Top tips on learning online

This is the first of two sets of practical advice on online education. Because of the pandemic, once they adjusted to teaching and learning online, some universities actually closed some of their campuses. You have probably seen and heard a lot about this over the past two years. Even so, I hope there is something for everyone to help reflect, review and refresh your approach as the 2022 academic year rolls into full speed. This one is about strategies for learning online and the next includes some tips for teaching online.

How do you stay motivated?

As adult learners, we normally look inside for our reasons to keep motivated. You know why you are studying. You have a sense of where it will take you and the doors it will open for you. This inner sense of purpose is not always so obvious though, especially if we feel isolated, bored, or find it hard to measure the steps toward our own success. So what can you do?

Break down the overwhelmingly large into smaller more achievable parts.

Do one thing at a time.

Set a schedule which includes study, relaxation, creativity and exercise and use it.

Keep your plans flexible but stick to completing the small achievable parts.

Take some time to reflect on how far you have come and what you need to do next.

Join a study group.

Communicate directly with your lecturer in forums or privately.

How do you balance flexibility with structure?

For some students, there can be too much free time in online courses. You need to set up your own routine for working through the course materials, listening to podcasts (if there are any) and developing your assignments or research projects. Some of these work well:

Keep your schedule printed and colour coded above your desk.

Design your timetable and schedule so it looks appealing.

Stay flexible about this plan but not too flexible.

This one works very well:

Use your time studying and you will be satisfied you have done your best.

What about distractions?

Tell your family or the people you live with you are unavailable when you are studying and tell them again if they interrupt. And (for children) again.

Study in a separate part of the home. Close the door. Use earplugs if you need to.

Find someone to help with the housework or lower your standards.

Close any chatrooms, messaging, Facebook, WeChat or any other social media unrelated to study.

Invest in a reliable high speed internet connection (hopefully this is available in your region).

What other advice is there from higher education providers and researchers?

EDHEC Business School admits online courses involve more work. They say this is because they cannot monitor their students well without extra structured tasks and assignments. I believe this gives you more regular opportunities to engage with the course, to understand the main ideas and do step by step processes.

EDHEC also state online learning requires “immense self-discipline.” My understanding is that self-discipline is an inner quality which is reflected in our behaviour. If you feel you are not self-disciplined, you can develop the habits of people who seem self-disciplined.  Practise till you make it happen. For example, see the tips above on staying motivated and avoiding distraction.

An enormous amount of research has been published on what successful online learners do. One that is sometimes forgotten is this:

They ask questions.

When I am in professional development forums or other kinds of online meetings I often do this if I have nothing special to say or what I think has already been said by others. When I teach online, I always emphasise that every question is a good question. If you have no opinion to contribute to an online forum, ask a question. It is probably about something that some of your peers are wondering about too.