Lucia Ziyuan, UX/UI Designer, BeyondPixels

In 2017 I seem to be doing what my peers could only dream of: working at a remote digital marketing job while traveling the world.

But I wasn’t feeling fulfilled at all: instead of running marketing campaigns and craft ad copies, I wanted to create meaningful experiences that delights users.

Driven by a burning desire to pursue a career in User Experience Design, I started soaking up on every bit of resources online about UX like a thirsty sponge

After a few months of informal learning, I felt the need for structured, immersive learning led by experts to truly master the craft.

As a mid-career professional, I wasn’t ready to go back to university and sit in a classroom again.

The only option left seems to be a remote study program. It ticks all the boxes for me except for the lack of a “real” classroom. 

I weighed the pros and cons, and eventually took a leap of faith to enroll in a 6-month boot camp style UX Academy. In reality, it took me 9 months to graduate with the capstone projects.

My sweat and tears eventually paid off – I’m now a certified UX Designer practicing what I learned and doing what I love.

In this digital age, we all have to be lifelong learners.

For those who are considering an adult remote study program, I hope to share the biggest lessons I learned to ensure a successful outcome.

If you can anticipate the challenges for remote learning and have strategies in place to overcome them, remote online study can be a very rewarding experience!

Lesson #1 - Stay Motivated When There is No Classroom Interaction

My learning was entirely online, which means all course materials and lectures were delivered in digital format. My curriculum is self-paced, and my interactions with “classmates” and “mentors” were limited to Slack messages and Skype calls. 

It took incredible self-discipline to sit through hours of course materials and video lectures after a long workday. And some days I really lacked the motivation to put my best effort into the coursework. A lot of my fellow classmates were fell behind on the course schedule. I wasn’t the only one who needed an extra push to keep up. 

What really helped me, in the end, was to break down big, daunting projects into bite-sized tasks.

For example, a design research project that could easily take up 20-30 hours. Thinking that some days I only have 45 minutes to work on it, I outlined an action plan with main tasks and their subtasks. Each subtask has an estimated time to complete – some could take as little as 15 minutes. 

Instead of tackling the big project head-on, I can stark chunking off the middle and work my way towards completion. There are many digital tools to help you achieve this.

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I recommend writing a project plan in Dropbox Paper with a handy checklist and allocate each task in Todoist with a due date. Being able to tick off to-do lists and see progress supplied me with small doses of motivation. 

The other strategy that helped me was to have an accountability partner for regular check ins. I was lucky to find another lady in my class who was also working part-time, so we checked in with each other on progress. If you can join peer groups and have regular check-in calls, that helps as well. 

At the end of day, the best source of motivation comes from your sense of purpose. Internal motivation is more powerful than external ones. Yes, a pay raise would be desirable by the end of your learning program, but giving it a higher purpose is what really drives you.

Writing down your purpose statement will help you hold yourself accountable as I did in this post about why I got into UX. Purpose-driven motivations will lift you up in times of low morale. 

Lesson #2 - Healthy And Steady Wins the Race

When you are studying remotely, most of your time is spent in a sedentary position. Most remote learning programs are offered online, which means you will be spending a significant amount of time in front of a laptop or computer. 

I learned the importance of taking breaks the hard way - at the prime of my health, I had to see a physiotherapist to treat my back pain.

My physio was shocked at how much tension she found in my neck and back, but I know exactly why. Both at my remote job and for online study, I sit in front of my laptop all day, oftentimes at coffee shops and home where the furniture is set up as a proper workstation. 

When you take on distance learning, you are in it for the long haul. Months even years of staring at the laptop will certainly take a toll on your health if you don’t pay attention.

Following my physio’s advice, I now take a break from my desk every hour. If you are challenged to unplug from the screen like I do, invest in a  fitness tracker with reminders to move such as the Fitbit Charge 2, so you hit your steps goals throughout the day. 

And while you are at your break, why not do some simple stretching such as Pilates? For laptop workers, pilates can be particularly beneficial since they help us correct muscle imbalances, as explained by the British Heart Foundation. You can do it right from your desk without changing into your gym gear, and come back to your desk feeling energized and refreshed. 

Finally, get good sleep. Research has shown the correlation between lack of sleep and poor cognitive performance. If you want focused study with high yield, make sure your brain can function with the right amount of sleep.

The truth about optimal sleep schedule is that everyone runs on a different biological clock. Find out what your circadian rhythm is like, and set your schedule to match your personalized sleep needs.

Lesson #3 – Build a Support Network for Your Mental Health

There are many benefits of taking up remote online study: the freedom to study however and wherever I want is great.

The flexibility to study whenever I’m the most productive is a huge plus.

Also the self-paced learning means I can revisit materials a few times if needed, and even skip ahead to future chapters if it makes more sense. 

However the journey itself can be quite lonely. In-person interaction is seriously lacking, and face-time with your mentor is limited. In my remote study, I’ve only “met” 3 of my mentors online through video calls. Adding to the challenge, all my classmates and mentors are in different timezones, making interactions all the more difficult.

If we aren’t careful, all this isolation can lead to serious mental health struggles. 

There are other ways to substitute for the lack of “classroom experience”. My online school for example schedules weekly “hangouts” online to share our work and get feedback.

Finding professionals and mentors in your field can be a great way to expand your social circles too. I joined a few more online communities and reached out to folks who are already practicing UX design. Most people are flattered by the attention. Some even offered advice.

The other great thing about remote learning is that we are not confined within the boundaries of a campus. We can be free to get into the field, meet people, and start making meaningful connections all around us.

Since I was traveling while doing the online program, I made sure to make local connections. I subscribed to local IxDA chapters and design meetups wherever I was traveling to and got involved by attending events or volunteering my time. 

Your friends and family can offer great mental rapport as well, if you open up to them for help. I was very fearful of disapproval from my family about my career change at first, but when they saw my dedication, they were firmly supportive of my choice.

All it takes is the willingness to open up and be vulnerable about what you are going through. You will be surprised by how many people around you share the same experience and are happy to help.

Conclusion

Remote online study is a trend to stay. And you have the right tools in your toolbox, you can make the most out of online learning without sacrificing your quality of life.

Being able to learn new skills in a digital environment is a survival skill for our generation. We all need to constantly upgrade our skills and keep up with technology.

I hope these tips will help you. If you have any experience with online study, please share it with us in the comments below!

Lucia Ziyuan, UX/UI Designer, BeyondPixels

About Lucia: A Freelance UX/UI Designer with a penchant for the written word, she now lives in the sunny Lisbon after 3 years of traveling full-time. Her portfolio can be found at BeyondPixels.Design.

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