Unbeknownst to me back in my first year of undergraduate studies, success in education is not only about intelligence. There are a number of additional skills required, many if not all of them learned. These include things like time management, social skills, and the ability to control ones emotions and direct ones energy.
In my professional life I am a project manager. Project management relies upon many of these skills as well. A key to project management is knowing what to do and when to do it. Specifically, prioritizing. We all know the saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” I believe it wholeheartedly, and translate this to mean that as you begin an online course, prioritize what you want to get from it.
My basic order of priority in the online classroom environment, given its openness, is as follows:
#1 Priority – “A deadline will be missed if I don’t get it done”
This is relatively straightforward. You obviously need to meet the course requirements, whether they be assignment due dates, forum posts, classroom sessions, or other. You obviously must, must, must meet these commitments.
#2 Priority – “This will represent a significant set-back if I don’t get it done”
This may be finishing up an assignment on time and in a quality way. This may be selecting a topic with enough time left to complete the assignment. Or this could be posting to a forum in order to get sound feedback in order to improve your work or even fast-track it a bit.
#3 Priority – “This is critical to long term success”
This is the bigger picture. In an online environment, the learning really is left to you. You are hoping to get a good grade, sure. But why did you take the course? Focus in on your goals and what you will take with you when the course is over. Do you have a particular interest in a course sub-topic? Do all the readings and then some, and write the professor/guest professor on this topic. Make sure that the course and how it fits into your long term success are both well understood, so that you can complete these #3 priorities. In my opinion, just meeting priorities #1 and #2 is not enough to have a successful learning experience. You need to strive to hit at least #3.
#4 Priority – “This is something I really want to do”
This is an extension of #3. It might not touch on a burning desire or a strong interest, but you may really want it nonetheless. If you manage your time well, you should hit your #4 priorities.
#5 Priority – “This is something that I would like to do”
This is less than something that is critical to your long-term success, or what you really want to do. Nonetheless, you have an interest and want to explore the area.
#6 Priority – “This is something that I feel I should do, even if I am not interested in it”
For me, this goes back to career goals. I don’t particularly like reading about communications, but it’s a part of my work and can help me reach my professional goals. In a sense I feel “obligated” to do it, but in a good way. I know that the short-term pain is necessary to reach some long-term satisfaction. I think we all have these things, so identify them in your course, and if you can hit them, all the better.
When talking about online learning I wouldn’t say it is common for me to hit #5 priorities, but I routinely hit priorities #1-#4. Even my #6’s are often hit before my #5’s, which, to be honest, is perhaps due to that inner voice telling me that they will help me in the future.
Before starting your next course, I would like to provide the recommendation that you think things through or even use this framework to identify how to get the most from your course. I think you will be surprised at how useful simply thinking about prioritizing can be.