How to Stick with Your Online Learning Course Part 3: Hold Yourself Accountable

In this final post in our series of how to stick with your online learning course, we’ll focus on how to stick to your goal by holding yourself accountable.

It’s easy to drop a goal that you’ve made only to yourself. If you tell yourself you’re going to learn how to program in Python, sign up for a course, and then two weeks later decide to just stop – well, you’ve disappointed yourself, but it’s easy to shrug and move on. Here are some ways to hold yourself accountable so that it’s not so easy to give up on your learning.

Turn your Friends and Family into a Support Group

Create a group of supporters – get your family or friends on board. Let your family and friends know about your learning goal, and ask them to check in on you. Ask your partner or roommate to encourage you to spend time on the class (not nag, but congratulate you when you study or ask you politely if you’ve done your learning time that day). It’s amazing how much more likely you are to reach your goal if you know that the people you care about are tracking your progress.

Even better, have a learning partner. It’s just like having a partner who goes to the gym with you. You can encourage each other to study, schedule your learning times together, and hold each other accountable.

Reach out to Your Instructor Early

If you are taking an online course that has an instructor who is available for help, make use of this valuable resource. Always check your syllabus and course materials first, but if you are struggling with the materials or have questions about how to complete an assignment, ask for help. Don’t wait until you are struggling or the assignment is almost due – the sooner you reach out, the more your instructor can help. It will also keep you from falling too far behind in your class.

Just as importantly, establishing a bond with your instructor will make you feel accountable for your learning. You’ll feel more invested in the class and like you have a personal connection to the course. You’ll also break that “fourth wall” that’s common in online classes. No longer will your instructor seem like a one-dimensional character in the course videos; he or she is an actual person!

If you do start checking out from your learning, your instructor is more likely to notice once you’ve made a connection. The instructor will probably reach out to you to make sure everything is ok and encourage you to return to the course.

Create a Learning Community

Are you taking an online class where you can interact with others who are enrolled? If so, network with other students and create a learning community. A learning community is a group of students with common learning goals who collaborate on classwork. You can schedule regular study sessions and help each other understand tough concepts. You may also find yourself more passionate about reaching your learning goals when you have support from others with similar goals.

Pay for Your Class

Yes, pay for your class! This one may feel counterintuitive since there are lots of great free online learning options. Who doesn’t prefer free over spending money? However, if you’ve paid for something, you’re more likely to stick with it. This is known as the sunk cost effect: you feel obligated to use what you paid for so that you haven’t wasted your money.

You also want to make sure that the amount you pay is significant to you. There’s a reason that some gyms charge an automatically drafted $10 per month with no registration fee – the investment doesn’t feel like much and you barely notice it coming out of your bank account. If your learning investment feels substantial to you, you’re more likely to complete your class.

Add a Dollar Reward or Penalty to your Goals

Another way you can hold yourself accountable is to reward or penalize yourself with actual money. You can tell your partner you will pay them $5 every time you skip a scheduled learning time. There are even apps like 21 Habit or Beeminder that hold your funds and release small amounts to you when you meet goals, or give away money to charity when you don’t meet your goals. (You can set it up to give money to charities you hate as more incentive to complete your learning tasks!)

If you start small, establish good habits, set up your plans for success, and hold yourself accountable, you’ll find yourself completing your first online class in no time and ready for the next lesson!


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