You’ve set a goal for yourself to complete some online learning this year, but now what? In the first post in our series on how to stick with your online learning course, we discussed how to create good habits by starting small, creating streaks, and focusing on one goal.
Now you’re ready to get serious about your learning, and you’re going to set yourself up for success by creating a good learning environment and planning ahead.
Create a Learning Environment
When you commit to an online learning course, you’ll want to create a learning space for yourself. Find someplace in your home that you can devote to studying. Try to make it as comfortable and inviting as possible. Make sure that you have ample space for taking notes, comfortable seating, and good connectivity!
You should also plan for what you don’t want in your learning space – temptations and distractions:
- Provide your area with a few healthy snacks and water, so you’re not tempted to wander away for munchies.
- Notify anyone you live with when you’ll be studying, and post a “Do Not Disturb” sign.
- Hide your TV remote and turn off phone notifications.
- Avoid online distractions by installing an app such as Offtime or Freedom that blocks you from wasting time on social media and other sites.
Learning Environments on the Go
What about if you’re trying to learn on the go through mobile apps? Maybe you’re taking advantage of that long public transport commute or you’re using your shift breaks for your learning time. You can still create a learning environment for yourself by limiting distractions and becoming present.
- Turn off notifications for your social media apps.
- If your learning app doesn’t need continuous connectivity, turn off your cellular and WiFi connectivity so you don’t receive distracting notifications and can’t access YouTube and other time-wasting websites.
- If you do need connectivity, use an app like Offtime to block yourself from those distracting apps and websites.
- Get high-quality noise cancellation headphones to block out distractions.
Before you begin your learning time each day, you can also use a simple meditation technique to become mindful and present. First, let your vision expand by noticing as much as you can around you. You don’t have to complete a 360-degree inventory of your area or even turn your head, just expand your focus to notice what’s in your vicinity. Next, listen. Notice all the little noises that you normally tune out. Finally, pay attention to how your body feels. Can you feel your feet on the ground, your back against the chair, your neck bent forward? By focusing on yourself and your surroundings, you are calming your brain and becoming present. Competing stressors will fade into the background of your mind. As you feel more centered, you will be able to focus completely on your learning.
Schedule your Learning on your Calendar
When you first begin your online course, take a look at the requirements or syllabus. Are there scheduled due dates? If not, are there suggested timelines? Add these to your calendar system. (Depending on what calendar tool you use, you may want to create a calendar just for your course.) If the course doesn’t have specific due dates, create some for yourself! Don’t forget to add notification reminders so you keep an eye on what’s coming up.
If you have to complete your course in a limited time, it’s important to create your schedule right from the beginning. Once you start falling behind, things quickly snowball and it’s difficult to catch up.
Plan your Learning Time
Commit to certain times during the week that are your learning times. Put these on your calendar, and don’t skip them or cancel them. Consider this as making a date to yourself. Schedule this time throughout the week – don’t leave all of your learning time to Sunday afternoon, or you’ll find yourself rehashing the same material you learned the previous week over and over again.
If you can, try to do some online learning every day. Research on people learning languages shows that those who are most successful practice every day or every other day. Those who only practice every few days or only once a week are far more likely to quit.
Celebrate Small Victories
Don’t forget to reward yourself for your learning goals, large and small! You’ve created a schedule and planned your learning time, so reward yourself when you hit your goals. Especially when you are first starting your online learning course, reward yourself for reaching small goals. For example, if you love chocolate, give yourself a piece of chocolate every day that you complete your planned learning time.
Studies show that once you’ve established a behavior, it’s no longer effective to regularly reward that behavior. However, if you move to a random and unpredictable schedule, it creates addictive behavior. You’ve probably experienced this with computer and phone games – as you continue playing, the rewards change and occasionally (randomly) you score a big prize.
How can you introduce this randomization into your own learning rewards? Apps like Habitica, which help you track your habits, have variable and random reinforcements built into the system. If you prefer something old school, take out a die and make a reward chart. Set rewards for each number 1-6, making one reward something big. When you meet a goal, roll the die and see what you win!
And just like in video games, when you have a boss battle (e.g., you turn in a large project or complete an exam), give yourself an extra big reward.
Remind Yourself of the Big Picture
Post something that reminds you how your learning fits into your overall life plan. This will help motivate you when the going gets rough. For example, are you learning French so that you can move to Paris? Hang a photo of Paris for you to see when you wake up in the morning. Are you learning new skills so that you can advance in your career or make the leap to a new profession? Print out your career goals and put these where you see them when you walk into your home at the end of your workday. These reminders of why you are learning will push you to keep going with your online course.
If you can start your online learning course with these strategies in place, you have a high chance of succeeding in your online learning. In our final post in the series, learn strategies for holding yourself accountable for your learning plan.
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