Going to college takes over your life no matter how you do it. Whether you attend a brick-and-mortar school or opt to take your classes online, either way it’s a time consuming venture. But because online education is fairly new and because you can get your degree without having to give up your day job, online education brings about a whole new set of challenges for the student.

But even with these challenges, online eduction is on the rise. A 2009 report on online education, conducted by SRI International for the Department of Education, found that on average, distance learning students performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction. Which means that distance learning students are, in fact, discovering how to navigate the previously uncharted waters of online education. Like anything new you just have to figure out how to make the program work for you rather than the other way around. So if you’re on the fence about going back to school via the Internet because you think the obstacles are too big, check out these five online education challenges and how to overcome them.

  1. Work vs. Family vs. School
  2. Traditionally kids went from high school to college, so they probably didn’t have to worry about juggling school with jobs. However, many distance learners have been working fulltime for a while, so maintaining a job is a big consideration when going back to school. Plus, if you have a family to take care of, that makes things even more complicated.

    The solution to fitting it all in is to sit down with your boss, coworkers and family members ahead of time and explain why going to college is important to you. Ask for some consideration at work by requesting flexible hours or getting permission to do homework on company time, if needed. At home, make a plan that describes how everyone will pitch in, which includes family members taking turns grocery shopping, making dinners, doing laundry, etc. Arrange for childcare ahead of time and have a back-up plan, just in case someone gets sick and can’t perform their duties. The secret to success in balancing work, family, and school is to be organized, plan ahead, and get everyone’s buy-in.

  3. Self-doubt
  4. Don’t let lack of confidence stand in your way of achieving your degree. Just because you didn’t finish college the first time doesn’t mean you can’t finish now. Timing is everything and now may be the perfect time to go to school, even though it wasn’t before. Many online colleges offer counseling and support groups to help you when you question your ability to succeed. Rely on these programs, as well as your friends and family to get you through the rough spots.

  5. Household Distractions
  6. When doing coursework online quite often you’ll hear the distractions of your home calling. For example, doing the laundry, dishes, dusting, vacuuming, etc., could all suddenly seem like the most pressing matter when you have an assignment due by 5 p.m. Don’t let these distractions dissuade you from getting your homework done. If you can’t help yourself go to the public library to do your schoolwork. You’d be surprised how much you can get done if you don’t have a dirty window staring at you.

  7. Lack of Self-motivation
  8. If you find you can’t do your coursework without a teacher standing in front of you then you may need a little help with self-motivation. There are a number of ways to trick yourself into getting your work done, the best being a little reward if you do it. However, if humans influence you more than treats consider putting together an online study group, where you get together at least once a week (online) to discuss the current week’s assignments. If you know you have deadlines BEFORE your homework is actually due, you’ll trick yourself into getting it done one time.

  9. Lack of Technical Knowledge
  10. For anyone born before 1990 technology can be a tough hurdle to get over in terms of online education. You do have to be able to use the Web proficiently, but fortunately it’s not rocket science to do so. You don’t have to be a computer whiz just to use online education just like you don’t have to know how a carburetor works to drive a car. If you’re concerned take a basic computer class at your local Apple store (if you have a Mac) or the Microsoft store (if you have a PC). Or if you have access to any eighth grader, just have him or her show you how to navigate the Internet.

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Unlike traditional college, where you make going to school your fulltime job, the time needed to partake in online education has to be retrofitted into your already busy day. This is not impossible to do IF you plan your schedule in advance. Organization is the key, that and a willingness to go the distance (with distance learning).

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