The Selfish Online Learner

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Selfish, focused online learner.

When you're juggling different demands on your time, there comes a point when you have to prioritise study. It's when you say forget what other people want, I'm doing private, uninterrupted study. A good online learner has traits that include literacy skills, persistence, motivation – and selfishness!

There's something about studying online that makes it easy for people, including yourself as the student, to forget the importance of what you're doing. That's why being selfish can make a big difference to study outcomes.

Most distance learners study at home on a computer that is used for more than study. This blurs the lines between academic and leisure pursuits. Other people think you're available at all times. And it's all too easy to switch from study to less important things.

Selfishness is Good

Selfishness is good for online learners. It allows you to set aside the time you need to succeed. You block out potential distractions and focus on academic goals. Other people learn that your study takes priority over whatever demands they want to place on your time and attention.

Selfishness for an online learner is greed for knowledge and academic success. It has parallels with Gordon Gekko's famous words on the subject:

Greed – for lack of a better word – is good. Greed is right. Greed works.

Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.

Greed, in all of its forms – greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge – has marked the upward surge of mankind.

Fictional character Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street (1987)

Guiltless Study Time

Most online learners balance part-time study with work and/or family. They're studying online because they're busy! So there's an issue with time management from the start.

Guiltless study is essential for a great distance learning experience. It's painful and distracting to constantly have to justify study time. And it can be hard. Why is reading your assigned paper on international business or the fall of Rome more important than hanging out with your partner or friends? It's more important because you want a degree and great career. You have to remember that.

It can help to make a conscious decision at the beginning of term that you will be selfish when it comes to study. You are committed to succeeding. Not only will you put in the required amount of time, but you won't beat yourself up over the fallout. Other people just have to deal with the fact that you have limited time for them.


There is a difference between being a selfish online learner and a jerk. The key to softening the impact of your selfishness is to set boundaries. Let the people around you know that serious stuff is happening when you're online.

Also divide study time and time spent on other things in a clear, consistent way. That helps other people adapt to your study timetable. There is less friction if other people understand what you're doing and when you're available.

Extra Time

Another aspect to being a selfish, successful online learner is to be generous with total computer time. Your laptop or desktop computer is required for more things than study. Some activities may be productive and some may represent down-time. But the reality is that every serious online student spends a lot of time on the computer. You don't have to justify this to other people if you are achieving your academic goals.

According to Statista, the average adult person spends more than 3 hours per day online. And that's without the demands of online courses.

Infographic: Social Networks Take Up The Most Online Time in the U.S. | Statista