Budget Time and Find Space

The Consider Your Options section contrasts three modes of online education: competency assessment versus independent study versus cohort classes.

If you choose to study in a cohort-based, semester-long course, a lot of your planning is done for you.  You know when the assignments are due, the time of the final exam and the like. And these fixed due dates provide pressure to keep up.

If, on the other hand, you are in a competency-based or independent-study program, the burden of scheduling is on your shoulders.  You need to determine how quickly you can complete a course and set your own deadlines. By way of an independent-study example, consider plans for 3 month blocks of time: 3 months, 6 months, 9 months, 12 months.

As first step, in choosing a block of time, start with an estimate of the total number of hours you will need to complete the course. Suppose, for example, that you are considering taking a 3-credit course. A typical face-to-face 3-credit, semester-long course meets for 3 hours a week and requires 2 hours of work outside of class for each meeting, a total of 9 hours a week. The total study hours for a 3-credit course in a typical 15-week semester then would be approximately 135.

For a second step, divide the total number of study hours by the number of weeks in the time periods you are considering. In terms of our 3-month time blocks the breakdown would look like this:

3 months/12 weeks, 135 divided by 12 = 11 hours a week

6 months/24 weeks, 135 divided by 24 = 5 and a half hours a week

9 months/36 weeks, 135 divided by 36 = 4 hours a week

12 months/52 weeks, 135 divided by 52 = 2 and half hours a week

Allowing ourselves 9 months or 12 months to complete a 3-credit course may appear to be a failsafe. How could we miss? Spending between 2 and a half and 4 hours a week may seem quite “doable.” For many of us it would be, except that: fewer hours per week makes it easier to fool ourselves and procrastinate (“I can always make up this week’s study time next week”), and harder to retain the material we have studied and build momentum. Given the challenges of retaining course material and stick-to-it-iveness, we may be much more likely to complete our course in a shorter amount of time. One implication of this is that if our goal is to complete 2  3-credit courses in the next year, we may be more successful if we spend the first 6 months on one course and the second on the other, as opposed to working on both courses together for 12 months.

For a third step, in calculating the number of weeks needed to complete an independent-study course, we need to keep in mind, not only our time, but instruction time and processing time.  Typically, instructors have three business days to provide feedback on assignments and courses have a midterm and a final exam. So, if an ambitious student wished to complete a 3-credit course with 12 assignments and 2 exams, the student would need to plan on a minimum of 7 weeks (spending 19 hours a week on the course = 135 estimated hours of study for a 3-hour course divided by 7.

In addition to the time needed for instructor feedback, careful planning also includes allocation of time for the processing of the course record. If our goal is to graduate on May 15th, the transcript office may need our course grade by May 1st to process it in time for graduation. To play it on the safe side, we would then want to take our final exam no later than the third week of April. So-in this case, what might have appeared to be a May 15th deadline turns out to be an April 23rd deadline.

Whether our online course is asynchronous-independent study or competency assessment-or a synchronous- semester based course, our success depends upon our ability to schedule our time wisely and then stick to our time plan. Perusing the material in the three links below, takes us from general principles of time management to more specific ones:

Time Tip


http://www.dartmouth.edu/~acskills/success/time.html  (click on “Time Management Tips)

Managing Time for Success in College

UW-Green Bay


Smart tips (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely, take a break)

University of Chicago


Time Management Project Planning Tool

Harvard College


(And for those who have lots of time on their hands, the following link covers the  waterfront in time management approaches: Time Management Tips & Strategies (Epic How-to Methods)

In addition to managing our time, finding a productive place to study is also important. We can take our laptops almost anywhere but there may only be a few places where we can study with maximum productivity. Our job is to find them and study there. Among the factors impacting the effectiveness of study are lighting, temperature and background noise:


Some questions to consider:

Where I would study?

Based upon the number of the course’s credit hours, approximately how much time should I plan on studying?

Given my personal situation, what would be the most efficient and effective timeframe (e.g. three months, six months) for completing a course?

Last revised on November 8, 2018.