Online learning offers a host of opportunities ranging from convenience to a diversity of topics. You can start classes at any time and anywhere. The dress code can vary between PJ chic to sweatpant swag. The point is, it’s all about you and what you want to do when you want to do it. Yet for some, online learning can seem intimidating, confusing or lonely. For others, it's a question of getting the right fit for optimal learning.
I’m happy to say that all concerns can be addressed. First and foremost, online does not have to mean alone time. Not only do many online courses and webinars allow you to engage with the teacher and other students, but you can also take courses with friends and share your perspectives on the course materials as you progress together.
The following tips provide some ideas on what you need to know to get the most from online learning.
Know What You Need to Succeed: Before embarking on an online course make sure you know what you need to succeed. Are there technical requirements that have to be set up? Will you need to have specific materials on hand? Is your internet access reliable? Whatever the needs, make sure you know them in advance so that they don’t become a distraction or hindrance to the learning process.
Make A Schedule: Just like any course, there needs to be a rhythm and a schedule. To get the most out of online learning you have to make it into a habit. That means repetition, each day at 1:00 PM or every Thursday morning. You choose what’s convenient for you. Don’t forget to include time for study and homework. If you don’t put any parameters around the course you are more likely to skip class or forget about it altogether.
Choose Your Classroom: We all work better when our workspace is prepped to meet our needs. Find a space in your home that you can use for coursework. This includes making sure that you have what you need to take notes, something to drink and/or snack on. If your seat is comfortable and your desktop is clear, you are less likely to fidget or get distracted.
Take Handwritten Notes: Just like any learning process, the ideas that you hear will be better integrated if you write them down and I do mean write, not type. Research shows that our ability to focus and think more intensely about materials is enhanced when we write notes. We are also better at retaining what we learned when we take notes.
Don’t Multitask: People love to talk about how good they are at multitasking, but the truth is, study after study has shown that when you multitask you do all tasks worse than if you focused on one thing at a time. The same applies to learning online. If you want to enjoy the process, you have to focus. No TV, no radio (unless its soft instrumental music) and definitely no social media.
Engage: Join the conversation, ask questions. Learner engagement is a powerful predictor of knowledge transfer and the ability to practically apply that knowledge. In other words, the more engaged you are, the more likely you are to learn and use what you learned.
Build In Recess: When we were kids we all loved recess. It was a break from all of that knowledge transfer. We are no different as adults. We need breaks to help us digest and reflect on information. The breaks also give us enough distance from the content we are learning to make new connections or see the information from a slightly different perspective. Last but far from least, we need breaks to stay healthy. When we study too long in any scenario, including online, we can create health issues that range from eye fatigue to insomnia.
Ask for Help: Don’t hesitate to ask for help when you need it. No one expects you to know all about the topic you are learning or you wouldn’t be taking a course. It’s also true that with the variety of learning platforms available no one will know how they all work, don’t hesitate to ask for technical help if you need it.
Get A Study Buddy: Staying accountable is one of the underpinnings of successful learning. While all of the tips here will help you achieve accountability, nothing is as effective as a study buddy for helping you to stay the course literally and figuratively. The key to getting the most from your shared learning is honesty. Lying about what you have done or not done harms no one but you.
Reward Success: As with any task, we are more likely to maintain good performance if we are rewarded for our efforts. Whether you give yourself a gold star for a completed assignment or a chocolate chip cookie, the choice is yours, but do reward your accomplishments.
Stay Respectful: Whenever people gather to share ideas there is the opportunity for disagreement. Differences in opinions offer a chance for discovery and the sharing of new perspectives, but they can only do this if we are respectful. Like any communal environment, online learning is not a space to be rude or unkind.
Every year millions of people participate in online courses and webinars. They gather in large, international assemblies, in intimate local groups or at home for solo learning. Online learning can and should be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. It can also lend itself to building networks and friendships in much the same way traditional classrooms do. The advantage of online learning is that you can conveniently make friends with people as close as next door or as far-flung as the other side of the world.