Second in a two-part series. Read part one of Succeeding as an Online Student.
There are the universal challenges to succeeding as an online student that we all face, regardless of our temperaments and personal habits. For this series, we wanted to delve into these challenges and look at how we can overcome them to achieve success when learning online.
In part one of this series we heard from Regan Daniel, one of our online-course developers, about the special challenges posed to the human brain by digital learning.
In this second piece, we want to look at the opposite side of learning—the personal side. Knowing your individual learning style, creating an environment that works for you, and having the right tools can give you a head start when it comes to online classes.
You have probably heard of different personal learning styles. Perhaps you’ve already seen them in action in your own life or work. Figuring out your learning style can be challenging because we are all so different. But the important point here is “know thyself.” Take some time to think about how you learn. What helps you? What doesn’t work? When, where or why do you wander from your goals? Understanding these issues is vital to establishing what things are going to help (or hinder) your success as an online student.
There are some great websites with quizzes designed to help you understand your learning style. Are you visual or auditory? Are you a marathoner or a sprinter? Take a few minutes to visit one of these sites, and then use the information to create your own personal best practices:
- How-To-Study: Learning Style Assessment
- Education Planner: Learning Self Assessment
- VARK: The VARK Questionnaire
In addition to your general style of learning, your relation to time is important to understand. Consider these questions when planning how to take your online course:
Are you a morning or night person? When are you freshest and most alert? For example, you may be working full time throughout your course. Or have kids with you during the day. Depending on your internal clock, will you do better work getting up a little earlier or staying awake a little later to take your class? With hectic schedules, it can be tough to accommodate your timing needs. But studying when you do your best work will help you absorb, understand and retain the information better.
Are you a marathoner or a sprinter? My husband and I are great examples of these two types. He is a sprinter and does his best work in short bursts filled with energy. Then he burns out. I, on the other hand, am much more productive when I have 3 hours or more to sit and really focus on my work. Spend some time deciding what style fits you best and try to schedule your study accordingly. (Don’t forget to take sensible breaks…especially if you’re a marathoner who is more tempted to skip them)
The area where you study is also very important, and what works best will vary from person to person:
- Make your work area comfortable, but not too comfortable. Simple things like a creaky chair, bad lighting or being too cold do affect your attention and therefore your learning. But your seating, lighting and temperature preferences won’t be the same as everyone else’s. My La-Z-Boy is fine for me since I don’t find it overly comfortable and it’s too close to the wall to lay back. Using my laptop in bed? Not so productive. Figure out what works for you.
- Limit distractions. Here again it’s important to understand what distracts you. Don’t assume that a noisy environment will be distracting and a quiet one won’t. As I write this post, I am sitting at the desk in my room on a quiet Sunday afternoon with my door almost shut. Sounds like a great work environment, right? Not in my house…at least not for me. My husband can ignore a whining dog, step over a spilled garbage can in a messy room, and still work. “Not I,” quacked the wife. I cannot separate from my environment like my husband can. Now what about going to my local coffee shop? Music playing, a buzz of chatter, kitchen clangings and laughing baristas. While that may seem more distracting overall, those sounds are not related to or directed at me. They act more like white noise in the background that I barely notice. So while my house is technically quieter than the cafe, it is not necessarily less distracting for me. Again: Figure out what works for you.
- Avoid interruptions (not to be confused with breaks!) I consider a distraction something that momentarily breaks your concentration, something you can choose to ignore. Interruptions however, are much harder to dismiss as they require an effort, an action, or an answer on your part. So it is very important to try and find places and times to study where interruptions will be rare. My room, in my house, on this particular Sunday afternoon is interruption city: my husband needs to use the computer, kids come in to talk with me, the phone rings with questions only I can answer, etc. However, this spot would work on a Monday morning when I have a bit more control and can limit the interruptions. But for me personally, somewhere other than home works best: a local coffee shop or my neighborhood library. On the other hand, you may be a neighborhood celebrity who needs to hide out in your basement to avoid interruption. So one more time, all together now: Figure out what works for you. And whatever you do, don’t confuse interruptions (bad) with brief, sensibly-spaced breaks (good)!
When it comes to succeeding as an online student, it is important to harness the power of technology while resisting the constant pull of its many distractions. Facebook updates! Sale at Target! Email from Mom! Fortunately, the tech wizards who created a lot of these distractions have also provided some great tools to fight against them. Whether you struggle with multitasking and online distractions, or want help creating a study plan or staying focused, you know what they say…there’s an app for that!
Whether you struggle with multitasking and online distractions, or want help creating a study plan…there’s an app for that!
StayFocused $19.99 – Features include website blocking, timing feature, task management and reporting.
Vitamin R $20 – Focuses on helping you structure your time and find a learning style that works for you.
Self Control Free – Blocks websites and email service
Focus Booster Free Trial, low subscription cost – Based on Pomodoro Method, offers dashboard reports and time tracking.
Lattes in the cafe or pajamas on the couch can be real pleasures of online schooling. But we need to counterbalance this freedom by creating an environment, boundaries, and a work style that pushes us towards success when learning online.
Whether you are beginning a course or having challenges completing a current course, take some time to develop strategies that work for you. It may take a bit more effort and intent up front, but you will reap the benefits at the finish line when you understand and retain more information and breeze through that exam!