For most students, whether studying in the classroom or by distance learning, their course of study is usually spread over many months, and in some cases, two or three years, and maintaining consistently high levels of motivation over such long periods is almost impossible. The reasons for this are many, and each of these reasons affects different individuals in different ways.
Firstly, in general terms, once you have started your course of studies, this event itself changes the balance in your life. Study time has to be planned and fitted into a pattern of life where it didn’t exist before. Family, friends, and work colleagues are all affected, to a lesser or greater degree, by your decision to study. The demands of studying, the planning, the organising of facilities, the concentration needed, the pressure of coursework and-or examination deadlines all add stresses to your life that have to be managed effectively. Once the initial excitement of starting the course and setting out on the road to achieving a new objective has passed, then the pressures and the workload start to have more impact on your life.
Secondly, over these relatively long periods of study, you change. By this I mean that after one year, for example, you have gained more experience in your work role, you will have completed a large part of the course of studies. You may have been promoted, or been disappointed that you weren’t. Your work colleagues may have changed, or your manager may have been replaced with another. You may have changed jobs, moved to a new work location, or moved to a new home. You may have found new friends, or a new partner, be having relationship difficulties, or have become a father, or mother. You may feel unsure, albeit temporarily, that the course of studies is going to be as useful as you first thought, or the qualification as relevant to your career as you initially believed.
Thirdly, the people in your life will have changed, perhaps in small ways, perhaps in significant, major ways.
Your partner and family members will also have changed, at least in some ways. If you have children they will have grown older, and perhaps become more demanding of your time. Your friends may have developed new interests, or moved away, or changed jobs, and are not as close as before. Any one or more of your family, friends, work colleagues, may have themselves changed jobs or started a course of studies, and taken on the pressures that accompany these.
Fourthly, a long course of studies will almost inevitably include areas of study that you are not excited about, or find boring, or which you can’t see the relevance of. Personally, I have always struggled with subjects like Statistics and Data Analysis, and motivating myself to study these was very difficult! Some of my colleagues love these subjects but dislike what they view as vague subjects such as those around managing people.
Finally, studying for a professional development qualification is hard work. Very hard work. Working full time and also studying at professional level is the equivalent of having two jobs at the same time. This means that you will inevitably become tired and listless and probably irritable, at least on some occasions, as you work through a long course of studies. The result is that your motivation level will fall as it becomes more difficult to study effectively in this condition.
The first, most important, most critical, step is to recognise and accept that maintaining a consistent level of motivation is impossible. The second, equally important step is to accept that although motivation levels will fluctuate, the extremes of high and low can be controlled. The third, equally critical step is to plan and take positive action to counter the influences that will be attacking your motivation levels.
This action should be planned as early as possible, ideally at the very start of your studies, but it is never too late to implement such action. The specific actions are, individually, simple ones, and relatively easy to implement. The difficulty is in maintaining these actions, integrating them into your approach to your studies, to your work, and to your personal and home life, so that they become part of your lifestyle, rather than occasional, irregular activities.
Before you start your studies, talk with your family or partner about the course of studies and why it is important to you, and to them. In some cases it will be appropriate to take their views into consideration before you decide to go ahead. Be as certain as you can be, through research, asking advice, consulting specialists, that the course, the qualification, is appropriate for your personal development, and that it fits in with your plans.
Select a course provider, college, business school, university, that offers a format, a style, an approach, that you will enjoy being part of. Check with current and previous students. Ask colleagues and friends who have also studied by distance learning about their experiences.
Set up a Personal Study Area, which you can organise and use for your studies. This should be a place where you will be comfortable, properly equipped, relatively undisturbed and where you can switch into “study” mode. Help yourself to avoid distractions occurring. Make it clear to family and friends, in the discussions you have with them, that once a timetable of study has been set and they have agreed that it is reasonable, they must not try to distract you. Turn off your mobile phone. Don’t have a television set visible from your personal study area. Take defensive action to prevent distractions occurring, such as contacting work colleagues before they contact you.
Plan your studies so that you study at times that suit you, but also are times that don’t clash with times when it is important that you are with your family, partner, or friends. Keep your family, your friends, your partner, your work colleagues, your manager, appropriately up to date with your progress. Build in time for leisure and pleasure. Make sure that you take it! You will return to your studies fresh and re- invigorated. Plan your studies to take into account, and leave room for, working on tests, assignments, and revising for exams if required. Don’t set yourself unreasonable targets. If you can’t study for more than an hour at a time, don’t plan to. Plan to work in 30 minute sessions. If you can’t study effectively in the early morning, don’t plan to. Plan to study later in the day, or in the evening. If you can’t actually manage to study for more than 8 hours a week, don’t plan to.
Build some of your study activities into your everyday life. For example, if you are studying for a professional management qualification, read a business newspaper or journal instead of your usual newspaper, look out for business focused programmes on the television and radio, read business and management books to gain background knowledge and understanding, talk with your manager and specialists at work to see if you can be included, perhaps as an observer, in management meetings.
Talk regularly with your Tutor. Good distance learning providers will have tutors who are accessible on a regular basis, and who will talk with you in the evening and weekends as well, at least for emergencies. Use email, instant messaging, and the telephone, appropriately but regularly.
Equip yourself with the best study aids that you can afford. Your PC or Laptop doesn’t have to be the latest model, or the most powerful, and it’s not necessary to have the latest versions of software, but if it regularly crashes, or you lose valuable work, that can be very demotivating. Make sure that you have good quality anti-virus software (this should be kept up current through regular updates). Losing completed coursework and other files and folders because of a virus can make the most sane person suicidal! Don’t risk it, our own experiences and those of many of our students tell us that viruses are a real, ever-present danger.
Keep fit and healthy. This is crucial. You need to take regular exercise, eat a balanced diet, try to avoid too much alcohol. It is well established knowledge that poor diet and lack of exercise has a very detrimental effect on concentration levels and on achievement levels.
Reward yourself. When you meet a key target, submit an assignment on time, pass an examination, give yourself some time off, or a special treat. Be pleased with yourself.
Finally, work at your studies to the best of your ability. Study hard. Study effectively. This will almost certainly guarantee that you will meet your deadlines and that the standard of your work will be high. The result will be that your progress will be successful and you will complete the course and achieve the qualification. Nothing is more powerful in raising morale and motivation levels than success.