I’ll Get to It Tomorrow: Procrastination in Online Learning
Procrastination is a way of dealing with challenging emotions and dispositions induced by certain tasks. These feelings often occur when we are faced with a task that we view as “aversive” (i.e., boring, frustrating, meaningless and/or disorganized), which in turn, leads to unpleasant feelings or a negative mood. These negative moods drive procrastination.
I can just do it tomorrow
Because procrastination is a “class killer” and because we always have procrastinators in our online classes, it is worth exploring some of the dominant negative moods that drive procrastination.
Learners can be confused and unsure of a task. They may lack the confidence needed to complete the academic task, or they may not know how to start.
Unrealistically high expectations or standards (i.e., feeling overwhelmed by the amount of energy it will take to excel).
Learners are annoyed that they have been given a task, so they delay doing the task.
- Low self-esteem
Learners may minimize their skill set because they think they won’t be able to do an excellent job, so they keep putting off the task. They start to believe they really can’t do it.
Learners are overwhelmed by circumstances, so they find the situation unfair and intolerable and can’t get past these negative emotions.
Learners may feel so bad about not working that they end up marinating in this guilt instead of getting to work, further exacerbating this sense of guilt or shame.
Since procrastination is a predictor of failing to complete an online class, we must address how we create our classes and how we prepare teachers to teach these classes. It’s also critical that we make learners aware of how to overcome procrastination.
For Course Designers
- Develop a module on procrastination
I’ve recently begun to build information into my online classes making learners aware of what procrastination is and explaining why they procrastinate. Part of such a module could encompass mindfulness and time orientation activities to reduce negative feelings associated with the coursework.
- Include shorter timelines
Online classes that are too open invite procrastination because the sheer ambition of assignments coupled with the lack of organizing drives learners to fall behind. As class designers, we can set shorter timelines and break up big projects into subtasks to provide the learner with more structure and to make activities less overwhelming. However, as online teachers, we have to keep to these deadlines. If learners see there is no consequence for turning in a late assignment, many will continue to procrastinate.
- Develop projects
We tend to procrastinate when faced with tasks that we think are boring or lacking relevance. Thus, classes could encompass a real-world project conducted online that taps into learners’ professional aspirations or interests. Surely, we can sacrifice a few readings, online quizzes, or animations to a create a well-designed, interesting project.
- Develop more group activities
Procrastination is increased when online learners are working alone. Class activities should organize online learners into teams or pairs with defined roles and responsibilities so that team members need one another to complete tasks and are interacting regularly. We may be less likely to procrastinate when others are counting on us to do our part.
For Course Instructors
- Give praise
Online teachers should point out the excellent work of learners. This encouragement can incentivize learners to complete online activities on time and build self-confidence and self-efficacy.
- Give encouragement
Many online learners, especially those new to online classes, may suffer from the anxiety that comes with working alone, working at a distance, and working via tech. It is essential for the teacher to communicate confidence and reassurance to learners and a belief in their efficacy.
- Hold weekly online office hours
Offer weekly office hours via chat, VoIP, video, or phone calls. In doing so, learners know they are not alone and that there is a mechanism for getting help when needed.
- Give in on struggling learners
It’s essential to stop procrastination before online learners dig into such a deep hole that they’ll never escape.
For Online Learners
- Understand when you are procrastinating and what makes you do it
Recognize that you are delaying something unnecessarily and think through the motivations for your failure to act. Discover why you are procrastinating so you can address the negative feelings and start class-related tasks.
- Make use of positive self-talk
Tell yourself, “This isn’t so hard, it won’t take long, and I am sure that I know how to do it or learn while I’m doing it.” Procrastination is often fear of doing a poor job, so telling yourself that what you do is excellent enough makes the tasks look small and easier.
Once you start, the task gets so much easier. Researchers discovered that not long after a person starts working out something they don’t like, the neuro-discomfort disappears.
- Change the environment
If you can’t work at home, find a place where you can work (“a room of your own ”) such as a café, your office after normal work hours, or home after everyone has gone to bed.
- Mitigate distractions
Turn off the internet for parts of the class, leave your phone at home, work in a library versus a café.
- Acknowledge your frustration
You may be angry that you’ve been given a hard assignment, but if you don’t do it, this will hurt you. So, don’t hurt yourself—let’s get started!
- Keep on working
Research also shows that the better we get at something, the more enjoyable it can become.
- Solicit advice from colleagues who help you develop a schedule and feel confident. Use online or offline “classmates” as a support/study partner.
- Implement time management strategies
Set a timer for 15 minutes, so that you work in 15-minute increments. After each increment, give yourself a break or reward.
So, there you have it, an overview of how procrastination manifests itself in online learning and strategies for overcoming it. Do you have any additional tips, techniques, or strategies that you would like to share with our readers? If so, leave them in the comment section below.