For those regular readers to my blog, you’ll probably notice there’s not been a post for the past few weeks. The reason for this will likely come as no surprise to anyone who has embarked upon a distance learning MBA – there’s a lot of studying to do, especially if you want to really understand the content, and master the topics being studied. After a visit to China a few weeks ago combined with some unexpected personal events, I quickly realised how important it is to stay on track whilst studying to avoid falling behind. Given that a collaborative approach is now taken to distance learning, this is especially important as other students are discussing topics in lessons that I have yet to start, so being behind means I miss the opportunity to participate in those discussions.
So, I thought this week I would write a post about managing time when studying on a distance learning MBA course. The first comment I would make is around flexibility. When I started my MBA I had a full study programme mapped out, with specific lessons to be completed each week, and each of the activities for the lessons assigned to the days I planned to study. Of course, a few weeks in and reality starts to kick in, work starts to get really busy just as you are getting into the rhythm of studying, and then there’s the overseas trip that takes you out of the country for a week (with no time to study)! At this point I realised my well planned schedule was completely off target, and I just had to allocate every spare moment to recovering lost study time. Hence, flexibility is key – I now have a much less structured plan for studying, which allows me to study when I can, and respond to the day-to-day needs of work and personal life.
A second important point when managing time on a distance learning MBA is having strong support systems around you. It has been invaluable having a supportive wife who not only provides the encouragement to study hard, but also can take on many of the tasks that I no longer have time to do whilst studying on top of full-time work (thank you Becky!). In addition, my employer has a very flexible working culture, which has allowed me to be both successful in my full-time day job, yet also find the time to study as well.
Although earlier in this post I commented on how my initial study plan was too rigid, I still feel that it is important to have a good study plan, and the new one I have produced works much better having learned the lessons of the first two months. It provides sufficient granularity for me to be focussed each time I start to study, but can easily adapt to changes based on changing time availability. I personally find that study plans can be a great motivational tool as well, if you also use these to track what you have completed as well as what still has to be done – it is very satisfying to cross off each activity that I complete during my study periods.
The final comment I would make around managing time is make it personal. Everyone will find that they study better under certain circumstances, and this may differ depending on whether the study involves reading a book, watching a video clip, attending an online seminar, or writing an essay. These circumstances include, but are not limited to:
- time of day – early morning, evenings, late at night
- setting – dedicated office, living room, library, work
- people – in private, around other people
- noise – silence, background noise, music
When planning your study schedule, and subsequently starting to study, make sure that you consider these factors based on both your preferences, and the type of study you are planning to do. There’s no point starting to read study materials at 6am if the morning with music in the background, if you are a night owl who likes working in silence!
How much time should you allocate for studying?
I have been asked by a few people about the amount of time that you need to dedicate to a distance learning MBA. I believe the recommended time is typically around 12-15 hours per week, depending on the format of the course, and the number of modules being pursued at any one time. In my experience, I would say this is the minimum that should be allocated, with 18-20 hours per week being a more realistic target, especially if you want to:
- read and participate in discussions with other students
- broaden your knowledge outside the provided textbooks and online content by reading current news articles and magazines
- further your understanding by testing some of the concepts discussed against real organisations (including your own)
- aim to pass with a Distinction
Based on my experience at Warwick, I am currently allocating time as follows:
- 40% Reading textbooks / making notes
- 30% Reading the online course lectures and watching the embedded videos
- 20% Completing exercises
- 10% Reviewing ongoing discussions around each of the topics.
The structure of the current modules means that I currently don’t allocate any time to essays or revision; however, this will change later this month when the first TMA (Tutor Marked Assignment) is due, and will probably take up around 50% of my time in May/June when the final assessed essays are to be written.
As always, I hope you have found this blog post interesting and useful, and please feel free to share your own experiences in the comments area below.