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Getting Smarter through Language

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How to be an Effective Online Learner | Page 2

(Continued from page 1)

Note. Use this PDF Handout to follow along the tasks on this page. You can use the document before, while, or after you read the article.

1. Create the Right Mindset

Our attitudes color our perceptions. It is easier to engage in an activity we feel positively toward than in one that we believe is boring, too difficult for us, a waste of time, “not really for me,” and so on.

If you constantly complain about having to learn online, you only reinforce your negative attitudes. We all have been learning online for decades now. Each time you look something up on the internet and learn new information, you are learning online. When you take an online course, you are learning information much in the same way.

A major difference is that, in an online course, you have a lot more information to learn, and you must follow instructions to learn the information rather than looking information up when you feel like it.

Yes, this is an oversimplification as the psychology of learning is very complex. The point is, if you have no negative attitudes toward, say, looking up and learning a recipe online or watching an educational video on YouTube, but you “hate online courses,” perhaps the problem is your attitude toward structured learning itself rather than toward learning online.

If you approach learning with a positive attitude, you are more likely to find ways to do it more effectively. In fact, you will be more effective at learning, period. You will be likely to seek solutions to obstacles that come up whether you are learning in an online or classroom-based setting.

2. Evaluate Your Goals

Get a piece of paper and write down the following:

  • List your short-term and long-term goals. List as many as you can think of no matter how trivial they may seem.
    • Short-term goals are those that you want to accomplish soon after completing your course or courses.
    • Long-term goals are those you want to accomplish later but that depend on completing your course or courses.
  • List the resources you need to reach each of those goals. These resources could be physical, financial, emotional, and so on.
  • If you are unsure about the resources required to achieve a particular goal, do some research (for example, by asking someone who has reached your goal, contacting an institution for information, and so on).

The reason for this exercise is that people are more effective when they have clear goals in mind. You know what steps you need to take to accomplish your goal, so you do not go about it aimlessly. As a result, you are more motivated to keep doing what you need to do.

3. Create a Study Schedule

Get a piece of paper and come up with a study schedule. Do not just “think” about it; rather, create an actual schedule.

Be realistic. Find a balance between too few and too many study hours a week. That is, if a course requires, say, 8 hours of study time every week, scheduling 2 hours is not enough and 20 is too much! Get as close to the amount of time you actually need.

For a new course, you may need to estimate how much time you will need. A couple of weeks into the course, you will have a better idea how much study time you will actually need, so you can modify your initial schedule.

Schedule shorter, consistent study sessions rather than one very long session. For example, to schedule 8 hours of study time a week, you will learn better if you can have four 2-hour study sessions than you will in one 8-hour session.

Your brain needs time to absorb information. Several sessions a week will give you time to learn the information and review it as you start forgetting it. If you have only one, very long session, you do not have that benefit; besides, 8-hours studying the same topic sounds grueling!

4. Stick to Your Schedule

No matter how good your schedule is, it is useless unless you stick to it. Here are some recommendations:

  • See your study schedule as your busy time. If someone invites you to play a game online, but you have to work, you tell them, “Sorry. I’m working,” right? Treat your study time the same way.
  • Print your study schedule and post it somewhere you can see it every day.
  • If you live with your family or roommates, let them know about your schedule ahead of time. Emphasize how important it is for you to stick to your study schedule.
  • As much as possible, avoid moving your study hours around to accommodate other activities. If you see your schedule as “very flexible,” you will be tempted to prioritize other activities and use them as an excuse to procrastinate.
  • If your schedule includes more than one course, you may need to “borrow time” from one course to another when one course has an unusually time-consuming activity. However, be aware that borrowing time from one course means less time for another so, sometimes, you may end up having to extend your total time.

5. Improve Your Communication Skills

In instructor-led courses, it is important to communicate with the instructor clearly and in a timely manner so your experience runs smoothly.

  • Communicate issues immediately. Do not wait until a small issue becomes an insurmountable problem. Instructors will be more receptive and flexible when you communicate difficulties or problems as they come as opposed to when it may be too late to solve them.
  • If you do not understand instructions or the course content, first try to figure it out on your own, then ask for clarification if you still have difficulties. Do so as soon as possible and well before due dates.
  • When communicating with the instructor, be concise but be clear. For example, if you are having difficulties completing an exercise, mention exactly what the exercise is and be specific about the problem you are having with it.

Writing Email Messages

When writing emails, make sure you have the following elements:

  • an appropriate greeting (e.g., “Good morning, Professor Ecks”);
  • a clear body, that is, one or more paragraphs organizing the main portion of the information;
  • an appropriate closing (e.g., “Thank you for your assistance”); and
  • your signature, that is, your name (and in some cases your course and section).

Note. Watch the livestream event for more information on effective and ineffective email messages in online courses.

6. Improve your Reading Skills

You cannot improve your reading overnight; however, there are a few things you can do that will help you right away:

  • Read everything! Most of the information in an online course is presented in writing. Instructors make sure that they provide all the information students need to do (for example, completing an assignment). If you simply skim the information, you may miss important details, which will result in poor work.
  • If needed, re-read information.
  • Read instructions for assignments early, annotate, and take notes. If you wait until just before an assignment is due, you may feel tempted to skim over important information; in addition, you may realize you needed more time to complete it than you anticipated. Read instructions early. Annotate the important information (that is, write short notes on printed materials). Take notes so you have a clear picture, in your own words, what the assignment is about.
  • Notice keywords. For example, words such as “may,” “should,” and “must” tell you what are suggestions, recommendations, and requirements. Also pay attention to and read anything labeled “Attention” or “Important.”
  • When reading test or exam questions, pay attention to the question stems.
    For example, a question such as “What is online learning and how does it differ from classroom-based learning?” is asking for a definition (What is...) and for a list of differences, which you should probably explain and illustrate.

Watch the livestream event for more information on question stems and answering exam questions.

Up Next: Step 7. Improve Your Writing Skills

Continue reading for more practical steps.