Online Learning has become increasingly popular in the UK and abroad, especially in the past year. But it can be difficult to adjust learning habits: here are our top tips for learning effectively online.
1/ Set up: Create a dedicated study space
Parents should ensure that their child has a safe and quiet environment in which to work. It needs to be a comfortable place to work. Take the following in mind:
- Light: A dark room or space can become claustrophobic and even depressing. It will also lead to faster eye strain and fatigue (1). If you have a dark home consider adding extra sources of indirect light.
- Ergonomics: If you try to sit on the floor with your laptop balanced on your knees, you’re going to wind up with a sore rear end, a stiff neck, and aching shoulders.
- Ergonomic work spaces allow you to focus on the study materials. When you’re uncomfortable, pain and stiffness will distract from your work and make you less likely to return to studying.
Ambiance: Some people can work easily with a lot of noise around the, while others need absolute silence. Don’t assume that you learn best in pure silence. Experiment with different environments to figure out how best you work.
- Distractions: Students should ask everyone in their family not to bother them while they study so they can focus on the material. Students should even turn off their phone and close their internet browser tabs, except for the one they use for studying. Once you get distracted, returning to the learning becomes increasingly more difficult.
2/ Technical requirements and reliable internet access
The main difference between studying online and studying in the classroom is that you’re responsible for the learning environment. You provide the place to work, the computer, and any other items you need, including a machine with the necessary technical requirements. Make sure you have a fast processor that enables you go from program to program at the flick of a switch. You will also need a fast internet connection; preferably cable. Wi-fi can cause lagging, especially when multiple users are using the Wi-Fi at the same time.
3/ Behaviour while learning online
Be clear about the expectations of both student and staff behaviour. These should be set out in your Behaviour and Online Safety Policies. Teachers should clearly set out the guidelines and rules for the online lessons. Everyone should be treated with kindness and respect.
4/ Engage in conversations during online classes
One of the secrets of online learning is that you should not just be a silent passer-by. To get most of your online lessons you need to engage with what is being leant or discussed as often as possible. This is what makes lessons vibrant, fun and memorable. Try to be as active as you can! Being an active student during online lessons also helps you expand your knowledge and better understand the topic. Furthermore, you’ll gain a sense of community and camaraderie that can make online learning more enjoyable. Remember that learning has always been a two-way process.
5/ Stay organised
Organisation is one of the key-elements for becoming a successful online student. Be mindful about where and how you keep your syllabus, assignments, reading materials or research projects.
- Remember to use a planner/calendar. A calendar works best for sticking to a regular routine (2). You can pencil in study times around work, family, and friends so that it becomes one of your top priorities.
- Write detailed to-do lists: They can help you study more efficiently and get things done faster. Plus, you get the accomplishment of checking off each item as you complete it.
- Set time limits : One way to increase your productivity and efficiency is to force yourself to study for a specific period of time (3). If you’re often restless, consider setting a timer for 15 minutes. When the alarm goes off, get up, walk around, and return to your desk for another 15 minutes. If you do this four times, you’ll have studied for one hour total. Online studying can lead to eye fatigue, so those breaks in study sessions will give them a rest. Plus, you can work out any stiffness in your muscles and clear your head before you return to the material. However, make sure you work for the total amount of time you think is necessary to complete your goals and check every item off your to-do list. If you need two hours of concentrated study time, you could work eight 15-minute sessions or six 20-minute sessions. Break them up in a way that feels comfortable for you
- Turn up to all your lessons on time: there is nothing more distracting in a lesson than having students turn up at different times. Remember also to hand in your homework on time. Again, this is normally an extension to the lesson you had previously. It is a way for the teacher to assess what has been learnt previously. The success of the next lesson in a particular subject, often relies on having completed the homework.
6/ Do not procrastinate and leave things until later
Many online students have the tendency to procrastinate either by skipping online classes or by not finishing assignments. This just leads to students getting further and further behind in their work and, ultimately, slows down their progress. Students need to create daily plans with time set aside for each piece of homework. For assignments, start researching the topic as early as possible. Note down the main ideas, so you have something to work with when you start writing it. Keep the day before the deadline only for a final proofread to check misspellings, add or replace anything that you consider relevant.
7/ Ask for help, if needed
Strangely enough this is what humans find the hardest to do. In their mind they believe it is admitting defeat or failure. In my thirty years of teaching experience, I find that the best students are always the ones asking questions, or asking the teachers to clarify something that has been discussed. These students are certainly the one that make the greatest amount of progress. They see it, quite rightly, as one of their strengths.
So, if you need clarification, communicate with your teacher or other students in the online lesson. Many teachers set up preferred communication channels, whether it’s email, instant messaging, or direct messaging on social media. Try to use that channel to get answers to your questions. Just make sure in your communications that you are clear with what you are struggling with; try to be as precise as possible; teachers are not mind-readers!
If your course involves interactions with other students, befriend them. Learn to ask one another for help. In most cases, you’ll struggle with different parts of the course, so you can help each other through the rough patches.
Of course, you can also seek guidance in the real world. Maybe you have a friend or relative who has experience with the course material. Getting help from someone you know might feel less uncomfortable, especially if you’re new to online learning.
8/ Take regular study breaks
Did you know that studying for too long can have serious consequences? (4)
- Loss of concentration
- Eye strain and fatigue
- Poor knowledge retention
- Inadequate performance on tests
- Loss of memory
To avoid these consequences, give yourself plenty of breaks. If possible, get away from your study area. Go outside for a walk. Grab a cold drink and or a snack. Avoid looking at a screen during these breaks, as this defeats the purpose of having a screen break.
9/ Stay motivated
It’s easy to lose motivation when studying online. If you’re feeling frustrated or confused, take a break to clear your head, then ask someone you love for advice. Maybe you just need to vent for a few minutes, or perhaps your loved one can provide motivation when you can’t generate it on your own. Most importantly, remember why you decided to pursue online learning. Get back in touch with that motivation so it can fuel you through the entire course.
10/ Reward yourself
Who doesn’t love a reward! Remember to reward yourself every time you complete your tasks and goals for that day. Whether it is a sweet you love to have, or spending more time with your friends on social media, or whether it is going to watch a film in the cinema that evening or during the weekend. Reward systems often send positive messages to your brain. Over time, you’ll learn that learning produces that reward, so you’ll get a taste for more knowledge.