Maybe you are new to the whole online learning thing – thrown into this style of education thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Or perhaps you have decided to enroll in online school so you can enjoy a flexible schedule while you work part-time and care for your family. Regardless of your motives or objectives, it is important that you succeed. This will require some minor adjustments to how you live, but if made correctly, it will position you for long term success. Keep reading to discover our top ten tips for online learning success.
Invest a decent pair of headphones. Everyone has their own preference. Whether it is earbuds or large over-the-ear headsets, choosing one that fits you comfortably will ensure they do their trick. A good set of headphones will help you listen to your lectures and watch videos without distractions from your environment. You might be studying at home, at work, at the library or outside; regardless, you need complete focus. Drowning out the background noise will help you. For studying, we recommend a wired pair that plugs in directly to your laptop versus Bluetooth, so that you do not have to worry about charging batteries. We also recommend larger, over-the-ear headsets with microphones versus small earbuds. A microphone built into the headset will enable you to take phone calls, participate in Zoom meetings, and so on. Over-the-ear style sets will also do a better job at blocking background noise. For those of you with a bigger budget, headsets with noise-canceling features are our best bet for blocking out unwanted noise.
- Quiet Area
Now that you have a good set of headphones, you need to find a regular space to call your study area. This space should be free from as many distractions as possible, have good lighting, and be comfortable so that you are not distracted. For some of us in smaller, shared living spaces, this may be difficult. Therefore, it may make more sense to study outside weather-permitting or visit a library or cafe. Your space should have access to a power outlet if you need to keep your laptop charged.
- Communicate with Others
Communicate with your friends, family, and others in your living area as to when you are studying and where. Announce this ahead of time so that other people can be sure to accommodate you by being quiet and respecting your space and boundaries. Your success may depend on their support, so it is important you communicate clearly. Empower them to support you and help you succeed. This may require a little give and take. In other words, if they are helping you by caring for a child and keeping things quiet for an hour while you study, be prepared to return the favor.
- Set a Schedule
Once you have your space and have communicated with your support system, you also need to establish a consistent schedule. This is extremely important as it will ensure that you complete assignments on time and that you don’t wait until the last minute to complete your work. Procrastination causes stress and can lower your knowledge retention and quality of work. This stress can wear you out and has been clinically proven to cause illness and strain relationships. So skip the stress and set up a weekly study schedule. How long and how frequently depends on many factors such as the number of courses you are taking; so have some flexibility if you need to ramp up studying as your courses progress. Communicate this schedule by sharing it with your support network so they can know ahead of time when you will be busy (and to not disturb you during these times.) Think about posting it somewhere in your home or emailing it to those around you.
- Make Goals
Set goals for yourself along the way. This should include smaller, incremental wins, such as finishing a chapter or smaller assignment, as well as the big stuff, like completing a project or exam. You need to celebrate your accomplishments and learning online is not easy, so give yourself a lot of internal support and “attaboys” or “attagirls”. Make a list of goals ahead of time and cross them off a list as you go. You’ll be able to track your accomplishments as you move through your schedule and complete your coursework. This feeling of accomplishment will motivate you to keep on moving forward, even if things become difficult with your schoolwork or in your general life.
- Reward Yourself with Breaks
As you achieve your mini-goals, be sure to reward yourself with a quick break. Or, if you are working on a longer assignment, see if you can split it up into sections, or even just be sure to take a forced break every 30 or 60 minutes. The type of reward or break is up to you, but we recommend changing your environment for five minutes each break. So, if you are seated in a small study area, get up, and go for a quick walk to somewhere else and back. Or, stand up and stretch a little. Maybe you need a drink of water or a quick snack (see our next tip.) Just make sure to do something else. You could also reward yourself with five minutes on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Just be sure to set a timer so you don’t waste too much time – we mean it. Set a timer!
- Have a Snack or Beverage
Bring along your favorite beverage or snack to accompany you when you study. This will keep you comfortable and provide a little reward along the way. Be careful though – snacking every time you study can lead to unhealthy habits and even weight gain. We recommend brain-smart and energy-smart snacks like fruits, nuts, and veggies. Skip candy which can give you a short energy burst but then make you sleepy and less productive. For beverages, we always recommend plain old water. If that doesn’t do it for you, try an unsweetened tea like Earl Gray or oolong, or even a coffee. But avoid the sugary sodas as they will do more harm than good.
- Airplane Mode
Set your phone to airplane mode. The only exception should be if you are on-call for your work or your friend (or spouse) is pregnant and due any minute. We mean it – airplane mode. Doing this simple step ensures you will be distraction (and temptation) free while you study in your quiet place.
- Avoid Late Night Studying
If your schedule can permit it, avoid studying right before you go to sleep. This is obviously when you are most tired. If you study or complete assignments when you are most drowsy, you have a greater chance of making a mistake. Your knowledge retention also decreases as you are tired, so you will remember less of what you are learning. Long term memory is created during deep sleep cycles, so it is important to get a good night’s rest. However, studying immediately before you turn in for the evening may have an opposite effect. Try to avoid doing work right before bed when you are most tired. Not everyone’s schedules can accommodate this, so if you find that you are frequently tired when studying, try to make some changes in your schedule to improve your level of alertness.
- Save your Work Regularly
In the age of cloud computing and the internet, you should no longer have to worry about losing your work if your computer crashes or goes missing. There are some very simple and free solutions to saving your work in the cloud so that you have access to your assignments from any device at any time. Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, and Dropbox, all have free options. You can upload your files to these servers so they are always backed up and safe. Each of these sites has information on how to set up accounts so that your documents automatically save to the cloud and sync up when you make changes. Learning these systems is key to your success. Google Drive is our top recommendation because it also comes with a free set of business applications for writing, spreadsheets, and presentations – all similar to Microsoft Office. You can use these directly in the cloud so that you never have to store a document on your own device. This is great if you are using a shared laptop at a library or friend’s house. Or, if you are worried your device will go missing or break.
Bringing it all Together
So there you have it. Master these 10 simple things and you’ll be well on your way to online learning success. Take it from us – we’ve been teaching online for more than a decade and want to pass our best tips for success directly to you. Now go for it!