TL;DR: Here are 10 proven tips for online learning that will help you stay focused and make the most out of your online classes.
For over a year now, students of all ages have been forced to learn online. Due to the pandemic, teachers have to switch to teaching online abruptly. While teachers struggle with using online learning platforms and adapting their lessons for online learning, students struggle with poor internet connection and long hours of staring at their computer screen. Many students might not even own a computer or have to share it with their parents and siblings. Schools, teachers, and students have since figured out online learning to some extent, but students still miss hanging out with their friends or being involved in group activities. In Malaysia at least, we think that classes will continue to be fully online at least until the end of the year, and beyond that, online learning will be more important than ever.
Here are 10 proven tips for online learning that will help you stay focused and make the most out of your online classes (and hopefully start to enjoy them!)
The first and most important tip for online learning is to find yourself a proper and comfortable learning space. A good learning space helps you get into the right mood for learning. It can be any corner in your house as long as you can concentrate well, and not be distracted.
A proper table and chair set up will be better than lying on the bed or slouching on the couch. Trust me, no matter how hard you tell yourself to focus, you will be dozing off before you know it, or worse still, you may end up with a backache. Your body communicates with your mind. When you are in a relaxed posture, your mind thinks that you are chilling and resting. That turns on your “energy-saving” mode, which results in lower attention and alertness. Therefore, it is important to sit up straight and remain in an alert posture to keep your mind working and focused.
A strong and reliable WIFI connection is a requirement for online learning but this one is a bit tricky as it depends to some extent on the infrastructure that is available to you. So do the best you can and find a good spot within your house with a better WIFI connection.
If your online class gets disconnected frequently, not only will you miss out on important information and explanation, you will be frustrated and this distracts you from properly understanding the lesson. You’re no longer in the right mood or “zone” to study.
I can’t stress this point enough. Your learning space has to be free from distractions. While setting it up in a corner of your living room works for some, it is definitely not advisable for others whose families are likely to be watching TV in the living room during class hours.
Identify what distracts you- the TV, your family members who are chatting or having their online meeting, your mobile phone, your younger brother playing computer games, noisy construction at your neighbor’s- and stay away from them.
If your mobile phone is your greatest temptation, which is the case for most of us, place it out of sight during class hours. Put it in another room or put it on silent mode so you won’t feel the urge to check your phone whenever you receive a notification. If your class is only for an odd hour, ask your family to reduce activities that could be distracting like watching TV, playing loud music, or even using the vacuum cleaner.
Another form of distraction happens when you need to get something, for instance, leaving your room to get water from the kitchen. Before your class starts, prepare everything you need to be within reach. Water bottle, coffee, snacks, stationeries, notebooks, textbooks, slides, think of all the possible things you will need for the next hour (or until the next break time) and prepare them in advance so that you won’t need to skip a part of your lecture to fetch those things later.
Are you also one of the many who chooses not to turn on the camera during classes? While some lecturers may make it compulsory to turn on your camera, some may leave it optional. Our take is to turn it on anyway. We tend to be more alert and focused when we know that someone can see us. By turning on your camera, you force yourself to be more focused. At the same time, your lecturers can also teach better when they can see the facial expression of their students. Besides, you won’t succumb to the urge to lie down on your couch when your camera is on, will you?
In a classroom setting, your teacher or lecturer can tell if you need further explanation on a particular topic just by looking at your facial expressions and body language. It feels more natural to crack a joke, share an opinion or ask a question. You are also likely to stay back after class to ask your lecturer questions or get some advice about your assignment. There was so much interaction going on, from being called to the board to answer a math question, to exchanging eye contact with your friends to tell them you’re falling asleep.
This human connection doesn’t translate well in online classes.
Students have become extremely quiet during online classes and the majority of the students only unmute at the end of the lesson to say thank you and bye (guilty, eh?). This lack of interaction may also be one of the reasons you feel physically and emotionally tired and unmotivated during your online class because a class with no interaction is as good as watching a pre-recorded lecture.
One effective way to keep yourself motivated and focused is to participate in class discussions if your teacher allows. Speak up, ask questions, answer questions, discuss your opinion. These will definitely make learning more fun and engaging, and your lecturers will thank you as otherwise, it feels like they are speaking to their computer screen, unsure if you fully understand their lessons.
As cliche as it sounds, it’s important to complete your homework on time and do revision before your next online class. We will be able to learn better if we can connect the dots between the previous and the current online class. Or better, study ahead and go through the materials before class, you will be able to make connections between the text and your lecture, which is helpful for your understanding especially if your slides are in point forms. Besides, you will also find it easier to identify the main points being discussed during a lecture as you have a rough idea of the overall topic.
Setting aside some time before your class to go through the slides of the upcoming topic can also help you in participating in class discussions, or even better, to ask good questions during class because you have taken enough time to process the new information and know exactly what you don’t understand.
Taking down notes requires our minds to pay attention to what is being said, process the information received, and present it in a way that is easier for us to understand. There are many ways of notetaking, such as mind map, table, box, chart, or simply short sentences. Choose a method that suits you best so you can effectively note down information quickly as your lecturer moves from one point to another.
One tip for note taking that happens on the spot as the speaker speaks- don’t worry about the aesthetics of your note. You don’t need to have a perfect mind map or flowchart. Focus on capturing important information and main points rather than trying to make your notes right the first time. At least with this draft, you can easily organize them and recreate a more complete and neater note later when you do your revision.
Let’s take a break from the tips on how to sit still during your online classes. Long hours lessons can be physically exhausting and we are all looking forward to break time! Don’t just sit around and scroll through your Instagram, Tiktok, or Snapchat accounts. Take a walk around your house, stretch a little, loosen up, have a snack, this will help freshen you up before starting your class again.
Everybody hates morning classes, especially the 8am ones. Instead of squeezing every little more time to sleep, waking up earlier will help you feel more refreshed and awake. Our brains take about 30 minutes to be fully awake, and if you’re thinking of getting the help of a caffeine boost, studies show that caffeine takes 30 to 60 minutes to fully kick in.
Try getting up at least 30-45 minutes before class, enough for you to brush up, dress up, and take your breakfast. You are more likely to feel positive, refreshed, and ready for a task when you are not in a rush. In fact, set a time to wake up, and stick to it regardless of when your class starts.
Did I also mention dress up? Yes. Research shows that our clothing affects our behavior, which in turn affects our productivity. When you wear your pjs, your mind associates it with resting and relaxing; when you dress up more decently like how you would wear to the university, your mind knows it’s time to be productive and get something done. This is because our clothing has symbolic meanings to it based on past experiences of wearing them. Therefore, dress up decently but comfortably.
All work no play makes Jack a dull boy. What happened to those vending machine chit-chat or after-class lunch with your friends? Don’t feel shy to invite your friends for a virtual lunch catch-up after your online class, or even an assignment discussion or study group where you discuss work among your friends just like the good old days. Closer relationship among students improves classroom dynamics, which makes online learning more fun and effective. Besides, we can all get a little use of a friendly reminder for our assignment deadline, don’t we?
Miss going back to campus and meeting your classmates? We miss it too. While we wait and hope for things to get better so we could resume our physical lessons, why not embrace online learning and appreciate the convenience technology has brought to our lives? Attending classes without going through traffic jam, waking a little later because you don’t have to travel, and spending more time with your family particularly for students from outstations. Your online learning experience can be improved with a little effort by following the suggested tips for online learning above. You can do this!
Have more tips for attending online classes? Share with us your little success secret!