Navigating the roller coaster ride of online learning

Photo credit: Unsplash, Olia Nayda, CC0

In this post, Rafia Ayaz, an online Masters in Clinical Education, shares her experience of resuming her medical studies by combining two years of part-time online study into one…

I would have never imagined that, one day, I would be writing a blog post about my learning experience, reflecting on the academic roller coaster ride that once felt had no end in sight. But here I am, still standing after one year of a part-time online Masters in Clinical Education, and still working into the last dissertation year.

In 2018, I started my part-time Masters degree and planned to condense my first two years of study into one since I was not working and figured I could manage studying while taking care of my kids (who attend nursery and school) and other family responsibilities. Many times during the year, the pressure of deadlines and workload made me wonder why I put my poor self through this! It was undoubtedly challenging but it was doable with proper routine adjustments and advanced planning. Let me take you on my learning journey of combining two years into one.

The online experience in general was very overwhelming in contrast to the degree I had completed in Pakistan. I was not familiar with the online course material, tutorials, online discussion boards, and assessment formats. I wasn’t confident in using discussion boards, but the regular tutorials and friendly tutors made me feel supported. In the first six weeks, I tried hard to keep up with ALL the essential material I was assigned, which meant double the material since I was taking two courses simultaneously. Moreover, it was challenging to wrap my head around the formal language of journal articles. I wondered how can simple ideas be made so complex through long sentence structures? (Little did I know that I would be doing the same at the end of the course…magic!).

engaging with resources and materials

As I am a conventional learner, reading the material from printed copies by my side was very helpful. In this way, I could engage with the readings anywhere in the house. Another immensely useful tool was Mendeley, the bibliographical manager, which keeps a record of all your reading material, and makes referencing easier and fool-proof for assignments. Also, citing the references the correct way using those bibliographical managers can make a huge difference in grade assessments.

The part I struggled with in almost every course was coming up with ideas and content for my assignments. Since I only had a year’s worth of work experience at a hospital and started studying straight afterwards, I had little experience in the educational field to be creative. I used to take longer than others to ponder and come up with new ideas for different tutorial tasks. Throughout the year, some courses that initially seemed easy eventually got more difficult while others were hard to digest from the very beginning, such as the “Research in education” course.


One thing that really worked for me was regularly attending tutorials. Listening to the tutor and fellow students talking about confusing topics was useful in opening my mind and helped me get involved in student discussions. It cleared my head and stimulated new assignment ideas. Furthermore, simply listening to other students expressing their anxieties and bumpy journeys made me realise that we are all in the same boat and will sail through the storm together.

Formative assignments

One very useful component in the course design were the formative assignments. Their usefulness really stood out in courses that did not include them and only had summative assignments. They were helpful in aligning the thought process in the right perspective and directing me towards the application of all the knowledge I had been acquiring. I would strongly suggest working hard on the idea for all the formative assignments and use the feedback provided, which will save you the hassle of doing that work during the completion of summative assignments.

Condensing two years into one kept me completely occupied with my studies. Strict time management for daily 3-4 hours of study, and cramming for summative assignments deadlines over the weekends, helped me get through this. One thing I want to add is that while it is doable to combine two years into one, part of me thinks that I would have gone into more depth in my learning had I done one year at a time.

As the title depicts, this experience was a roller coaster ride. There were moments of confusion in grasping the concepts, pressure in meeting deadlines, and long hours of writing assignments, but the excitement of learning new things and the satisfaction of reaching small achievements kept me going until the end.

So, if you are doing something similar (or thinking of doing part-time online study) try not to get frustrated, keep having fun with the new ideas, and enjoy the learning experience. This is an amazing experience that you will remember for the rest of your life!

Good luck!

Rafia Ayaz

Rafia is a medical graduate from Pakistan, currently residing in Saudi Arabia. She has worked for a year as an FY1 trainee at QEQM Hospital UK. Rafia took a career break to be a full-time mother of two young kids. She took this Masters to broaden her career prospects as she resumes her journey into the medical profession.

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