One of the greatest advantages of home study courses is their convenience: you can get your education anywhere and anytime you want. But the freedom of home study courses can also become a burden if you don’t have much self-discipline. With no regularly scheduled classes and no one monitoring whether or not you’re keeping up with your work, it’s easy to become distracted, procrastinate and fall behind.

Like any worthwhile project, the best way to succeed at home study is to develop a plan and stick to it. It’s not difficult to turn your home into a classroom, but it does take some effort and planning to make such a setting truly conducive to learning. Before you jump headfirst into distance education, read the following five tips for getting the most our of your home study courses, so you can be sure that the freedom of the experience doesn’t encumber your potential for learning.

1. Put in the time
With plenty of work and family obligations already packing your schedule, you first need to make sure you’ll have enough time to devote to the course. Don’t just think you can get around to studying when you have some spare time—make time for it. Consider how long the course will take to complete, come up with regularly scheduled blocks of time each week to devote to studying, and then stick to your schedule as if you were attending a live class. 

2. Create a study space
Find a quiet place—ideally, a separate room—where you can focus completely on your studies and not be distracted. Make sure this space has everything you need to complete your work—desk, computer, DVD player, good lighting—and that nothing or no one will disrupt you while you’re “in class.” Even though you may be used to multitasking, your education deserves your full attention, so make sure your family or roommates know that when you’re studying, you’re not to be disturbed. Moreover, limit creating your own distractions by turning off your cell phone, TV, and/or other attention-stealing devices when hitting the books.  

3. Participate
If you’re taking an online course, there are often chances for discussion of the material with your fellow classmates and the instructor via online forums, e-mail and chat rooms. Take advantage of these opportunities, so you can become more familiar with the material by asking questions and bouncing ideas off each another. The increased anonymity of online interaction should allow even shy students to feel comfortable. 

4. Complete the entire course   
Although it may be tempting to skip over parts of the course you find tedious, boring or not worthy of your time, it’s important to do all of the work required if you want to get the full benefit of the course. It’s easy to hit the fast-forward button on your DVD player or skip a chapter in a book because the material seems dull, but you never know what you might miss. Also, many home study massage programs instruct you to practice a new technique you’re learning on family or friends, so you can get a feel for its hands-on application. You should not only complete such practice, but practice for as long—or as many times—as the course suggests. 

5. Reward yourself
While home study takes a certain amount of discipline, don’t forget to employ the carrot and the stick to keep up your motivation. If you successfully complete a particularly challenging part of the course, pass a test with good grades or simply complete all of your studying in the time you’ve allotted, reward yourself by doing something fun—enjoy a nice meal at a favorite eatery, go to a movie you’ve been wanting to see, buy yourself a new CD, etc. Doing this regularly will help keep you motivated, make the experience more fun and develop good study habits.

Chris Towery is the former associate editor of MASSAGE Magazine and is currently a full-time freelance journalist. He has written hundreds of articles for more than 20 different magazines, newspapers and custom publishers. Much of his recent writing has been for the complementary and alternative health-care industry. To contact Towery, e-mail