Online Learning - Effective Habits

Man with productivity sign

Just like studying in a classroom setting, there are well established habits and strategies that are more likely to increase your success  with online learning. Many of the strategies on our Study Tips page apply equally to both classroom and online learning, however there are also some approaches that are specific to successful online learning. There are also some well known common mistakes to avoid. Between the tips found in the links in this section, the previous sections, and the tips below, you will have a pretty comprehensive list of suggestions to support your success. We encourage you to start small, read one or two tips per day, and decide if it is something that you want to try. It really takes approximately 3 weeks of regular usage to see if a strategy is effective. As you review the different strategies, note which ones you currently use and that you know work, then choose 1-3 new ones to try. You might be surprised by what works for you!

Habits That Enable Success

Create a regular routine - routines help us stay focused and cope better. They help us avoid procrastinating on our school work. Some days you don’t feel like going to class, but you go anyway. Try to do the same with online classes. Schedule regular blocks in your calendar to go through course content that is separate from your study sessions. Since spacing learning over time helps the brain learn,  try to space courses through-out the day in a way that is similar to an on campus class schedule.

Create concrete experiences – humans learn by doing. The more actively you can engage with the course, and the course material, the more you will learn and remember.

Time to reflect and make connections – at the end of each module, video, or topic, take time to connect the content you just covered with prior learning or real-life situations. This will help integrate learning and improve memory.

Create a context for what you just learned –look for ways to apply the concepts you learned and put them into practice. That helps learning “stick”.

Put learning into practice – create practices, exercises, or opportunities to practice what you learned. The more you can implement learnings into real-life situations, the more you are likely to remember

The rule of first and last – the brain is more likely to remember the first and last things we hear in a lecture. The murky-middle is often lost. When creating notes, or studying, break sections down into small parts and put key information first. You can also repeat key points at the end. Repetition is also an important factor in learning.

Repetition is your friend – Did we mention repetition helps you learn? Repetition helps decrease the dreaded “curve of forgetting”. Seriously, that is what it is called. (It kinda sounds like something you’d find in The Witcher). If you don’t clink on any of the other links on this webpage, we encourage you to read this one. The information could change the way you approach studying and learning!

Set goals – creating personal milestones and setting goals can help maintain motivation. For more information, check-out our web-based workshop on setting smart goals.

Gamify yourself – small wins and positive feedback activate the reward centres of the brain and help keep us motivated. How can you create and celebrate small wins to help keep you motivated? If your instructor has not broken material into small sections, you can do that for yourself. Imagine your own process bar that can help inspire you. How can you apply gamification theory to your learning process? (Congratulations! You have completed XX% of the online learning page, and achieved 1000 XPs! You ROCK! Keep going. You can do it!)

Build and strengthen neuro connections – Link course materials to things you already understand and previous learnings. You can use metaphors and analogies to help make neuro connections. For example, we (the Wellness Coordinators) know more about the brain than we do about the internet. Comparing computer networking to the brain’s neuro structures helps us understand computer networking better. What seemingly unrelated topics can you relate to what you are learning to help increase understanding and memory?

Use headings and colour in your notes – the brain likes contrast. If your course was not designed with different headings, colours, instructional/delivery styles then explore how you can create them for yourself. Use colour, headings, backgrounds, etc. to create contrast and add variety.

Create an accountability partner – Sometimes it is easier to do something for someone else than it is for ourselves. Weekly check-ins with your accountability partner might help you to stay on-track. If you are looking for an accountability partner, please email us at We can try to connect you with other students looking for accountability partners, or schedule an accountability wellness session with one of the Student Wellness Coordinators.

Understand your learning style and how to work with content in your preferred style – we all have ways we prefer to learn. When courses are delivered in our preferred style, learning feels easy. Unfortunately, in both classroom environments and online environments, content is not always delivered the way we prefer. It is up to us to take what is offered and make it fit us. For more information, check-out our workshop on Learning Styles. (Should be live by the end of May).

Kryptonite to your Superman: Enemies of Online Learning

Every superhero has an evil nemesis, sometimes several. Like other superheroes, online learning has several villains that consistently plot to unleash chaos and bring about ultimate destruction. When learning online, your greatest enemies are: procrastination, lack of motivation, and distractions.

For strategies to reduce procrastination and lack of motivation, please see our upcoming web-based workshops on motivation and overcoming procrastination. They should be live by the end of May 2020.

Part of dealing with distractions is preventing them from happening in the first place by using apps to control devices or turning off notifications. Check-out this video by Ways to Grow, for 5 tips on avoiding distractions and staying focused.

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Another way to avoid distractions is to create both segregated spaces for different activities and routines. When we create routines and keep spaces separate, it helps the brain create a new “normal” for that space or time of day. This spot is for studying, I study when I sit here. This spot is for video chatting, I connect with my friends when I sit here. It sounds silly, but it is a time honoured approach for improving productivity. It is even possible to do this when you live in a small space. The video Spaceship You was created to address the COVID-19 situation, but the ideas in this video can work for any situation.

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