Surviving Studying at Home and Online Learning
Online learning is a new experience for many students although using technology to learn is not new. There are some great benefits with online delivery such as flexibility to study when you choose and re-visiting videos or some specific sections to help your learning.
Online learning stands equal in terms of learning value to other formats although there are some different challenges when studying at home and online. If you are not aware of some pitfalls with online learning when you study at home, then you may indeed think online learning is not as good. So, this guide will help highlight what you might need to put in place to support your learning when studying at home and ensure you are maximising every opportunity to fulfil your potential at the University of Hertfordshire.
This short guide will give you some top tips on:
· Stress and Worry
· Lacking Motivation
· Learning Online
· Essential Learning Reminders
This guide has been written by Dr Suzanne Fergus, a chemistry lecturer and Associate Professor in Learning and Teaching at the University of Hertfordshire. Suzanne is familiar with the typical mistakes that students make and has written and published a book Study Smarter: a lecturer’s inside guide to boost your grades.
Stress and Worry
There is a lot of uncertainly currently in relation to exams at the end of the year, lockdown restrictions and when they will ease so that face to face teaching can take place again. Too much uncertainty can lead to feeling out of control, stress and a sense of being lost. Our minds seek stability and answers and with increasing levels of uncertainty, we can find ourselves in a spiral of thinking, all the what ifs that create the opposite to feeling a sense of control and safe. This can be draining over time and negatively impact on our mental health and wellbeing, so it is important to take some positive actions that will help manage ourselves during this uncertain time.
There is a level of uncertainty that does not cause us stress. So, it is important to re-balance what we can control and re-focus on that. This will help to reassure our brain that we are safe as not everything is going out of control. The circle of control is a great exercise to go through. Imagine a safe and protecting circle around you or think about drawing a circle.
Inside are all the things that you can control, so think about what these are, they are likely to be small yet particularly important things in your life: your routine, getting up, having breakfast, your study schedule, the tasks you are doing, time on your phone, how much news you watch.
These are the things that you want to focus on more and put your energy into these things.
Outside of your circle of control and those things that you cannot control such as the exam format, what others say and do, the news and coronavirus. The questions for you to consider: are you putting too much of your energy on these things that are outside your control? Are you thinking too much about them, talking too much about them? Acknowledge them yes, but then re-focus on what you can do now, today.
Sometimes it can feel like an uphill struggle to get going and be motivated to study and learn. Continuous procrastination and not getting going can be down to overwhelm. It seems too much to deal with and so we just keep putting it off or we’d rather play games or be on our phones.
A useful technique for overwhelm is to break down the work into smaller and more manageable chunks.
The pomodoro technique helps to get you started (which is half the battle!). It’s breaking down time into 25-minute chunks and having a set task is important so, decide what you will work on for the 25 minutes. Then spend 25 minutes of quality concentration and effort. Put away any distractions until you have a break. Then reinforce that you have been productive, you can do this. You can reward yourself after your daily win by spending time doing non-study activities.
You might be thinking, learning is learning, study is studying. What difference does it make when you are learning online?
With online learning, especially watching recorded videos and participating in live online sessions, the biggest challenges are distractions and mind wandering. Yes, those shiny distractions that grab our attention, and before you know it, your focus is lost, and your mind goes elsewhere.
Analysis of 6.9 million online courses found that the median engagement time was just 6 minutes! That’s not a lot of time before getting distracted online. One of the most distracting devices that we have is our mobile phone. It is just so easy to access your phone when you are online and who can resist it? All the notifications that we receive, all the apps that are designed on purpose to invite and tempt us into check our phones regularly and to keep scrolling. Our brains get a dopamine reward. And it is easy to understand why we create these habits.
When online, it is keeping your brain engaged like a puzzle. Our brains need activity. Use questions to keep your brain thinking and more switched on. Questions lead to learning so how can you include questions when learning online?
- Pause the video every 5-10 minutes and ask yourself some questions. What’s the main point here? What do I understand from this? What does this mean? How does this link to what I have learnt before?
- If you don’t fully understand something put a big question mark next to it. Then you want to find answers to your question marks. Ask other students if they understand it. If yes, ask them to explain it, it will help you both to reinforce what you are learning. Ask the teacher or lecturer. Google your question.
Essential learning reminders:
Questions lead to learning
Re-reading notes or a textbook is not necessarily good studying. Yes, you will need to read information but use questions and testing to help your learning and help you remember what you are learning. Use activities (answering questions, asking questions, summarising) to engage more in the learning. A practice test improves long- term retention of knowledge or you can summarise or explain a topic in your own words.
Space out study topics
Break up larger teaching content into smaller units. Every 10-15 minutes include a question or activity. Space out studying of topics and mix them up. It’s not about studying one single topic for five hours, better to do 5 different topics for one hour each.
Connect to prior learning
Use pre-activities (questions, tell me about) to help surface knowledge that you already know. Use recapping questions e.g. revisit important concepts from a previous activity or recap on foundation knowledge. New knowledge will link with this prior knowledge more easily and effectively.