In the history of education, online learning is an incredibly recent addition. As such, there isn’t quite the same volume of “instructional resources” behind it, like tips, best practices guides, etc. Traditional brick-and-mortar education has enjoyed centuries of self-betterment deliberation – with thinkers creating a veritable cottage industry out of how-to guides and student advice. It’s high time online learning did the same.
On this blog, we’ve published various instructional student resources, from tips for staying productive to online exam advice. Now, we attempt to collate those insights into a 101 resource for online learning.
Taking a cue from our physics teachers, we’ve decided to break our helpful tips into the following sections: “space,” “time,” and “matter.” Just as physicists have attempted to create a unified theory of everything by demonstrating the interrelatedness of these three concepts – so we’ll attempt to demonstrate a “unified theory of online learning tips.” Yes, it’s a little silly, but we like a little fun with our learning!
Whether you’re just starting your journey with our online high school in Ontario or you’re a seasoned OES student looking for advice on the coming semester, consider these helpful tips.
Space… the final frontier. Actually, in this case, it’s our first frontier – a fantastic place to start discussing your online learning journey. Although our courses are remote and digital, students nevertheless need to make provisions for a healthy and productive physical space.
The good news is that your study space is entirely customizable. Unlike shared classrooms, which are designed to facilitate numerous students’ needs, your online learning space is an individual expression of how you like the learn best.
Here are a few near-universal tips to supercharge your online learning space.
Tip #1: Block Distractions
In a traditional classroom, distractions abound – peers chatting, books flying, the sounds of a raucous gymnasium in the distance. In this way, your online learning space already has a leg up.
Still, distractions in a home study setup do rear their head, so it pays to create a dedicated interference-free zone. To start, establish your study space somewhere quiet, like a spare room. If you’re unable to find a quiet room, consider investing in noise-cancelling headphones to help block ambient sound.
Next, consider removing distractions like game consoles and phones. These exciting pastimes have their time and place, but catching them from the corner of your eye while you study for a math exam might prove too tempting!
Tip #2: Little Mess, Little Stress
The last tip bleeds neatly into this one. Mess can be a real distraction, especially if it’s directly in your sightline.
Research also shows that clutter can cause undue mental stress. Our brains are hardwired to detect stimuli in our direct field of vision (probably an evolutionary holdover from our time worrying about predators in the wild!). If there are too many stimuli, our brains struggle to process everything at once, leading to an uneasy, overwhelmed feeling. As it turns out, “mess equals stress” is a scientifically sound adage.
Before each study session, spend a few minutes tidying up your space. File those magazines back onto the bookshelf, put those “floor clothes” back into the dresser and wipe the sandwich crumbs off the desk. Your brain will thank you!
Tip #3: Optimize Your Space for Ergonomics
We tend to associate repetitive strain injuries with office workers, but students working solely from a computer may succumb to strain too. As your wrists perch over a keyboard or your spine rides the back of a chair, these body parts may start to ache over time. And if you’ve ever tried to be productive while in pain, you’ll know – it isn’t easy.
The solution is simple, although it requires some start-up costs. Consider “ergonomic” furniture and equipment, products designed for repetitive physical interaction. On the low end of the price spectrum, you will find items like wrist rest pads and fitness balls (great for a long stint sitting at a desk). On the higher end, you might find ergonomically designed desks and adjustable memory foam chairs. Anything helps!
Tip #4: Let There Be Light
Recently, scientific research was able to demonstrate what many of us already knew intuitively: that light helps concentration. Specifically, the study found that “cool” light from natural sunshine or LEDs can help improve academic performance.
Here’s yet another opportunity to supercharge your individualized learning space. Instead of employing the same fuzzy fluorescent bulbs you find in classrooms, consider an LED lamp with a high correlated colour temperature (CCT) above 4,000.
Or better yet, find a dedicated study space with large windows for ample natural sunlight. In warmer months, fling those operable windows open for fresh air – another of nature’s brain boosters.
Now that you’ve travelled the expanses of space, we can talk about controlling time. As in physics, time is a fundamental component of your online education. OES’s self-paced courses offer students a wide window of time for completion – a year (barring any permissible extensions). Within those twelve calendar months, it is incumbent on you to manage your time effectively, allocating your hours and minutes to completing the course to the best of your ability.
In this section, let’s talk about various time management strategies – from long-term time management to short-term organization, apps to timers.
Tip #5: Take a Long View on Time Management
You can roughly categorize time management by long-term and short-term. The former refers to a bird’s eye view of your goal, breaking it down into achievable sections plotted on a timeline. For a high school course, most of the work is done for you already in the course outlines, a document deconstructing the course by unit and learning outcomes. All you need to do is take this document and apply it to an achievable timeline.
For instance, if you take Grade 12 courses online, you might look at your ENG4U course’s seven units and choose to plot it over a seven-month timeline. Within that basic structure, you can plan time within each month for readings, assignments, research, journals, projects and oral presentation preparation. Do this in a simple online calendar or digital agenda.
Tip #6: For Short-Term Time Management, Consider the Pomodoro Method
Then there’s short-term time management, which refers to how we allocate our time in the moment. Effective short-term time management is all about eliminating procrastination and applying productivity strategies to our allotted study block.
For instance, let’s say you’ve given yourself six hours to study today. According to your online agenda, you’re supposed to read three chapters of Animal Farm, research an upcoming math project and put the finishing touches on a history paper concerning Canadian diversity. It’s tough work, though, and your brain keeps drifting toward weekend plans.
In these cases, try a short-term strategy like the Pomodoro Method. The Pomodoro method involves completing 25-minute stretches of focused work followed by five minutes of downtime. After four of these work-break cycles, you can take a more significant break, usually around 25 minutes. The method works in two ways: the relatively quick work intervals ensure you avoid mental fatigue, while the timer adds a sense of urgency. Productivity experts have championed the method. See if it works for your studies!
Tip #7: Leave Wiggle Room for Self-Paced Flexibility
All that long-term planning and short-term productivity hacking will only work on good days – days when you’re vibing with the material.
But the whole point of self-paced learning is that you should be able to extend a unit, project, assignment or research session if you’re having trouble. In those cases, take a deep breath, adjust your long-term schedule and seek help from your teacher. Don’t worry about breaking your long-term plans, especially if you take difficult courses online; it’s far more advantageous to do things right than do things quick.
Tip #8: Leverage a Bevy of Helpful Apps
We already mentioned the Pomodoro Method, which has its own app. You can also find several other time management apps, including monthly planners, focus apps, etc. Here are a few we like:
- Todoist: a checklist app that helps you prioritize tasks
- Google Calendar: a basic scheduling app with several cool features and customizations
- myHomework: a student-specific time management app for tracking deadlines, exams, projects, etc.
- RescueTime: a distraction blocker that you can program to block certain social media apps and websites for a predetermined study period. Call it the Tik-Tok-blocker: it’s indispensable when you have a deadline looming!
Most or all of these apps are free to download. Of course, check with your parents before spending any app-related money.
Tip #9: Make Time for Diet, Sleep and Exercise
Time management isn’t all deadlines and study allotment. It also involves squaring away time for your basic human needs.
Humans are like high-performance sports cars. We need quality fuel to function at peak capacity. We need to take ourselves out for a spin occasionally, so we don’t rust. But we can’t drive for days straight – we need rest. As you plot your months, days and hours, leave ample time for diet, sleep and exercise. Eat plenty of veggies, healthy proteins and fats. Get your blood pumping with activities like sports or yoga. And maintain a consistent sleep schedule built around eight or more hours of sleep.
In this section, let’s talk about the things that matter to our students: namely, support and mental health.
Tip #10 Use Your OES Support System
At OES, we take a multi-pronged approach to supporting our students. If you’re struggling with coursework, assignment details, exam preparation or any other common student frustration, you have three main avenues for support:
Your OES Teacher
This is your first line of defence, the first person you can contact with questions, queries and concerns. If you aren’t entirely understanding polynomials or grasping Hamlet’s motivations, your teachers are there to help. If there’s one takeaway in this entire article, it’s this: Use your teachers! Sometimes, online learners get into a kind of “remoteness jam” where they prefer to work alone. We encourage you to treat your digital classroom like a physical classroom; if you need help, walk to the (digital) front of the classroom and ask the expert. That’s why they’re here.
24/7 Online Tutoring
What happens when you require additional support or late-night support? Are you alone in your studies, unable to get help? Absolutely not. At OES, we offer round-the-clock, on-demand tutoring for students requiring added aid.
The thinking here is crystal clear – we have a vested interest in ensuring that every student gets exactly the support they require. We don’t want to see unanswered questions or unsolved problems. Even if it’s 3 AM on an Easter Monday, we want to be there for you – so that you can take a proactive role in your education.
Our Written Resources
Finally, you can find several resources on this blog. In fact, you’re reading one of them right now! If you need help studying for online exams, you’ll find tips here. If you want more time management hacks, you’ll find them here. If you’re scratching your head over the graduation requirements in Ontario, you’ll find informational resources here. This blog represents yet another way OES equips its students with aid and assistance.
Tip #11: Be Proactive About Your Mental Health
Your well-being is of paramount importance. Always remember, if you’re feeling unwell, down or otherwise uninclined to study, capitalize on the flexibility of your online course. Take time for your mental health. Your studies will be waiting right here for you.
Visit our article on exam anxiety (linked in the section directly above) for exam-specific advice, or explore our recent article, “How to Balance Your Online Studies & Mental Health.” If your issues are persistent or overwhelming, speak to your parents and/or professionals about available mental health strategies.
If you have any further questions, you know where to find us – we’re just a few clicks of the mouse away. As you embark on the second half of a fruitful academic year, review these tips to make the most of your online learning adventure.