SPECIAL POST: Online Learning Tips

Friday, March 20, 2020

Hey everyone!  We're definitely changing it up a bit today, but it's something I've been mulling through this week and I really feel like I need to share this.  Today's post is geared toward the switch to online learning, but it can just as easily be applied to those who are working from home right now - or those who are thinking about starting their own business from home.

A lot of people across the country - well, the world, really - are making the switch (or have already moved to) online/distance learning because of this nasty COVID-19 stuff.  I really feel for the seniors (both high school and college) who are up in the air at this point, not even knowing if they'll be able to walk in commencement or not.  It's a lot of stress to handle on top of the whole pandemic.  So I hope this post helps you in some way, shape, or form, and if you know someone who might be helped by it, please feel free to send it to them!  I'll be right here in the comments section if you want to ask questions or need to vent.  I've tried to make this list as broad as possible because everyone learns differently.

Maintain your normal schedule.  This is so important, not only in the event that this all blows over before the end of the semester, but also to control the stress levels in your body.  Your body gets stressed when you're thrown off a schedule you've held for quite awhile, so make sure to keep your schedule as close to normal as possible.  If you get up for school at 5 A.M., get up and get started.  If your first college class isn't until 2 P.M...well...whenever you wake up for that, keep it up.  It will also help you remember classes and assignments.

White noise.  If you are used to a lot of background noise, people talking, chairs squeaking (or the teacher who chuckles loudly over pictures on Instagram while you're taking a silent exam) - look into white noise videos on YouTube.  There are some that will run for up to twelve hours.  If you have an Amazon Alexa device, you can use it for the same purpose without slowing your computer down.

Movie scores and gaming soundtracks.  If you aren't into white noise and need a productivity boost, check out some movie scores or gaming soundtracks.  Legends of Zelda, the Marvel suite, Star Wars...see, a bit of psychology plays into this: for decades, movie scores have been created in similar fashion.  Sweet music plays for romantic scenes; loud bass for action; slow melancholy for death; the screechy violin that predicts something terrible is about to happen.  When we consume movies, while we might not know it, our brains are subconsciously affiliating those sounds with the subsequent action that occurs.  Gaming soundtracks are produced to encourage productivity and heightened senses.  When you hear the music get louder and more bass-filled, you know that your next enemy is approaching, right?  (And if you've watched the new Jumanji movies, you get a game soundtrack as a movie soundtrack).

So, if you're into music, look into some gaming or movie soundtracks to increase your attention to the task at hand.  It sounds weird, but it works.

Goal based learning.  If you're a go-getter, you'll do well with a goal-based system.  Create a list of goals for your daily or weekly school schedule - do you want to complete your normal day's schedule, or do you want to work ahead a bit so that you can have some free time to go for a walk?  Make sure to list your goals clearly and then check them off once you've accomplished them.  You'll be much more motivated to complete your schoolwork!

Reward based learning.  If you need a little encouragement to get through your normal schoolwork, treat yourself.  Again, create a to-do list of schoolwork to do for the day and give yourself a bit of a treat for completing each task.  Did you get all your English work done?  Have a cup of coffee (or tea) and a short break.  Finish that first senior seminar draft?  You deserve all the candy.  (Seriously, though, you do. Seminar drafts are hard!)  By doing this, you'll essentially condition yourself to be more motivated to complete schoolwork, because you know you'll get something good at the end. Just don't let your reward be "5 hours of scrolling on social media" because that is the opposite of motivation!

Be timely.  Consider this an exercise in the "real world" where you'll be expected to be self-motivated and complete workplace assignments on your own.  If you get an email from a teacher or a new assignment is handed out, make sure it's taken care of in a timely manner - same goes for your normal courseload as well.  If you don't procrastinate, you'll feel a lot better.

Audio learning.  Some people learn best if they're hearing instructions spoken to them.  While you might excel in school because you like listening to your teacher talk, that might not be an option now that you're a distance learner.  Some professors and teachers will probably do videos, while others may not.  If you're struggling to retain information, read your textbooks aloud or, if you're using an e-text, see if you can have the computer read it to you!

YouTube.  Okay, so don't go down the rabbit hole where you're looking for a certain video and then, five hours later, you're watching Dr. Pimple Popper.  But YouTube is actually a fantastic resource if you need help on an assignment and your teacher's not readily available (and give them some slack, too - they're just as new to this as you are).  Search for the specific issue you're having, such as conjugations in Spanish, grammar diagramming, or any kind of math topic.  I can guarantee you'll find some great resources.

Stay AWAY from your phone!  Seriously.  If you don't already turn your phone off or put it on silent when you're working, now's a good time to start.  When you're left to complete assignments on your own, it's super easy to procrastinate and scroll through social media, especially to see what your buddies are up to in their own quarantine situations.  It's okay to take short breaks, but don't let the siren song of social media drag you in.  It'll create a lot more stress in the long run if you put off assignments to the last absolute second, and you do NOT want to do that as an online student.  Internet outages and learning platform glitches are a very real thing.

Explore your learning platform/modules before your first due dates.  In doing so, you can familiarize yourself with the layout and how the website works.  It'll put your mind at ease, kind of like having a map so you don't get lost your freshman year.  If anyone is using D2L (Desire2Learn) and need help with figuring something out, feel free to comment - that was my entire existence for the past four years.

Check to make sure your syllabus is still the same.  Chances are, your teacher or professor might change assignment due dates depending on how everyone's doing with online learning.  Some might change the syllabus without letting you know, but hopefully that isn't the case.  All the same, it's a good idea to check maybe a few times a week, especially in the first couple of weeks as everyone gets used to online learning.

Take breaks!  Especially if you're studying for an exam, it's a good idea to take a fifteen minute break every half hour or so, especially to get up and move around.  If it's nice outside, go for a walk - your brain will get a break and you'll feel refreshed.

Keep in touch with your peers.  Even though you're not in the same classroom anymore, that doesn't mean you can't keep in touch!  Email, direct message, or text your peers to see how they're doing.  Even though I spent my entire college career online, I was involved in the college newspaper and some honor societies that were on-campus.  I also have several friends who were/still are in college at the same time.  Chatting with friends and on-campus peers from those groups really grounded me.  Not only did I see that some of my issues with school were the same as theirs, but I was also able to keep up with campus news!  Especially right now, when everyone's feeling a bit stir-crazy and isolated, it's important to keep in touch with others.  We're all in this together.

You aren't alone.  Legitimately the vast majority of people across this country - and abroad - are dealing with the same exact issue to some extent.  You aren't the only one struggling to make the change to online learning; in fact, your teachers are too!  Take it easy on yourself and on your instructor.  We'll get through this.

Were you homeschooled or have you participated in online learning before?  Feel free to add your tips in the comments section below!  Again, if you need to talk, I'll be floating around in the comments section.

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