10 Tips for Online Nursing Class Success

Written by Chaunie Brusie from Nurse.org

Attending nursing classes online can have a lot of benefits, like accommodating your current work schedule (hellllooooo night shift), allowing you to attend class in your pajamas, and fit in family life.

But all that flexibility can also make online classes challenging. Without an in-person class to attend combined with the distractions of home life, it can be difficult to stay on-task and motivated. For many people, however, the good outweighs the bad, so if online nursing school is in your future, here are some tips for success.

1. Stay Ahead of Schedule

Julie Widzinski, a mom of three active boys and a current Family Nurse Practitioner student, advises anyone taking classes online to stay ahead of their classwork. She points out that most online class formats allow you to see the entire course schedule ahead of time, which can help you plan school work around your life and even work in advance.

“I try to get ahead as best as I can, so if something comes up with the kids, etc., I don’t have to be stuck doing work,” Widzinski explains. “, when the deadline is Wednesday, I usually try posting on Monday.”

2. Do NOT Clean Before You Do Your Homework

I know exactly what you’re thinking — you’re home, you have some time set aside to do your homework, but you’re just going to switch the laundry real quick. Oh, and maybe get dinner started in the crockpot so it can cook while you work. Well, next thing you know you’re making a grocery list and ordering groceries because you noticed you were out of something in the pantry and an hour has gone by and you’re still not working.

Housework of any kind has a way of sucking you in (it’s the “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” scenario, except for adults), so if you have work that’s due or you’ve committed a time slot to study, you need to just sit your butt down, ignore the housework completely, and make sure you do your homework first. The dishes will be there when you’re done, but you might lose that precious time to work or burn up all of your energy if you try to clean first.

3. Leave Your Home

That being said, if you absolutely cannot avoid getting distracted at home, you may find you work better out of your house or apartment, so head to a local coffee shop, restaurant during a slow time (like late afternoon), or the library. And, if it’s not possible to leave your home, even studying in your car or out on the back porch might help (I’ve even been known to do my online work in a parking lot where the WiFi will still work #noshame). Getting some fresh scenery can also help you stay energized in a new way that staying home can’t.

4. Utilize Time-Blocking

If you’re not familiar with time-blocking, it’s a time-management strategy designed to help you be more productive with your time. Essentially, instead of switching from one task to another, you “block” off time for each specific task so your brain can be completely focused on one thing at a time. So, instead of studying, then looking something up, then trying to answer your online discussion board, you block off a certain amount of time for each task: 30 minutes to study, 30 minutes to research, and 10 to answer your discussion questions, for instance.

You can even use a time-blocking app, such as Toggl, to help you stay on task if you’re using the computer to work; the app will block other distractions, such as texts or calls, or even web browsing if you need that limited so you can stay completely focused.

5. Don’t Work with any other Screens On

Sure, it may be tempting to plop down on the couch with a little bit of your favorite show on in the background as you work, but trust me, you will be much more effective and efficient if you study or complete your assignments with no other distractions.

Research shows that you might be just fine — or even more on-task with some background noise, like chatter from your family or the background of a coffee house — but when it comes to other screens or visual distractions, our brains just can’t handle both tasks at once. Just say no to screens while studying.

6. Invest in Noise-Cancelling Headphones

In an ideal world, sure, you may only complete your work or studying in a tranquil environment with a fresh cup of coffee and the birds chirping in the background. But in the real world, especially if you have a family, you’ll be cramming for a test while your kids wrestle in the living room or your partner wanders in and out of the bedroom looking for that one item right in front of their face that they just “can’t find.”

So, for the days that you can’t get away from them or just can’t answer another question about what’s for dinner, put on your noise-canceling headphones and (literally) block them all out. You can pick up a pair for around $60 on Amazon and you should 100% ask your accountant if you can write those off as a job-related expense.

7. Get an Accountability Partner

If staying on task and motivated is a challenge for you, try linking up with an accountability partner from your class. Ask one of your classmates if you can be accountability partners and set a system of checking in with each other; you’ll be less likely to blow off studying if you know your partner is expecting a text from you. Even better, find an IRL partner so you have to stay committed.

If you don’t know anyone in “real life” from your nursing class or don’t feel comfortable asking them, find an accountability partner online — there are many different online nursing student support groups.

Alternatively, you could find an accountability partner who is working toward a different goal. For instance, you check in when it’s time to study and they have to check in when it’s time for them to hit the gym. That way, you both win!

8. Ask for Help

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that just because you’re taking an online class that you’re on your own—your professor is still available to help you if you’re struggling. In fact, his or her “office hours” might be even more accessible than an in-person professor, so don’t be afraid to schedule time to chat, video conference, or speak on the phone if there are concepts you need additional assistance with.

9. Keep a Back-up Copy of Your Work

When I was attending a graduate school program, I can’t tell you how many times I typed a long, thought-out discussion into the online class board only to have the thing completely disappear in some kind of glitch. With a newborn and a toddler at home at the time, I had precious little time to work, so I quickly learned to type out my answers in a Word or Google doc first, save it, then transfer the work to the online submission forms—that way, there was no risk of losing it.

10. Know What Works For You and Your Family!

It sounds simple, but it’s a strategy that can serve you well when taking classes online because ultimately, you’re in charge of your own success. If you know that you have more energy in the morning, schedule your most intense work during that time. Conversely, if you’re a night owl, make that your most productive time. Save less intense work, such as outlining or writing out your schedule, for your energy “downtimes.”

If you have a family, don’t let yourself feel guilty for using your high-energy times to work, even if it’s when the kids are clamoring for you, or your partner wants to spend time with you. If your kids are at home with you all day, use your school time as a time for them to work on quiet projects. You could even use this time to “teach” them about your own school work – think of this as “patient education.”

School is a short time in your life and it’s important to understand what works best for you—and stick to that schedule so ultimately you can all benefit.