to adjust those expectations or reconsider your study options. Rather than putting pressure on yourself or rushing into decisions, speak to a Counsellor or Learning Adviser to assess your options and discuss strategies for addressing your concerns.
If you find yourself losing interest or lacking motivation, remember why you decided to begin studying in the first place. Use your long-term goals and ambitions, whether academic or career-related, to motivate your study.