A New Year, A New Attitude

A New Year, A New Attitude

We are already nearing the end of the first month of the new year. Did you set new academic goals or establish New Year’s resolutions related to your classes or degree program? If so, are you making progress? The start of a new year can bring about a sense of excitement and hope, which is why this time of year makes it easier than any other time to establish new goals.

As an online learner, your resolutions may be related to your performance in class or generally becoming a better student. One of the challenges you are likely to experience with your resolutions is finding a way to sustain them long enough to create lasting change. New Year’s resolutions are most likely to fail when there isn’t a plan of action in place to support them. A series of self-assessments is available to help you develop an effective plan of action or a strategy for creating and maintaining your resolutions.

Writing Goals
Your performance as an online student is directly affected by your ability to write clearly and concisely, and more importantly, it is evaluated according to the depth and substance provided in your submissions, such as written assignments and classroom posts. Of course the expectations established by your instructor will vary from class to class and may be further aligned to the level of your course or degree program. As an example, I would expect a graduate student to demonstrate advanced critical thinking skills and properly formatted papers. There would be a different expectation for an undergraduate student who is just starting his or her academic program.

Students often begin their assignments and posts by writing whatever they know about the topic and what they’ve read in the assigned readings.  Students can utilize a note-taking method to record important points; however, that still does not translate into well-developed formal writing on its own. My suggestion is to take time to organize your notes, thoughts, and ideas so that when you begin to write it flows in a logical manner – and through this technique you will find it much easier to add substance.

Another effective method is to use a mind map. There are free online mind map programs such as Mindomo and MindMeister that can be quickly and easily utilized to organize your notes, information, and ideas according to subjects and themes. You will find that your approach writing become much stronger as you learn how to effectively organize your thoughts. If improvement of your writing skills is necessary for support of your goals this year, try using a note-taking method such as a mind map.

Readiness to Learn

If you’ve started a new online degree program to fulfill a goal in the new year, are you really ready to learn? It seems that you would be ready; however, I’ve discovered that students often don’t understand what the reality of online learning is like until they begin interacting in their class. The first aspect of the class that can be intimidating is the use of technology to create a community, while facilitating collaboration and communication. Many new students will indicate that they aren’t computer literate and that can lead to a resistant attitude.

When you decide to take an online class it is absolutely essential that you approach it with an open mind. Online schools often offer students orientation materials, tutorials, and workshops to help you get started. You will also find that the more you practice using the functions of the classroom and review the instructions provided by your instructor, the easier the environment becomes to navigate over time.

The same holds true for the way that you learn. Some students will state that they only learn well with a hands-on approach before they discover that there are many alternate forms of learning available with online classes. As an online instructor I’ve seen the addition of downloadable materials, including e-textbook chapters and audio files that address different learning styles. Students often discover that they already learn in a variety of ways because as their employers hold meetings online, send information and materials electronically, and communicate by email throughout the day, they are continuously learning. 

The use of technology with online classes continues to progress as schools utilize applications (apps) for mobile devices and implement technological tools such as podcasts and online blogs. You are ready to learn when you can work with technology and adapt your method of learning as needed in the online course environment. Are you willing to embrace technology and learn in different ways? If so, you have created a productive frame of mind that supports your progress.

Success Strategies

In addition to writing skills and readiness to learn, there are additional strategies you’ll need to successfully follow through with your resolutions: effective goal-setting, a time management plan, development of a support system, and maintaining a strong sense of self-motivation. 

1. Setting goals: An effective method of creating sustainable goals is through the use of a SMART goal setting technique. This acronym stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. If you have decided that you want to “be a better student,” you can translate a vague statement into a goal that you are likely to complete if you make it a SMART goal. For example, you could translate that statement into: “I will earn an 80% for my business management classes in 2012.”

2. Time management: Many students work on their school assignments as they can, when they can. Some of the most common time management tools include planners, to-do lists, schedules, calendars, and technological applications that are incorporated into phones and computers. When students have many demands made of their time, the thought of planning precise times to schedule their school work can create additional stress.

If you have an unpredictable schedule because of work or other responsibilities, the best suggestion I can offer is to establish a weekly checklist of your school tasks (assignments and posts) and break down each task into the required components. This allows you to quickly chart your progress during the week and keep track of what is due. You’ll find that if you make your time management plan simple and yet complete with all details necessary to meet the required deadlines, you’ll be more likely to complete your tasks on time.

3. Developing a support system: I discovered as an online student (before I was an online instructor, I was an online student) that there were times when having someone else to talk to made a difference because sharing ideas, frustrations, and questions helped me work through difficult assignments. Now as an online instructor I encourage students to develop connections as they build working relationships with each other. The use of social networking websites, specifically websites that are professional in nature (such as LinkedIn), allow students to stay connected with each other, their school, and often their instructor. 
4. Maintaining self-motivation: When you consider all of the possible elements that may influence how well you work towards completing your resolutions this year, it is your sense of self-motivation that often plays the greatest role. It is not uncommon for people who join a gym on January 1st to dropout after a month or two due to a lack of immediate changes or results, and a lack of motivation. One of the key determinants for your self-motivation is your attitude. If you can find techniques for developing a positive attitude, such as reading inspirational books, you will feel better about your progress along the way.

With this post I’ve asked you to consider skills and processes that are critical to maintaining your resolutions for the New Year. If you have started the year with a plan for changes or modifications to your work as a student, now is the time to evaluate your ability to make those resolutions work for you. If you haven’t created any resolutions yet, why not consider developing some new goals for your new year? You can be successful as a student if you are equipped with the right attitude, strategies, tools, and techniques.

What educational goals have you set for 2012? Share your resolutions @DrBruceJ.

By Dr. Bruce Johnson

Photo © Caspar Benson/fstop/Corbis

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