Success for Online Learners – Tips for Surviving the Fall Semester
We know—there’s nothing quite like whiling away the summer hours by basking in air conditioning and bathing in the glow of Netflix. That’s why we understand how hard it might be to shake off any lingering summer stupor and swap the television shows for study sessions. With school back in session for many colleges across the country, we’ve compiled some tips to help you kick off the school year right and stay focused all semester.
Organization is key.
Staying organized is one of the most important steps you can take to ensure success in your course. Luckily, you don’t have to do it alone! Use technology to your advantage: we are in a technological Golden Age—with just the tap of a button, we have access to a multitude of resources at our fingertips. With so many different organizational apps available, it’s just a matter of determining which is best suited for your needs. Two top-rated apps, MyHomework Planner and MyStudyLife, replace paper planners and help you stay seamlessly organized across multiple devices. By inputting your class schedule and all assignments and exams you have due, these planners make staying organized a cinch. Best of all, these apps can even remind you when your assignments are due.
If you find yourself struggling to stay organized or on task because of such productivity killers as Facebook or Twitter, you can even install programs that restrict usage to any site you choose, like SelfControl for Mac and Cold Turkey for PC. By blocking access to specific websites for however long you select, these programs are immensely helpful in boosting your productivity and concentration.
Online does not have to mean off-site.
For some students, one of the greatest struggles they face with distance learning is how impersonal online courses typically are. The anonymity of the online classroom can make it harder to thrive as a student. While many are okay with minimal communication between their classmates or instructors, others have come to depend on the social interactions provided by face-to-face classes to keep them engaged in their course.
If you find yourself missing the community setting of the traditional classroom, consider forming study groups with other local students taking your course. If you are enrolled in an online class through a local college or institution, make use of the campus library and common areas. Most colleges now even encourage students to reserve study rooms. Simply being on campus and among your peers can help you refocus.
If gathering a group of local classmates is difficult or impractical, take advantage of your course’s online discussion forums. Ask your professor to set up an online classroom forum in which students are able to interact with one another, offer help and answer questions, or simply get to know one another. Staying active in the discussion forums will make you feel that much more connected with others in your course.
Don’t limit your learning to the (virtual) classroom.
Engaging in extracurricular opportunities and events relating to your coursework can make for a more enjoyable learning experience. These opportunities are not only enriching, they also help reinforce your learning. For many, tangible experiences are far more effective than simply reading from a text or listening to a lecture. For Music majors, taking in a live performance or concert offers a more tactile, complete experience than a text alone offers. In fact, most colleges provide student discounts and free tickets to their seasonal performances. With some research, you may even find that your community or city hosts a free concert series. History buffs can bring their curriculum to life by visiting historical monuments and museums, while writing and literature enthusiasts may find it beneficial to attend poetry readings and writers’ talks.
If you are short on resources, you don’t have to venture far or spend a lot to enhance your learning. To supplement your coursework, consider enrolling in a free class on Coursera, which offers a vast range of programs from some of the best schools in the country. Touting itself as a “global classroom,” Khan Academy is another free resource that provides valuable learning tools in a wide range of subjects, including humanities and the arts. If your time is limited, download the Ted Talks app to listen to a wealth of engrossing, thought-provoking discussions on nearly every topic imaginable. Available in a slew of languages, Ted Talks is perfect to listen to during your morning commute. Ultimately, these experiences and tools can all help you better absorb your coursework and ensure that you are maximizing your learning experience.
Amp up your writing skills.
Regardless of your discipline or course of study, your writing skills are a fundamental tool for success in your education. In writing, simplicity is key: aim for concision and clarity to get your ideas across to your readers. At the same time, using variety is helpful in keeping readers interested. Word repetition is one surefire way to drag down the tone and style of a work, which makes it difficult to engage readers and convey key points.
Thesaurus.com is an excellent resource to diversify your language (and is also available as a mobile app). Swapping out commonly over-used words can invigorate your writing, but be wary of using too much flowery language, which may only put off and distract your readers. As understanding a word’s actual meaning is also imperative for successful writing, sister-site, Dictionary.com is another handy tool to bookmark.
Many universities and colleges also offer their enrolled students specialized help in the form of writing centers and tutors. Even if you feel fairly confident in your writing, it can never hurt to schedule time with a tutor and see if they have any tips for improvement. Though writing centers at most institutions are accessible only to their enrolled students, most have resources on their websites that can be accessed by non-students as well. The International Writing Centers Association has a helpful compilation here: http://writingcenters.org/resources/writing-centers-online/. One online writing center definitely worth checking out is the Purdue University Online Writing Lab, which houses over 200 resources and tools for writers.
Finally, one vital yet overlooked tip for success in online learning is to keep your software updated throughout the semester. Though it sounds simple enough, many people neglect to update their internet browsers and audio players. Outdated software can cause all kinds of pesky issues and prevent you from viewing your content properly, all of which can be easily avoided.