There are several benefits to taking an online course: flexibility, accessibility, and the ability to take a break and refill your coffee cup anytime! However, many students question if they will be able to succeed in such a different learning environment. With the right toolbelt, you can not only complete an online course─but THRIVE in doing so. Take a look at seven strategies you can implement to have an enhanced online-learning experience and come out successful on the other side.
STRATEGY #1: USE PLANNING AS A POWER TOOL.
Oftentimes, online courses are self-paced; without careful planning, you could find yourself trying to learn all the course content in one week! There is sometimes an oxymoron in that freedom requires more self-discipline. Build out a schedule, use a planner, set yourself reminders─find a method that works best for you to avoid procrastination. Develop a long-term plan after you receive your syllabus and create a schedule to get lengthy assignments done. Also, we recommend (once you develop your online learning study habits) physically writing down the time you want to allot for and what you want to accomplish in your course each day. There is power in creating a routine and planning well; as Benjamin Franklin said, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”
STRATEGY #2: ELIMINATE DISTRACTIONS.
Focus and concentration are keys to success in an online course; you may be working, but if you are constantly turning your attention away from your work, you aren’t working WELL. Choose a location to work where you will be able to fully concentrate. Some people like a little background noise (such as in a coffee shop) while others need total silence to stay productive. We also suggest putting your phone away or on do not disturb and only taking calls that are emergencies or out of familial necessity. However, phones can be helpful if you only use them for productivity apps and can ultimately save you time (time management and eliminating distractions go hand-in-hand)! When using your phone for productivity apps, it may be helpful to delete your social media apps temporarily; this way, your focus is enhanced and you won’t be tempted to scroll instead of study. Also, find childcare in advance, if needed.
STRATEGY #3: UNDERSTAND YOUR PURPOSE.
Ask yourself: why am I taking this course? Before the course begins, create a list of goals you hope to achieve and the benefits that come along with taking the course (I gain a new skill set, relevant knowledge, etc.) Then, set your list of goals in a place where you will see them regularly (at your workspace, as your laptop background picture, etc.) You won’t have an instructor or peers available in-person to motivate you, so use your list of goals to remain self-motivated. It’s easy to create goals but never check progress towards them, so we encourage you to check your goals once a week and see if you are where you want to be. Keep yourself accountable and don’t forget to reward yourself when you meet your goals. For small tasks, reward yourself in fun, creative ways; treat yourself to a Sour Patch Kid or your favorite boxed candy for every 15 minutes of studying you complete. (It will take accountability in itself to not eat the whole box at once!) For long-term projects, reward yourself on a bigger scale, like going out to eat for your favorite meal.
STRATEGY #4: STAY ENGAGED.
Despite distance, there are plenty of ways to interact with your peers and instructors. Online courses often incorporate discussion boards and forums for students to participate in. Not only do discussion boards allow you to interact with others, but you can often learn different perspectives on topics from students around the country or even the world! Also, don’t be afraid to email your instructor if you have questions or if you want to exchange dialogue about a topic that you find particularly interesting. These strategies will help you get more out of the course and remind you that you are not on an isolated island—there are other students out there working on the same things you are. Also, be active with your individual participation in the course, even with the parts that don’t involve communicating with anyone else. As tempting as it to doze off and not pay attention during lectures, take notes or be self-aware enough to absorb what you are watching or reading. You’ll retain the information better—and be better for it.
STRATEGY #5: TAKE CARE OF YOUR HEALTH.
This applies to both your physical and mental states; if they are lacking, your concentration and focus will lack, as well. You are going to spend a LOT of time at your computer, so make sure to regularly check your posture and take breaks during long periods of study time. Go on walks, call a friend, make a cup of coffee—but whatever you do, do NOT sit staring at your screen for four hours at a time without moving. (This is also unhealthy for your eyesight!) Get sleep, drink water, and eat nourishing foods. We also can’t underestimate the importance of finding a work/school/life balance; all work and no play is just as toxic as no work and all play! Find ways to coordinate your and your family’s schedules, if possible. You are not being selfish—you are TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF.
STRATEGY #6: FIGURE OUT YOUR STYLE.
No, we are not talking about the most comfortable and fashionable outfit to wear while taking your course! Figure out the online learning and study style that works best for you. Once you’ve established a location you can work in that eliminates distractions, figure out WHEN you accomplish your best work. If you are a morning person, rise and shine and begin working after you finish your morning routine. More of a night owl? Set aside an hour or two after dinner to crank out assignments. Or, if your kids require your attention in the morning and evening, carve out time for a midday study session while they’re at school. Brew that cup of coffee, put on your go-to playlist, and do whatever you need to do to get down to business.
Then, think about HOW you learn best. Not everyone has the same learning style, so think about what methods help you grasp new concepts and employ best study strategies. For example, if you’re a visual learner, print out transcripts of video lectures for you to review. Use Quizlet or hand-held flash cards to study. Do you learn best by listening? Build time into your schedule to play and replay audio and video-based course content. You can implement technology into your study habits by finding study apps that are beneficial for you.
STRATEGY #7: TAKE ADVANTAGE OF RESOURCES.
Google has several resources for students, such as Google Search, Google Scholar, and Google Books. Find books to read by seeing if the school associated with your course has an online library or by going to your local public library. Soak in knowledge through podcasts, message boards, your class forum, other forums on topics you’re studying…the possibilities are endless! Utilizing various resources helps you become well-rounded on topics you’re learning and can help you understand the topics even more. Also, be sure that you research the technical requirements and online tools that are necessary for your course; know what they are and learn how to make them work with ease.
We hope you feel less intimidated by online courses and more empowered to begin your journey toward acquiring new skills, becoming more knowledgeable, preparing for a new career, and advancing your life.
Here’s to a future that looks brighter than ever. After all, the best way to predict a brighter future is to create it.