Being an effective online learner

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 Online learning is now bigger than ever, with people of all ages opting to take on educational courses or university classes via digital platforms. There are many benefits to learning this way, although the transition to online may be slightly jarring for many. So here are some simple guidelines to follow if you want to be an effective online student.

 Create a ‘real’ setting

 It’s often very easy to stop paying attention to online classes when you’re not in a ‘real’ traditional classroom setting. Genuine alertness may be difficult given that you’re probably at home, in a more relaxed and less studious environment. However, it’s important to remind oneself that concentration and active participation is the key to getting the best out of your online course, much like any other in-person class. To get yourself in the correct mindset for online class, first set up a productive surrounding. Make sure you have a dedicated space for your online classes, whether that be at your desk or in the living room. This spot should have optimal internet connectivity for uninterrupted learning. If the space is dark, add extra light sources. A well-lit area can prevent eye-strain, fatigue and sleepiness. To create the right ambience, ask family members to not disturb you and pick a spot that isn’t noisy. Make sure to have headphones at the ready if you prefer to listen through that. A comfortable and ergonomic seat is also important for avoiding body pains and stiffness. 

Although too comfy a spot like a couch or bed, may be counter-productive if you find yourself relaxing and feeling drowsy. An additional pitfall while learning online is the access to digital distractions. It’s tempting to scroll on your phone or browse the Web while lectures are being conducted. So be extra vigilant and turn off your phone before class. You can even install a web blocker on your browser to prevent being distracted by sites like Facebook and Netflix. With the correct setting in place, the best way to add a sense of legitimacy to online classes is to have a routine leading up to it. Taking a washing, changing, having breakfast and laying out what you need before ‘going to class’ can really help you ease into the right mindset.

 Manage your time

 With online learning, you’re significantly more responsible for reviewing, managing and prioritising your coursework. So, it’s crucial to be thorough and manage the delegated work in a timely and effective manner. Firstly, review the syllabus and coursework closely and set up clear goals and objectives for yourself pertaining to the course’s requirements. You can use this as a framework for creating a study calendar. Make note of deadlines and remember to add extra time in for events planned prior (like trips or personal events). You should create the calendar with weekly schedules in mind; set reminders and allocate hours to specific tasks. This includes revising notes, doing assignments and having study groups. Most students find it effective to block out their time by studying in sessions with breaks in between. For example, have three 40-minute study sessions a day broken up by 15-minute intervals. Try to stick to your designated calendar as closely as possible and don’t forget to occasionally reward yourself after you’ve followed through regularly.

 Actively participate and learn

 An aspect of online learning that you may be less likely to engage in is active class participation. Student participation has been shown to increase interest and foster a more fruitful learning experience. As such, an online student should be vigilant and aim for active participation during classes. Ensure that you speak up or raise your hand during any interactive sessions or activities. Frequent discussion boards and forums and engage with other students and be open to peer reviews and critiques. Take the initiative to join or form study groups for further support from fellow students regarding the coursework. It’s also important to develop active learning habits, especially conscious note-taking. You can also review any materials before classes and prepare for the day’s lecture with an overview in mind for more a more ordered record of your lessons. Being an active learner also entails making an effort after class too. Make sure to review notes and redo them into more digestible formats like flashcards, mind maps and outlines. If you have access to recorded lectures or classes, you can re-watch them and take more detailed notes. These can be shared and discussed with your peers, making it even more of an engaging activity. To go the extra mile, you can look into other resources online which are related to your coursework for broader learning. Websites like Kahn Academy, Coursera and OpenLearn provide free material for a variety of subjects.

 Familiarise yourself with the platform

 It’s essential to be able to navigate the learning system that your online course is being delivered on. Most universities will use an LMS or Learning Management System such as Moodle, BlackBoard or even software like Microsoft Teams. Familiarise yourself with the platform and its functions so you can transition into online learning better. Get comfortable with assets such as library portals, file sharing programs and chat portals. Pay particular attention to how and where modules are shown, assignments are posted and how to upload your work. Lecturers or instructors will most likely conduct a test-run with students to teach them the interface of the LMS, usually through an easy activity or lesson. It’s always a good idea to request for such a ‘trial-run’ if it wasn’t given before by the teacher. To stay up to date with all the lesson content and assignments, have notifications turned on and frequently check emails as well. Also ensure you have other applications in place that will let you do your assignments before classes begin. Applications such as Microsoft Word and PowerPoint allow you to create work that can be uploaded digitally.

 Communicate with your professors  

 As a student, a good channel of communication with your instructor or teachers is of high priority. You should use this digital platform to engage in discussions to evaluate your performance and let them guide you towards your objectives. They can also give you ample feedback that can improve your work and push you to do better. You can reach your teacher and receive feedback in a multitude of ways in a digital setting: email, chat portals, one-on-one video calls, recorded feedback via audio or video, edited and annotated assignments.  If you feel like you’re falling behind or having trouble understanding the lessons, it’s easy to touch base with your professor digitally and get help in a number of ways.

 Regardless of the platform, being a good student is a core skill that everyone should develop, especially in the digital age. Online learning has its own set of difficulties and drawbacks for students. However, its pros have been proven to outweigh the cons so keep these suggestions in mind as learning

By Thiyashi Koththigoda