Online learning can be ideal for active duty service members and veterans looking to pursue higher education. The flexible environment makes studying available to working veterans, busy families, and those stationed around the world. With accessibility comes great demand, however: you may not be living in a dorm, but you can still be easily distracted by piles of laundry, your job and that Reddit thread you’ve been following for over 3 days already.
Luckily, these challenges all have a similar solution. It's one that veterans and service members usually have in spades: self-discipline. By optimizing your living space, managing your time wisely, and committing to your participation in class, you can take full advantage of remote learning no matter your situation. When you graduate and move on to whatever lies ahead , in uniform or out, you’ll already have good habits in place to help set you above your peers.
Optimize your workspace
Your learning might take place in the cloud, but you still need somewhere to set up shop. Plopping your laptop on the kitchen table might do in a pinch, but a great thing you can do for yourself is establish one corner that’s for school and school only. Separate the area where you sit and focus on learning from the areas where you eat, sleep, and deal with everything else in your life. It doesn’t have to be big, but it should be kept uncluttered. If you can manage to keep it free of trash and distractions (video games, magazines, hobby equipment, etc.) then your brain will start to associate that area with learning, making it easier and quicker to get into the necessary mindset when it’s time to buckle down on a big assignment.
This is also important for stepping away from your workload. If you have school materials scattered all over your living space, then you’ll never feel like you can totally take a break from it all and focus on the rest of your life. Being able to distance yourself from a task is just as critical to your mental wellbeing as being able to focus on it.
Remember, effective digital learning is also about optimization. Filling your space with moto-photos and a challenge coin collection may seem like a good idea, but what really matters is the equipment and materials you use to learn, not the aesthetics. Make sure your technology is up to snuff, that your computer can handle every program you’ll need to run, and that your internet connection can handle it all. Nothing triggers rage faster than a loading screen. When you’re getting your space ready for some hardcore mental sweat, remember the Ps: Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.
Recognize that you get back what you put in
Never forget that you chose to be here. You’re not at the back of an auditorium trying to stay awake. You’re a student, and that means committing to participation. Make sure you’re engaging with materials and doing the prep work to help you understand a lecture or an assignment. Ask questions of your instructors, both in and out of class. You’re spending the time to be there, so why not get your money’s worth? Leaving a class without fully grasping the subject matter doesn’t hurt anyone but yourself.
Here’s a T&P life hack for you: take notes by hand. Research has found that using a pen and paper to write down lecture notes, plan out projects, and prepare questions is not only faster than typing, but actually helps students remember concepts better. If your penmanship is rusty, don’t sweat it, the only person reading that 5th-grade level chicken-scratch is you, so as long as you can decipher it, then drive on.
Transition from the warrior mindset to the scholar mindset
You know all about patrolling and protecting boundaries in the real world. Similarly, establishing and protecting your time boundaries may allow you to excel at online learning. That means dedicating blocks of time to your studies, with no interruptions — and we mean no interruptions. If you live alone, most of the distractions are self-inflicted, but if you’re part of a family or have roommates, give them a heads up that this is your time. You’re not answering questions, running errands, or checking “just one thing” on the internet when it’s time to work. Put a do-not-disturb sign on your door if you have to.
Turning your phone to Do Not Disturb or putting an actual sign on your door will get you started, but carving out time isn’t only about enforcing boundaries. Have some accountability built into your schedule and reward yourself for a job well done. Even better, enlist some buddies to keep you motivated, whether they’re in your classes or just cheering you on.
Find a school that matches your dedication
It’s important that you choose a school that invests in you as much as you’re investing in yourself. Envision it as a partnership for your success, and research accordingly. A good military-centric school will understand the skills and education that you gained in the military. Schools like Trident at AIU have an experienced team in place that can help translate that training and experience into college credits.*
This comprehensive understanding inspired the creation of Trident’s EdActiveTM Learning Approach, a style of learning unique to Trident, that couples a military student's real-world experiences with their online coursework. This ability to apply prior knowledge allows for a more robust learning experience and a better understanding of the coursework.
When you combine the skills you develop through real-world experience with the skills you develop through remote learning (self-discipline, time management, etc.) your studies can take on a larger meaning and connect with the work you want to do outside. The ways you manage your online learning now can help give you a leg up in the classroom.
*Transfer credit is evaluated on an individual basis. Not all credits are eligible to transfer. See the University Catalog for transfer credit policies.
This article is sponsored by Trident at AIU.