Advice for taking online classes while also working

Online learning has evolved significantly in the last few decades. Today’s online learning platforms are equipped with learning management systems that make it easy for professors to impart information, give and receive assignments, assess student progress, communicate with students, and build a sense of community within the virtual learning environment. The technology that supports online learning classrooms has now advanced to the point where online courses have become a part of most college and university course schedules.

At the same time, students are also becoming more comfortable with the concept of learning remotely. Online courses were already popular pre-COVID, but the pandemic forced many students who might not have taken a course online to engage in the online academic community. By the fall semester of 2020, 75 percent of undergraduate students in the US were enrolled in at least one online course, and 44 percent of this same population was enrolled full-time in an online academic program.

Online study advantages

The advantages of enrolling in online courses make it easy to understand why students are moving to online platforms. For one, online education allows students to save money on parking and fuel. If the student is a full-time undergraduate, they can potentially save on dorm room costs because the online setup allows students to live hundreds of miles away from the institution and complete coursework.

In addition, online courses allow students the flexibility to learn from any location in the world, whether it is at home, the local coffee shop, or the school library. If the course is asynchronous – where students watch lectures at their convenience and turn in assignments by certain due dates – they have the flexibility to engage in their studies when they have the time. This gives students more control over their time and schedule.

Synchronous and asynchronous course versus time factor

For all the above reasons (and more), online classes are beneficial. The online course format works well for students who must work, whether they have a full-time or part-time job.

Online courses are formatted in three ways: asynchronous, synchronous, or hybrid. As stated previously, asynchronous classes allow students to watch lectures, take exams, and submit assignments on their time. Conversely, synchronous classes require students to log on to the class platform to watch lectures, attend videoconferences, take exams, and participate in a myriad of online classroom activities at a certain time. Finally, a student might find themselves enrolled in a course that employs a combination of both approaches.

For students without any other obligations, fitting their schedule into one of the above online platforms is no problem. However, for students with outside commitments such as a full or part-time job, making time to study can be a bit trickier. Because online platforms allow for so much flexibility, it is easy to let a million distractions get in the way of getting to work. Before the student-worker knows it, they have procrastinated or put off completing assignments, creating a situation where they find themselves catching up on a lot of work week after week.

Tips for getting paid and getting your work completed

Typically, a full-time worker spends somewhere between 35 and 40 hours per week at work. If the hours are steady, the individual will have more control over their time. For those whose job involves shift work, the time they have fluctuates and changes from week to week, allowing for less control over their time. Moreover, while part-time work might not require as many hours as full-time work, these workers deal with similar issues related to managing time in a way that allows them to go to work, go to school, and have a personal and social life.

Take, for example, a nurse whose shifts are not consistent. This type of professional might believe that enrolling in online Doctor of Nursing Practice courses will be just as difficult as in-person classes. For those who decide to take online courses toward a certain goal, going to school may not always be easy, but the following tips can make their efforts more successful.

Time management 

Time management is one of the biggest keys to successfully getting through online courses. Time management, in a nutshell, involves creating a schedule for activities throughout the day. For students with a work schedule, this means creating a schedule that not only incorporates time for work and school but also includes time to complete their other obligations.

For example, consider a student who has a job requiring them to work eight hours a day during business hours. This student simply creates a chart that blocks out time spent at work. Then, imagine they are enrolled in at least two courses. Scheduling time to complete coursework is going to be a little different than the time scheduled for work because some education experts suggest that students allocate between two and three hours per credit hour a week. The amount of time will change depending on the degree of difficulty, but this ratio gives students a ballpark figure of how much time they should spend on schoolwork.

Finally, most people have additional commitments outside of work and school. If they are parents of young children, their time management chart should allocate time for all the activities that involve their family. Of course, the schedule should be flexible enough to accommodate unexpected occurrences that can eat up time. Nevertheless, a time management schedule provides the professional student with a structure to complete all activities related to work, school, and life.

Learn how to maximize technology use

Online students should also become very comfortable with technology. For students who work, being adept at using technology is important for a few reasons. For one, in many online courses, students have very few face-to-face meetings with their instructors, which means they will naturally become comfortable with learning basic skills such as texting and emailing etiquette. Moreover, students must become comfortable with using the learning management system (LMS) their institution implements for online instruction.

Some platforms are user-friendly, making it easy for students to navigate. If the LMS is not easy to use, students must learn how to access lectures and supporting resources, access and submit assignments, become familiar with the calendar, and know how to take exams online if the instructor does not provide a tutorial for accessing this information. In addition to knowing how to navigate the course shell, understanding technology provides versatility in taking courses.

For example, a person who is adept at using technology can access and watch course lectures on their cell phone or laptop, which makes it possible for them to watch entire lectures during lunch at work, while they are at the bus stop, driving to work, picking the kids up at school, or engaged in a variety of activities. Additionally, a person can use these same devices to take exams and submit work. Furthermore, students can now print assignments from their phones with a simple Wi-Fi connection. Ultimately, understanding how to implement technology in a way that maximizes the use of time through technology is one way to get over some of the hurdles that exist when going to school and working.

Stay engaged

Student engagement means paying attention to the professor during lectures, actively participating in online discussions, and engaging other students in the classroom. Engaging in the online classroom will immerse the student in the subject matter. Furthermore, this engagement facilitates focusing on the course material and culminates in the person understanding the information.

Staying engaged has positive impacts on managing time as well. When a student grasps concepts, they can move on to other concepts much more quickly than if they are not focused or in tune with other students in the class. Students who are not engaged must spend more time going back through course material and understanding concepts. Therefore, staying engaged can be a way to conserve time that can be devoted to the work that should be completed in a day.

Communicate to employers

While taking classes happens outside of the purview of being employed, giving supervisors notice that you will be going back to school is important for a few reasons. For professionals whose jobs demand a lot of their time and require working difficult hours or nights and weekends, it is important to give the boss a warning that you are about to embark on an educational pursuit that might interfere with working some of those hours. Being open with managers about returning to school can prevent awkward situations when the boss or company needs the employee to work when they might not be available to do so.

The second reason for telling an employer about plans to return to school relates to untapped opportunities. For example, some employers will reimburse the student for tuition and book costs if the course or degree program aligns with the company’s industry. Furthermore, by telling employers about their educational plans, students show their initiative to employers, which might prime them for a promotion within the company.

Students returning to school also might be pleasantly surprised by how supportive their employer is. For example, people who have shift work might find that their employer is open to giving them a more consistent schedule that will allow them to better structure their time. Other employers might offer advice on achieving career goals if the student’s field of study is in line with that of the company.

Develop a support system

Online coursework is much easier to complete with a support system. Students can develop multiple support systems, including systems for work, family, and school. The support system at work involves reaching out to supervisors and peers. These people can be a sounding board for difficulties that happen when returning to school. At the same time, they can also be a well of resources that lead to other opportunities.

At school, connecting with students in your class can lead to the formation of study groups, which provides students with additional benefits. In classes that are challenging, online students who work with others gets extra feedback, and in some cases, it might be a way to better digest course material, especially around exam time. Furthermore, these classmates can be your confidantes when the curriculum or instructor is difficult to deal with or understand.

Whether it’s a parent returning to school or a high schooler with a part-time job trying to earn cash while going to school, having a support system is an important part of succeeding in one’s studies. The people who form this support network can encourage you when classes or work become overwhelming enough to want to quit. They can be the pick-me-up when everything seems bleak, offering good advice or just an ear to listen.

The bottom line

Above all, you need to remember to take time to rest and unwind. Resting seems like an impossible thing to do when you are faced with a packed schedule filled with assignments and work duties, but it is important to avoid burnout. A student who is tired and overworked is less likely to remain engaged in the course material.

Furthermore, by going to school stressed and tired, the student negates the whole purpose of attending the course: to be trained in a field in which they want to work. While getting good grades and passing the course should be priorities, consider setting limits if your motivation or mental health is at risk.

Finally, give yourself kudos for being motivated enough to return to school. Education, regardless of the format, is not easy to accomplish because it requires students to invest their time in something that does not always generate a return on investment, and in the beginning, it rarely translates to rewards. However, one way to celebrate this accomplishment is by treating yourself to something you enjoy, whether it is a movie, restaurant date, new apparel, diversion, or some tangible way to reflect that you’ve done something positive for your future. As a motivation tool, you can connect these treats with a milestone, such as completing a course or major paper satisfactorily.