Written by Jarin Eisenberg

As we roll into 2015, many of us are thinking about the changes we want to make in our lives and setting our New Year’s resolutions. In one oft-cited study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, researchers found that individuals who resolved to change a particular behavior, such as quitting smoking, were 10 times more likely to succeed than study participants who made no resolution.

Additionally, an individual’s readiness to change was the best predictor of whether he or she stuck to a New Year’s promise, according to the 2002 study, titled “Auld Lang Syne: Success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year's resolvers and nonresolvers.”

Among the popular New Year’s resolutions listed by the federal government’s web portal, USA.gov, is “Get a Better Education.”

The growth of online learning has made this resolution more attainable for many individuals. Indeed, a June 2014 report by the U.S. Department of Education found “rapidly” increasing enrollment in online courses. Of the approximately 21 million postsecondary students nationwide, about 12% were enrolled exclusively in distance learning courses as of fall 2012.

Of course, enrollment doesn’t guarantee success. So, for all you prospective students out there who are gearing up to start classes in 2015 – and even for those of you already on the path to earning a degree or certificate online – here are some resolutions to consider:

  • Get organized: Find a place in your home that you can dedicate to your studies. Create a space that you will want to work in and that is free from distractions. Think about creating a filing system for your syllabi and other documents related to your coursework. And, of course, include a calendar where you can track your assignment and registration due dates.
  • Commit to watching lectures: Without having the accountability of showing up in a physical classroom, it may be tempting for online students to dismiss the lectures included in the course. Make no mistake: These lectures contain valuable information; this is where your instructors elaborate on the concepts in your text and cover their applications. For quantitative courses, many of your instructors will be working out example problems. This is information you do not want to miss, and it doesn’t hurt to take notes either.
  • Take care of you first: If you are not at your best mentally and physically, fulfilling all of the roles that online learners must take on will prove to be a far greater challenge. Make sure you set aside computer-free time, get out and exercise, and dedicate specific times to visit with friends and family. You will be grateful that you did. There is nothing better for recharging your batteries than being surrounded by nature and loved ones.
  • Don’t fall behind: An eight-week term goes by fast. Missing a week’s worth of work can easily derail you for the remainder of the term. Commit to staying on top of your tasks. Or, even better, stay ahead.

The key to setting and sticking with resolutions is to keep them simple and specific.

BJ Fogg, director of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University, advocates for forming “tiny habits” to reach long-term goals. By repeating those simple actions so that they become automatic, individuals can achieve long-lasting behavioral change.

If you’re a student in an online program, a tiny habit could involve simply committing to watching a video lecture when you get home from work on Mondays and Wednesdays. In other words, establish goals that are manageable and achievable, and yet will set the foundation for your long-term objective of becoming a successful online learner.

Jarin Eisenberg is Project Manager at the Women’s Business Center at Florida Institute of Technology and previously was coordinator of online degree programs at Florida Tech’s Bisk College of Business. To learn more about Eisenberg, read our interview here.

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