Being a college student carries with it a certain amount of expected stress with a higher workload, more demanding assignments, and juggling school with other responsibilities. The expectation to do well is higher and there is more on the line to succeed. For students that take classes online, the stresses are the same. However, there are a few more added stressors that can be difficult for students to cope with. Struggling with time management, accountability, assignment comprehension, and productivity are all common issues associated with online school for students that have to learn how to learn on their own. It’s important for online students to learn how to correct these common stressors and adapt a way to cope when the stress becomes overwhelming.
Poor Time Management
Time management is a learned skill that seems to get better the older we get. It’s prioritizing important tasks and learning how to say no to things that interfere. However, for students that have to create their own schedule for each online class, it can be difficult for them to manage their time appropriately. In a traditional school setting, students still have to manage their classes with their homework and other activities, but the class itself has a designated time. Online students often are responsible for building their own schedule for classes and students new to online courses who struggle with time management will likely fall behind their peers. Things are forgotten, shortcuts are taken, and procrastination takes over causing extreme feelings of stress.
In order to lessen the stress, it’s important to focus on managing time appropriately. Instead of multitasking, try chunking your time by breaking up tasks into smaller increments or fewer categories. This will help you to stay focused if you tend to lose your attention span by spending too much time on one task. Schedule each week’s work on Sundays and stick to it as if you’re scheduling actual class time. The better you manage your time the more you’ll get done ahead of schedule and the less stressed you’ll feel.
Online students are tasked with creating accountability for themselves since they won’t have professors or other students ensuring they are accountable for listening to lectures, completing assignments, and doing the reading in the same sense as a traditional class. Online students, just like traditional students, won’t receive a passing grade if work is not completed. However, there’s something to be said for students feeling less accountable knowing a professor won’t be calling on them in class in real time or taking attendance in a lecture. It can be difficult to prioritize a reading assignment over other tasks or over social engagements when you know you won’t have a professor standing over you in a lecture hall requesting an answer from that reading the next morning. In order to combat the stress involved with the consequences of cutting corners, it’s important to create accountability for yourself.
Communicate with others in the class and schedule a day to go over the reading – many online professors encourage or require an online community in their online classes to help with this problem and to promote collaboration. Reward yourself with work completed even if it’s an aspect of the class that your professor won’t be ensuring you completed. Holding yourself accountable comes down to discipline and knowing that all readings and lectures, even if they aren’t directly graded, will be important to understanding the material. A professor won’t hold a student’s hand through accountability whether the class is online or not so holding yourself responsible is important regardless. However, for online students it’s even more important not to cut corners or fall behind in reading or lectures despite the temptation to do so.
A Lack of Understanding
Online school is difficult for a lot of people that thrive off of learning from a professor directly. There are a lot of perks to being able to talk to a professor openly, visiting their office to go over a difficult assignment, or collaborating on a project with other students. Communication in an online environment has to go from face-to-face interaction to an on-screen interaction and many online students find that difficult to transition to. Some students find themselves confused about an assignment and choose to handle it on their own leading to a lack of understanding in the material they are learning. Without a firm grasp on what’s being learned, it’s common to feel stressed.
It’s important to find tips for success that work for you in your online class. Commit to interacting with professors and establishing a rapport with them so that you feel comfortable communicating a lack of understanding to them if it happens. Many professors encourage collaboration among online students, but if yours doesn’t, ask your professor or fellow students about it anyway. There may be others struggling to understand the material as well and an open dialogue may help. In an educational environment online, communication is key and it’ll help lower your stress if you feel like you are learning from an actual person on the other side of your screen who can answer your questions.
A Dip in Productivity
Some students rely on a controlled environment to ensure peak productivity. For some, that environment is on their couch in their pajamas. For others, the distractions at home are enough to zap all of their motivation and productivity. It can be stressful for online students that don’t have a structured classroom to encourage efficiency – instead, they have to create their own productive environment. It’s important for online students to be honest about the environment that makes them productive and utilize it. Maybe getting up, getting dressed, and going to a coffee shop in the morning is the most productive place and time for you. Maybe it’s the library or a home office that encourages productivity more than the comfortable couch in front of the television.
Environment can have a big impact on production. For some, a boost in productivity can be linked to something as simple as lighting. Maybe you’re lighting is too low and causing you to feel tired, or too fluorescent causing headaches. Maybe your issues with productivity have to do with distractions, an open workspace, or the correct chair. It can be any number of things. The bottom line is that online students can feel stressed if their productivity is low, which is common when having to ensure productivity on their own.
Ways to Cope with Stress
There is a difference between good stress and bad stress. Stress is inevitable in life in general – but for students it’s a virtual certainty that you will be feeling stressed out. In order to maintain feelings of stress and keep them in the “good stress” column, it’s important to find ways to cope. One of the ways to cope is to correct the common stressful behaviors that were mentioned like learning time management, holding yourself accountable, communicate any misunderstanding, and finding your most productive environment. Recognize your stress triggers and find the coping mechanism that works for you:
- Go to the gym, go for a walk, or exercise at home – the endorphins released from exercise will help
- Schedule some time for yourself within your school schedule – Do your reading until 11:00, work on your assignment until 1:00, and take yourself to lunch at 1:30. Taking time away can lower stress and feelings of being overwhelmed
- Find a support system – communicating your stress with friends, family, and fellow students can lower stress and give you encouragement
- Breathe – When you want to scream, just breathe. Take a long, slow breath in your nose and exhale through your mouth as many times as you need to feel calm
Assignments pile on, the reading feels never ending, and the lectures never stop whether you’re a traditional student or an online student. Whereas traditional students have some built in time management with class schedules, more accountability with professors, the perks of learning directly in a classroom, and a built in productive environment on campus, online students have to build many of those things themselves. Having to work so independently on many skills necessary for success can be extremely stressful for online students already feeling the stresses of being a student. By correcting these issues and learning coping mechanisms for overwhelming stress, online students can continue to succeed and further their education without the added stresses associated with online learning.
Chelsy Ranard is a writer from Montana who is now settled down in beautiful Boise, Idaho. She graduated with her journalism degree from the University of Montana in 2012. She enjoys talk radio, playing Frisbee with her dog, and drinking fruity wine. Follow her on Twitter!