“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”
- Henry Ford
Constant learning is a gift to yourself. You allow yourself to stay open-minded and to extend your knowledge, and according to Henry Ford it even keeps you young! But just like everything else in life, simply knowing this doesn't make it easier to actually do so. As lined out in our previous blog post about why you want to Integrate Learning Into Your Calendar, finding time is the key for successful learning, but also quite difficult as time is a very limited resource. Even when it comes to online learning which, traditionally, is less time consuming than on-site learning [Nuţă 2017].
When it comes to creating learning schedules, there are many opinions on how and what you have to do to achieve the best outcome and success rate for yourself while not conflicting your daily routine and keeping you motivated. So, how can you setup an effective learning schedule?
In order to develop your own learning schedule, you need to concentrate on four things: learning duration, time of day, weekday and regularity.
The optimal duration of a learning session depends on a few conditions. The first one is your own ability to concentrate [Lamba 2014]. For some people this might be one hour, for others it's just thirty minutes, but also longer times are possible. If you are not sure what duration is best for yourself, just try it out. Choose a different duration for your learning sessions every time and figure out your own preferences!Another factor influencing your learning duration is your (work) calendar itself. If your calendar is already quite full and only a few times are left it might, of course, make sense to choose shorter durations. However, make sure not to drop learning completely. It might hurt you in the long run!
Recent research [Kaur 2021] found that learners who study in the morning generally show a better performance than learners who invest time in the late afternoon or evening, with the afternoon being the most unproductive time of the day. Still, we might agree on one point: Some people simply thrive in the morning, others can concentrate better in the afternoon or evening, and this probably won't change! What indeed is important is to commit some of your quality cognitive time to learning [Romero 2011] in order to be successful. Whatever time of the day this is for you, it probably competes with your working times during the week. Make sure to figure out where your quality cognitive times are and try to combine learning with work, or at least pause your work for learning every once in a while. It will pay back tenfold in the long run!
When it comes to finding the right weekdays to study, we have a lot of flexibility in general. One thing you want to keep in mind is your work schedule. Mondays often constitute days with a lot of planning for the week, check-ins and catching up with things that happened over the weekend. Hence scheduling learning times on Mondays might end up in a lot of frustrating re-scheduling or dropping of your learning sessions, which you definitely want to avoid. Secondly, you might want to follow the idea of spaced repetition: If you manage to learn multiple days a week, make sure to leave a little time in between sessions in order to let knowledge sink in before it is repeated, refined and deepened.
If it's not possible to include learning times during the week it might be a good idea to switch to the weekend. There you have way more opportunities to learn during your quality cognitive times and might even be more relaxed and open for new knowledge.
For a lifelong learning experience it's important to keep on learning. Studies have found that in context of online learning the first weeks often are the most active ones before time investment declines quite fast [Rõõm 2021, Yeomans 2010]. To prevent this, a regular learning appointment set in your calendar can do great things. On the one hand, you can choose your favorite learning time and duration, on the other hand you block that time and might even get a reminder to learn.Depending on your learning goals a possible schedule could be once or twice a week, every two weeks or even only once a month. The less frequently you learn, the longer your session duration can be and vice versa.
But don't be too strict with yourself: As online learning offers a huge flexibility, it's not necessary to learn always at the same day or at the same time. Research has found that a strict and fixed schedule is not essential for good learning outcomes [Li 2014] and might even lead to dropping out [Du 2019]. However, regular learning sessions can help you stick to it. So stay regular!
To conclude, it's important to realize that finding the right time(s) for learning is as important as it is individual. We encourage you to test different learning durations, different times of day, different weekdays and different regularities. The whole process of finding out about your learning preferences and abilities will help you taking the first steps to lifelong learning. Maybe our learning calendar can help you with this?
And while we're at it: It's not only about finding the time for learning, but also the motivational goals to experience success [Yeomans 2010]. Without motivation, spent learning times will be less effective [Li, 2021], less interesting and might lead to a faster decline in learning continuity. So when setting up your schedule, try to keep it motivating as well! While a learning time at 6am might be a good idea for your cognitive abilities, it could be that you won't be able to keep the motivation up for this. However you do it in the end, don't forget what Steve Jobs said:
'There is always "one more thing" to learn!'
[Du 2019] X. Du et al. Is learning anytime, anywhere a good strategy for success? Identifying successful spatial-temporal patterns of on-the-job and full-time students
[Kaur 2021] P. Kaur et al. Affective state and learning environment based analysis of students’ performance in online assessment
[Lamba 2014] S. Lamba et al. Impact of Teaching Time on Attention and Concentration
[Li 2014] N. Li et al. MOOC Learning in Spontaneous Study Groups: Does Synchronously Watching Videos Make a Difference?
[Li, 2021] S. Li et al. MOOC learners' time-investment patterns and temporal-learning characteristics
[Nuţă 2017] A. Nuţă et al. An assessment of distance learning education platform options and ipportunity
[Romero 2011] M. Romero et al. Quality of E-Learners’ Time and Learning Performance Beyond Quantitative Time-on-Task
[Rõõm 2021] M. Rõõm et al. Dropout Time and Learners’ Performance in ComputerProgramming MOOCs
[Yeomans 2010] M. Yeomans et al. Planning Prompts Increase and Forecast Course Completion inMassive Open Online Courses
[Field 2000] J. Field. Lifelong learning and the new educational order. ERIC, 2000.