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Staying Motivated in an Online Program

By Christine Cioppa


We all choose online learning for different reasons. Behind that decision is a motivating factor, most often a career-related one and sometimes a personal one.

Experts are studying why some of us gut it out, and why some of us quit or put it off -- for what seems indefinitely -- until we finally stick it out and achieve completion in our certificate or degree program.

What is known, though, are things to watch out for – things that can shake our motivation to the core or throw us off track.

Market research on students obtaining an online education shows that the desire to finish can wane when certain circumstances occur:

  • Family circumstances change
  • Money for school runs out
  • Relevance of program content becomes unclear
  • Interest in classes diminishes
  • Time not as abundant after starting a new family
  • Illness

A report by listed additional roadblocks to success:

  • Internet and technology access issues
  • Maintaining minimum GPA
  • Keeping up in pace to graduate in time
  • Scheduling campus visits to support some portion of an online program

We can’t always control circumstances that delay our success, but we can do everything possible to continue to strive toward success.

If any of the above is an issue, or may become one, you can brace for it and look for possible solutions or work-arounds. Here are five ideas to start with:

Make Time for What’s Important

Let’s face it: What’s important to us, we will make time for. That goes for anything: the people in our lives, our activities, our school or work, our level of fitness and diet decisions, etc. It’s important to balance our lives. But, with collaboration from family and friends, we can set priorities that include the most important parts of our lives while also balancing the challenges of earning a higher degree. That may mean waking up earlier in the morning, or giving up a few favorite TV shows, or asking for help from others, but often it can be possible. Maybe a life crisis calls for dialing it back, or taking only one class instead of several. The key is finding a solution that keeps your education goal still in eyesight down the road. The most important thing is to just never quit if an education is important to you. The pride many of us feel with achieving a certificate or higher degree is so worth the marathon-like mindset we have to have to push past the exhaustion and discomfort we sometimes can feel, sprinting toward that finish line.

Reel in Discretionary Spending

One of the top reasons people quit is money. Of all the leisurely ways we spend money (cable TV, dinning out, food and/or alcohol, clothes/beauty products, etc.), there often is room to squeeze some more toward something else. And if not, there are student loans. Also, think about creative ways to help pay for school (working at a company that provides excellent tuition reimbursement, working for the university for discounts) to reduce the overall cost.

Boost Long-Term Earning Potential

Of all the ways we spend money, higher education pays us back in the long run – through employment opportunities and higher pay. The Department of Labor’s employment projections show that people who earn any type of higher education past the high school level are less unemployed than those who just finish high school or who don’t complete high school. And with every degree earned, the rate of pay significantly increases, topping out around a “professional” or “doctoral” degree. Weekly pay can double or even nearly triple with the highest degrees.

It’s not just about money; a degree shapes us. For many of us, it is who we are; we are lifelong learners. Former Vice President Joe Biden has famously said, “Don't tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I'll tell you what you value.”

Steer Clear of Complainers

If there’s not a lot of people striving for what you are, it’s time to find some like-minded, positive people to chat with. Negativity, within ourselves or around us, is completely unproductive and can make one lose sight of long-term goals. If your online program has a forum, embrace opportunities to collaborate with peers and cheer each other on. Don’t let the chronic complainers, in class or elsewhere in life, make you feel your goals or your classwork, is not as valuable or exciting as it can be. So team up with people who love school and who look for the best in others, and steely your resolution to complete your educational goals.

Never Quit

The most important thing is to never quit. When things get tough and life circumstances try to derail us, or doubt or negativity or discomfort make the challenge so much harder, just keep taking one step forward.  Richard Branson, creator of Virgin airlines, is an example of resilience. He says, “On every adventure I have been on – whether setting up a business, flying around the world in a balloon or racing across the ocean in a boat – there have been moments when the easy thing to do would be to give up. By simply not giving up, brushing yourself down and trying again, you'll be amazed what you can achieve.”

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