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Perhaps it’s summer break, and you finally have enough free time on your hands to pursue a new hobby. Or maybe you want to be extra prepared for that honors chemistry course you’ve heard horror stories about. You might even just want to check out what’s all the fuss about those MOOCs (massively open online courses). Whatever your motivation, deciding to learn outside of the classroom is admirable (and there are certainly numerous resources at your fingertips), but it can be difficult to remain committed to. After all, there’s no professor taking attendance or any exams looming on the horizon, so the negative consequences of slacking off one day (which can quickly snowball into not learning for a week) are minimal. As someone who has definitely struggled with this issue in the past, here are some tips for following through with your choice of self-studying.

Learn with a Friend

Knowing someone else taking the same online course or studying the same material as you are can be a source of encouragement and accountability. You don’t necessarily have to physically be with each other when learning, but staying connected throughout the experience–be it by quizzing each other on the subject, practicing speaking if you’re a language-learner, or even simply messaging to see if you’ve both completed a certain section–can be a great help.

It’s one thing to quit trying to learn Java if your education is the only one at stake, but when there’s someone else counting on you, it suddenly becomes a lot more alluring to open up JCreator (or NetBeans, or whatever it is you programmers fancy).

Pace Your Learning

Just like cramming the night before a test isn’t the best idea, it’s also ideal to give yourself a suitably lengthy period of time to learn. If you try to absorb all of linear algebra in a couple of weeks, chances are that you’ll get frustrated and give up, or you’ll rush through the concepts and only have a superficial understanding of the material.

Try to think not simply about getting through everything as quickly as you can. The precise number of days to spend learning depends, of course, on the depth and breadth of the information, how much time you’re willing to consistently dedicate to it, and how urgent it is that you learn. If you’re learning some kind of math, science, or even language, make sure to give yourself sufficient time to do practice exercises.

Futhermore, if you’re learning based on an actual college course, try to find the syllabus to know how many concepts there are to cover. Similarly, if you’re studying out of your own textbook, I would look take a look at the table of contents to gauge how much there is for you to do.

Make a Schedule

Once you’ve decided how long you want to give yourself to learn each bit of the material, write it down on a calendar or in whatever you use to manage your time. Then, once you actually do what you’ve written down, check it off. It’ll make you feel accomplished. At the same time, as long as you’re working when you planned to, don’t stress too much if it takes you longer than you expected to learn a topic–it’s natural for some things to come less easily than others, and it’s better to take extra time to really understand the information than to skim over and never get it.

Have at Least One Concrete Goal

While everyone will have a reason for which they decide to use their time for self-education, not all of these reasons are equal. Many of them will be abstract desires–I’m bored and want do something different, or I want to be more knowledgeable about art history. Although there’s certainly nothing wrong with these, but it can really help to have something more concrete that you can work toward.

For instance, if you want to take up crocheting, maybe have a goal to be to make a scarf. Or if you’re learning a language, challenge yourself to be able to write a certain amount of words or maybe even watch a foreign film without subtitles. It’s also beneficial to have smaller goals leading up to the ultimate goal to keep you feeling motivated along the way.

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