One of the benefits of pursuing a Master of Science in Health Informatics online is the flexibility to choose when and where you study. But in order to take full advantage of the convenience of online learning, a student needs a plan.
It starts with the basics: Make sure you have the right equipment and a reliable, secure, high-speed internet connection. The “right equipment” generally means a functioning desktop or laptop computer, but many students also rely on their smart phones or tablets to access email, lessons and other course material.
As for the internet connection, it is best to use a password-protected home network, if possible. The connection also should provide consistent service – a spotty or slow internet connection can interfere with your coursework and disrupt your schedule.
With the basics squared away, it’s time to make that study plan. The plan should take all contingencies into account and allow the student to incorporate school work as seamlessly as possible into work and home life.
The plan should include:
- A study space
- A day and time
- Built-in study breaks
- Relevant (or relaxing) listening material and easy-to-access industry resources
- Assistance (and respect for privacy) from roommates, family members and friends
- Time to interact with professors and fellow students via chat and/or message boards
- Backup study time in case of unavoidable interruptions
- Attention to nutrition and sleep
Below, we break down each part of the plan in detail. Remember, these study tips for online health informatics students are general in nature; your study plan will vary based on your requirements.
Study space – This should be a place that supports your ability to work efficiently. Some people require low light and quiet, as in a personal home office or a private work space in a public library. Others work best in an open area with the social buzz of a few people milling around and living life, as in a café or coffee house.
No matter where you choose to study, it should be a place where you are comfortable listening to video lectures and absorbing information through reading off of a computer screen.
Day and time – Many online students work full-time jobs. Some have jobs and family responsibilities at home. Finding the hours required to complete the coursework can become a juggling act, which is why online students must carve out a specific time and day on their calendars and guard that time jealously.
Be sure to work out a time that takes into account your work and family duties, but be prepared to be ruthless when someone tries to infringe on that time.
Prepare a polite but firm response for questions about your availability during your allotted study time. Example: “I’m sorry, but that’s when I’m studying. I’ll be happy to talk to you later.”
Study breaks – Only you know how many consecutive hours you can study before your attention begins to wander and your eyes begin to blur. Learn to recognize the signs that you’re not at your academic best. Schedule 10- or 15-minute breaks to coincide with those lapses. Come back refreshed and ready to learn.
One way to use that break time wisely is to check out the latest health informatics industry news. Some students set up Google alerts for the keywords “health informatics” and/or “health IT” to receive periodic emails with news and industry insight.
If you’d rather read news directly from the source, interesting and useful industry news sites include:
Listening material – Some students like to listen to music as they read or write. Others enjoy listening to podcasts. This is a personal preference, but if you choose to immerse yourself in health informatics-related news, the Health Informatics Management Systems Society (HIMSS) offers a number of health IT podcast suggestions.
Family assistance – Students who live with family members might need to sacrifice some family time during study time. This could present a hardship for a spouse, kids or other family members, so be mindful of their needs.
That said, it is wise to work out an agreement with family members ahead of time to avoid resentment or squabbles during your study time. They are going to want your attention, so be prepared to say “no” every now and then.
If you require silence to study, make sure your loved ones know that and ask them to respect your needs. In return for their help, offer to set aside a specific day and time to play family games or go out for dinner.
Online interaction – Jacksonville University’s online learning platform includes 24-hour access to discussion boards and chat rooms, so be sure to build in time for digital conversations. Students also can schedule private chats with their professors. Interaction with fellow students and instructors enhances the student experience and can lead to in-person relationships, such as the friendship forged by JU MSHI graduate Katie Carpenter and MSHI student Jeanette Pascale.
Backup plan – No study plan is foolproof. Life happens. To mitigate potential disruptions, build in backup study time that can be used to make up for lost hours due to unavoidable interruptions.
For example, if Plan A includes an hour of study time at 9 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, add a backup hour to Thursday’s calendar. If you are able to get all your work done in the allotted time, the hour on Thursday is bonus free time. But if you come up against a particularly challenging week of work, you can turn to Plan B for that extra hour to get it done.
Food and sleep – Perhaps this goes without saying, but motivated students are notorious for ignoring nutrition and foregoing sleep. This is a big mistake.
Irregular sleeping and eating patterns “perturb the circadian system,” according to a 2014 report published by the National Institutes of Health. This can increase blood pressure, reduce glucose tolerance and disturb the metabolism, which can lead to obesity and other health problems.
The solutions: Don’t skip meals and get seven or eight hours of sleep a night.
Health informatics is a complex topic, and you will need to stay sharp to absorb the course information. Don’t make the mistake of neglecting your personal needs as you work your way toward your goal of earning an MSHI.