8 Tips for Effective Online Learning

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8 Tips for Effective Online Learning

By Linlin Xia, Teaching and Learning Team, Coursera

Taking an online course for the first time? As a member of Coursera’s Teaching and Learning team, I’ve had the privilege to work with hundreds of educators to bring their courses to more than 48 million people around the world. Based on research and best practices from our community, here are eight, go-to study tips for learning online.

#1: Set daily goals for studying

Ask yourself what you hope to accomplish in your course each day. Setting a clear goal can help you stay motivated and beat procrastination. The goal should be specific and easy to measure, such as “I’ll watch all the videos in Module 2 and complete the first programming assignment.” And don’t forget to reward yourself when you make progress towards your goal!

#2: Create a dedicated study space

It’s easier to recall information if you’re in the same place where you first learned it, so having a dedicated space at home to take online courses can make your learning more effective. Remove any distractions from the space, and if possible, make it separate from your bed or sofa. A clear distinction between where you study and where you take breaks can help you focus. 

#3: Schedule time to study on your calendar

Open your calendar and choose a predictable, reliable time that you can dedicate to watching lectures and completing assignments. This helps ensure that your courses won’t become the last thing on your to-do list.

Tip: You can add deadlines for a Coursera course to your Google calendar, Apple calendar, or another calendar app

#4: Keep yourself accountable

Tell your friends about the courses you’re taking, post achievements to your social media accounts, or blog about your homework assignments. Having a community and support network of friends and family to cheer you on makes a difference.

#5: Actively take notes

Taking notes can promote active thinking, boost comprehension, and extend your attention span. It’s a good strategy to internalize knowledge whether you’re learning online or in the classroom. So grab a notebook or find a digital app that works best for you and start synthesizing key points.

Tip: While watching a lecture on Coursera, you can click the “Save Note” button below the video to save a screenshot to your course notes and add your own comments.

#6: Join the discussion

Course discussion forums are a great place to ask questions about assignments, discuss topics, share resources, and make friends. Our research shows that learners who participate in the discussion forums are 37% more likely to complete a course. So make a post today!

#7: Do one thing at a time

Multitasking is less productive than focusing on a single task at a time. Researchers from Stanford University found that “People who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information cannot pay attention, recall information, or switch from one job to another as well as those who complete one task at a time.”

#8: Take breaks

Resting your brain after learning is critical to high performance. If you find yourself working on a challenging problem without much progress for an hour, take a break. Walking outside, taking a shower, or talking with a friend can re-energize you and even give you new ideas on how to tackle that project.

Want to go deeper? Here’s some of the research I referenced to create these online study tips: 

Adam, G. (2009). Media multitaskers pay mental price. Retrieved from https://news.stanford.edu/news/2009/august24/multitask-research-study-082409.html

Bönstrup, M., Iturrate, I., Thompson, R., Cruciani, G., Censor, N., & Cohen, L. G. (2019). A rapid form of offline consolidation in skill learning. Current Biology, 29(8), 1346-1351.

Hiemstra, R. (1991). Aspects of effective learning environments. New directions for adult and continuing education, 1991(50), 5-12.

Kozlowski, S. W., & Bell, B. S. (2006). Disentangling achievement orientation and goal setting: effects on self-regulatory processes. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91(4), 900.

Listening Note Taking Strategies. UNSW Sydney. Retrieved from https://student.unsw.edu.au/note-taking-skills

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