A photograph of a sun hat with do not disturb written on the brim.
Image by Karen Arnold

According to a study conducted by the Centre for Extended Learning at the University of Waterloo (in press), adult learners like online learning because it fits in with their work and family obligations. But adults are busy people, and fitting online learning into an already busy schedule requires strategy.

With over 15 years’ experience delivering online courses, the staff at Continuing Teacher Education and Professional Studies at Queen’s University know a lot about supporting adult learners who take online courses. Here are their top four tips for getting the most out of online learning:

There’s no question that online learning involves a time commitment. But it can also save you time. By taking online courses you don’t have to think about

  • organizing and hiring a babysitter
  • getting dressed up, as you would for work
  • travelling to take a course
  • travelling in inclement weather
  • finding and paying for parking

How much time will you save by not having to do these things? Several hours? That’s your professional learning time. Instead of spending your time on transition activities, reclaim that time for learning.

Set aside some time throughout the week to work on your course. Schedule “study” sessions in a calendar and show up to work on your online course as you would for a job. Communicate your study times to your family. Learning is an investment in your future. Don’t be afraid to create space for it.

Tip: One online instructor with a young family closed the office door and hung a hat on the door handle. Family members knew that “when mom had her hat on” there were no interruptions. Learners can find similar ways to communicate course work time to family members. If hanging a hat won’t work with your family, do your course work at your local public library, a coffee shop, or a friend’s place (their children are unlikely to need you.)

Adults are accustomed to having to figure things out on their own. But you don’t have to figure it out on your own while learning something new. Online courses are set up to encourage community so you can work through learning challenges with your course mates.

If you get stuck, don’t be shy about reaching out to your instructor or tutor. Don’t wait—let your instructor know what your challenges are, right away. They will be happy to help you, or they will direct you to someone who can. The best learning happens in community. Commit to connecting with yours.

Most courses will require you to do some reading. Do your reading in the cracks. Many online courses are mobile-friendly, so you can read on your phone. Do you have 10 minutes? Read while waiting at the optometrist’s office, in line at the grocery store, or during your lunch hour. Those scraps of time add up. Completing your reading in small bursts throughout the week will give you more time to process and reflect on what you’ve read. The advantage of this approach: when it’s time to complete your assignments, you’ve already had ample time to digest the new concepts introduced in your readings.


Adult learners are busy, but according to the Centre for Extended Learning at the University of Waterloo, they’re determined. With the strategies listed here, you can weave professional learning into your life.

Interested in taking an online course? See the online course options at Queen’s Professional Studies.