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Three Things You Need to Know If You’re Learning Online

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learning online

The debate over the benefits and limitations of online vs in-person learning has raged for decades. Past research has found that online learning can be just as effective a traditional classroom learning. Still, for some students, online classes are the last resort. For others, online learning offers exactly the type of flexible and self-guided learning they prefer.

Now, with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual classes have become the norm for many students for the foreseeable future. Whatever side of the online vs offline learning debate you land on, the reality is that many of the skills and tools that help students succeed in face-to-face classes are equally useful online.

With discipline and preparation, even the most anti-online students can develop a learning process that is key to successfully learning online.

Here are three key tips to make learning online a rewarding and engaging experience. With practice, you might even find that you prefer it to in-person learning!

Get the Most Out of Online Learning: Make goals

This might seem obvious but without the structure of in-person classes, it can be easy to let assignments and studying from online classes pile up.

Setting clear, attainable goals before and during a course is absolutely vital to succeed when learning online (and in general). Start each online course knowing what you want to get out of it--and what you need to invest in it:

  • What do you need to learn from this class?
  • What is this class preparing you for?
  • How do you hope to perform in this class?
  • What is your plan if you fall behind?

In addition to your learning and performance goals, throughout the course you should be setting measurable goals, such as “I will review course texts for X hours this week,” “I will come to class with 2 questions for the instructor,” “I will be able to summarize concept X by the end of this unit.

And, importantly, you have to hold yourself accountable for meeting your goals. Use of a calendar or project-managing application can help keep you on track. Make sure to write things down and don’t rely too heavily on technology.

Keep frustrations and emotional reasoning in check. It’s normal. After all, education technology can hinder learning without appropriate limitations.

Similarly, try to limit distractions like cell phones especially for children, and social media which is similarly intrusive.

Students with individual education plans might have specific needs that are difficult to accommodate in online classrooms. Fortunately, the rapid increase in distance learning in the Spring semester corresponded with increased recognition of the need for virtual special accommodations.

How to Enjoy Online Learning: Make Learning Active

Online learning might seem unengaging at times because we often think of it as staring at a screen while someone talks at us.

Studies show that passive learning like listening to long lectures doesn’t have as positive an effect on learning as active learning techniques like quizzes and simulations. This holds true whether you’re face-to-face or online. Fortunately, many online learning spaces are interactive and offer opportunities for students to participate and learn actively.

Whether your online classroom is an active or passive learning space, you can also use these and other active learning strategies like retrieval practice to help keep yourself actively engaged and learning:

  • Take time to think about how you think. Engaging in this type of metacognition improves learning.
  • Participate in all class activities and ask questions.
  • Use elaboration, or self-explaining, techniques to better understand new ideas and connect them to other concepts.
  • Write summaries of concepts and lessons. Writing to learn is a highly effective learning strategy.
  • Draw concept maps or flow charts to visualize what you’re learning.

How to Stay Connected: Make Online Learning Social

Possibly the biggest difference between learning online and in a traditional classroom is the social aspect. Not surprisingly, socialization is an important component of learning. Previous studies have found that students have better outcomes in online courses that offer a social component and, in fact, blended online/in-person learning was found to have the most positive student outcome, when compared to in-person learning.

When it comes to online learning, remember that you’re not in it alone. Millions of students are taking online classes this semester, many for the first time. There are many ways to connect to other students and improve the social aspects of online learning, including:

  • Keep the camera on during class. It’s much easier to be social when you can see your instructor and classmates’ faces and they can see yours.
  • Use the tools like groups that are available on the learning platform to interact with other students, the instructors, and teaching assistants.
  • Make your learning experience social by sharing it with others. Social commitments are particularly useful. So for instance announce on social media that you’re going to take a French class or that you plan to get a data science certificate.
  • Consider using online tutors. Virtual tutoring is a great way to meet learning goals while also maintaining the social aspects of in-person learning and meeting the needs of diverse learners.