Online learning brings the benefits of college to a vast population of enthusiastic students — including those who might otherwise lack the time or flexibility for ‘traditional’ college. Students appreciate this accessibility, but it can be a big adjustment when courses are exclusively digital. Preparing for online learning requires a different mindset and may require some new habits and practices to ensure you are making the most of your digital learning experience.
With the proper setup and a few special incentives, common digital learning challenges can be overcome. To help, we have compiled actionable suggestions that promote greater focus, accountability, and confidence. Most importantly, these online learning tips will bring fun back into your digital courses.
Treat Online School Like Back to School
First and foremost: Coursework matters, whether online or in-person. Both classroom formats have the same end goal: to progress toward your degree and prepare you for a successful career. Slack off with any of your courses, and you will find it much more challenging to achieve your objectives.
If you need more discipline for online courses, you may require frequent reminders to keep you on track. Beyond this, you will need an overarching source of motivation.
Start by defining your ‘why.’ Specifically, why did you enroll in your college program of choice, and what do you hope to accomplish once you graduate? The answers to these questions will differ considerably from one person to the next, but chances are, your career ambitions will be an essential part of the equation.
Next, consider your ‘why’ for online learning. Why do you require a digital format? Do you need extra scheduling flexibility? Or would you otherwise struggle to access higher education in your location?
Finally, condense your ‘why’ statements into a few short phrases that remind you of your goals. Create a visually appealing display highlighting these objectives, and place it somewhere it can be easily seen.
Buy Fun School Supplies
While your status as an online student lends you a lot more flexibility with school supplies, there is something to be said for stocking up on all the essentials you would purchase for an in-person class, such as notebooks, index cards, pens, and pencils. This shopping trip will get you excited for your upcoming courses and could place you in the right mindset.
Consider also investing in physical textbooks if they are available. While digital options may be available, some students learn better when they can highlight passages, write notes, and otherwise mark up their books.
Take Participation Seriously
Active participation is key to the success of any online course. This means diving in deep with assigned readings, class discussions, and even enriching in-person experiences. Be intentional about how you participate, and do not settle for doing the bare minimum. Getting fully invested in your coursework is beneficial from an academic perspective and will make online classes much more enjoyable.
Establish a Comfortable and Inviting Study Space
Now that you know why online coursework matters and what it will help you accomplish, it is time to create a space that will keep you comfortable yet motivated. Your environment has a significant impact on your study habits — and when the vast majority of your classwork takes place from the comfort of home, it is even more imperative to make this space as inviting as possible. Consider the below tips for creating your digital learning space.
Pay Attention to Ergonomics
Not just any chair will cut it for intense study sessions. You will spend a lot of time in this seat, so you need to feel confident that it will provide proper support.
At a minimum, your chair should be adjustable. Pneumatic adjustments are essential, as they allow you to establish a chair height conducive to good posture. Remember lumbar support, which will ensure that your weight is appropriately distributed.
Create a Vibe
No one design or atmosphere is ideal for every study space. A lot depends on your individual style and quirks.
For example: if you have a jam-packed schedule and are prone to distraction, you will need calm above all else. This means maintaining a simple and streamlined space. However, if you struggle with creativity, eclectic decor may spark intriguing ideas.
If you struggle to find the right style or decorative elements, start with a mood board to help you determine what you want and need from your study space.
Change Your Scenery
Even the best-designed study space will feel stale or uninspiring from time to time. When this happens, you are better off tackling in-depth reading or memorization in a new location, such as a public library or local coffee shop. If you cannot leave the house, simply moving to a different room may help. Long-term changes in scenery can also be beneficial; begin each term with a new layout or fresh decor.
Use Time Management Tools Like Apps and Planners
A few strategic solutions can transform your study routine, giving you the reminders or structure you need to stay on track. Time management tools are especially important when you have a jam-packed schedule. Classics such as planners and calendars provide frequent visual reminders and, for many, a strong sense of satisfaction: it can be surprisingly gratifying to color-code with highlighters or check off completed items from your to-do list.
Supplement your tangible organizational tools with a few digital solutions. Yes, mobile devices can be distracting, but the right app can make a world of difference. Remember the Milk is an excellent option for prioritizing various tasks related to college and daily life. If you need to track your productivity, look to the Focus Booster app for accountability.
Take Care of Your Health
Health and academic performance go hand-in-hand. Research published in PeerJ suggests that undergraduate student grade point averages increase while engaging in positive health habits such as eating a nutritious breakfast or participating in strength training. Meanwhile, those who consume a lot of fast food and energy drinks are more likely to report lower-than-desired GPAs.
Too much of anything can be problematic — and that includes online coursework. When you need a break, it can be tempting to scroll your phone or veg out in front of the TV — but movement will be far more beneficial. It does not take much to get you in peak physical and mental shape: a short walk or jog should do the trick. Group fitness is a great option if you need the in-person interaction that is lacking in your online education.
Moving your body will clear your head and inspire you no matter your approach to physical fitness. In his book Spark, Harvard Medical School’s Dr. John J. Ratey explains that exercise improves alertness, “encourages nerve cells to bind to one another,” and can even spur the “development of new nerve cells from stem cells in the hippocampus.” These responses help you retain important information — not to mention let you spend less time studying and more time having fun while moving your body.
Nourish Your Body and Minimize Stimulants
Snacking while studying can be tempting, but beware: this habit can compromise your physical health and academic performance. Junk food is problematic, as evidenced in the aforementioned PeerJ study. Your space may be too small to accommodate a conventional dinner table, but you can still establish a separate mealtime.
Another tempting habit? Using excessive caffeine — or even more potent stimulants — to keep you alert. There is nothing wrong with a cup of coffee here or there, but be mindful of your consumption. While research verifies that moderate caffeine consumption boosts alertness, excessive caffeine intake is associated with depressive symptoms and anxiety. Energy drinks, as previously mentioned, are best avoided, as they are strongly linked to poor academic results.
Get Outside Whenever Possible
We instinctually know that outside time is crucial for younger kids to learn, and we see the adverse effects when their recess breaks are shortened. The great outdoors remain just as important in adulthood, yet over half of adults spend less than five hours per week outside.
Thankfully, it only takes a few minutes to change your mindset. Research published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology shows that spending just ten minutes outside can improve well-being among college students. That being said, it behooves you to spend a whole hour outside whenever possible. Use this opportunity to meet your daily exercise quota. You will be amazed at how much easier it is to focus after a brisk walk around your neighborhood.
Take Breaks and Make Time for Fun
Not all breaks need to be productive. Your life as an online student should have plenty of lighthearted moments to offset all that hard work. Making time for your favorite activities may be challenging, but you can find moments of respite even when you only have a few minutes to spare. Something as simple as a dance break can bring fun back into your busy day. Remind yourself that fun is essential by purposefully building breaks into your schedule.
Get Social: Network with Your Classmates
You may primarily see your classmates online, but that should not prevent you from building solid connections. If anything, your relationships with online classmates should be even stronger, as they will be much more intentional.
Whether you chat casually or establish an online study group, you will be glad to be part of a supportive virtual community. Initial connections can be built through class-based discussions, but it behooves you to take these relationships a step further. Remember: other online students are just as eager for connection.
Set Goals and Reward Yourself
If you are like most online students, your biggest challenge will be the seeming lack of structure. While this quality technically exists within the framework of your digital courses, you will lack the in-person reminders that keep so many students on track.
Ultimately, it is up to you to develop a structured system that keeps you motivated and engaged. This may be tough at the outset, but you will reap the rewards in the long term — once you have graduated, you will still be able to improve your skill set through self-directed study.
As an online student, structure is best established through strategic goal setting. As we have mentioned, you will want to begin by determining your ‘why.’ This can be translated into specific, measurable goals that help you discern your progress. Action-oriented goals are the most impactful.
Remember to reward yourself when you accomplish important goals. While you will grow to appreciate the intrinsic rewards of expanding your knowledge and building personal confidence, extrinsic motivation may be needed at the outset. Establish one or two major rewards for the end of the study term, as well as smaller rewards granted on a weekly or even daily basis.
Start Your Digital Learning Journey with Post
At Post University, with over 25 years in online learning, we strongly believe in the power of online education to break barriers and help students achieve personal and professional satisfaction. We offer flexible scheduling, a variety of programs to accommodate students from all walks of life, and support from an Academic Advisor so you are not alone in this journey. Contact us today to learn more.
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