How To Rock At Online Learning

9 things you can do to succeed at self-guided study.

eLearning has great benefits… but with great benefits come great responsibilities.

Online learning comes with great benefits.

If you’ve been thinking about honing your existing skills, earning a new professional certification, or kicking off a whole new career, you may be looking at online courses.

And it’s tempting… studying on your own time, sitting on the couch in your pajamas, having an after-work beverage with one eye on The Voice.

Livin’ the dream, amirite?

Think again.

While a flexible training schedule can be great for busy working stiffs and family folks like us, and the dynamic digital materials may actually be more up-to-date than a print textbook, there are also challenges to e-learning that you need to meet head on.

With great benefits come great responsibilities.

Don’t assume that because it’s online, it’s easy. A quality eLearning course is demanding, and requires dedication.

If you’re serious about getting value out of your online course, if you really want to come out the other end with new skills that’ll give you a competitive advantage in the workplace, then you need to get serious about the effort you’ll be putting in.

Here’s 10 things you can do to make sure you get the most out of online learning.

1: Create a safe, dedicated work-space.

Studying online is a lot like being an independent contractor. So treat it like a job.

It might be tempting to go to your favorite purveyor of pumpkin-spiced caffeinated beverages, and stake out one of the cushy pleather chairs in the corner. But be honest with yourself — are you really able to focus with the sound of coffee grinders and espresso machines in the background?

Establish yourself a safe private space at home, that’s dedicated to study. If you can, choose a place that’s away from the hustle and bustle of daily living, from clattering pots and pans and noisy televisions.

Keep it neat and organized, and don’t let it get cluttered with non-study messes like stacks of bills, distracting magazines, and TV remotes.

PROTIP: If your safe study space can’t stay dedicated 24x7, and needs to be cleaned up and tucked away after each study session, find a way to keep your materials organized, mobile, and easy to deploy. Binders, stacking trays, and file folders are your friends here. Make it easy to clean up, and easy to set up, so the prospect of getting started isn’t daunting.

2: Make a schedule.

The beauty of this is that you can make your own schedule.

Study at lunch, or at night after the kids are asleep.

Wake up an hour early, and get your study on in the wee hours.

Watch videos while you’re on the treadmill at the gym.

Whatever and wherever it is, find the times you’re both motivated to work, and can work uninterrupted. And try to be consistent… knowing that you’ve got a dedicated start time, and a specific window (one hour, 90 minutes, whatever it may be) can make it easier to psych yourself up and dig in.

3: Get the support of family & friends.

When you’re studying, you’re at work. It’ll be tempting for the people you share the space with to interrupt with “family life” questions and tasks. Your friends may call unexpectedly, tempting you to “ditch school” and meet up.

And frankly, it’ll be tempting to give in to the distractions.

Let everyone know your schedule, and ask them to respect it. If you’re consistent with your schedule, and are really obviously working hard while you’re “at school,” they’ll have an easier time respecting it than if you’re haphazard about when you’re available and when you’re not, or if they catch you surfing Facebook when you’re supposed to be studying.

PROTIP: If you’ve got favorite broadcast TV shows you share with others and that’s making scheduling tough, get them to record it, and set aside special time to watch it with you later, when you’re done working. It’ll be your little reward for being good.

4: Start with the study guides.

If your course comes with a syllabus or study guides, start there. Print them out, and review them before doing anything else… use a highlighter, and mark up the docs.

Chances are they’ll offer a good insight into where you’re going to need to pay close attention when you start your lessons.

5: Videos are awesome.

Video lessons are the “giant killer” of online learning.

If you’ve got access to recorded lessons or lectures, that’s a huge advantage over traditional classroom learning.

Imagine being in a live classroom listening to a lecture, and the professor drops a wisdom bomb that rocks your world… in fact, you’re not even sure you grasped it completely.

How much luck will you have interrupting the flow of the lecture, and the experience of all the other students, to ask “Could you go back and repeat that?”

Yeah, no.

The beauty of streaming video lessons is the “pause and rewind” aspect. You’ve got the freedom, nay the awesome power, to stop the lecture, go back, repeat key passages, and make sure you understand exactly what’s important and why.

PROTIP: Watch the videos more than once. First, just listen carefully without taking any notes at all. Let it sit for 24 hours, then review that video at the beginning of your next study session. Take careful notes that second time… you’ll be surprised at how much more focused you are.

Then spend the second half of your study time watching the next lesson for the first time, with no notes. (That’s your reward for starting with the re-watching.)

Rinse and repeat.

6: Take notes.

I’ve been mentioning notes… don’t discount how important they are.

When you’ve got all this material at your fingertips, and you you can rewind and re-watch, it’s easy to forget that you’re covering complex topics and details just like in a traditional lecture.

No matter how good you think you are, you will neither remember all the important details, nor remember which video and chapter included each bit of critical information.

That’s why, just like in a traditional class, good notes come in very handy later down the road.

Organize your notes, and indicate which video and chapter covers that particular information… especially when you find yourself backing up and repeating info. That’s a good sign that this is something you may need to review.

Having an index to return to will be a huge time-saver down the road.

PROTIP: Drop in a time-code from time to time in your notes. The time-code is the exact numerical point in the play time of the video you want to notate… indicated by an HOUR:MINUTE;SECOND.

Being able to go back to the very moment a point is made in a video will make it easier for you to review… and more likely you’ll do so.

Your time-code will look something like this.

7: Pay attention to your quiz results.

If your course provides progress quizzes, take them seriously.

If they’re not required, don’t skip them, take them seriously.

They’re your chance to see how well you’re comprehending the materials… and if a question is in the quiz, it (or a related question on the same point) is most likely going to be on the final exam.

If you pass the quiz with ease, good on you.

If you struggle, it’s an indication that you might want to go back over that material and make sure you understand it before moving on.

8: Don’t skip the exercises.

If your course provides hands-on exercises, take them seriously.

If they’re not required, don’t skip them, take them seriously.

Applying your new skills is a critical part of burning them into your brain. So take every opportunity to take the concepts you’re learning out of the theoretical and into the applicable.

PROTIP: Apply your new skills to something IRL.

The exercises your course provides may be theoretical, but you can always go one step further. If you’ve got business challenges, projects, or clients In Real Life that you can apply your newly enhanced skills to, don’t hesitate to do it.

Not only will you have see exactly how to implement your skills to address your particular use cases, but your clients and employer will recognize the new value you’re providing.

And that’s never a bad thing.

9: Meet up with fellow students and faculty.

If your course offers any kind of live virtual “office hours” or “study groups”, take full advantage of them.

Post in the forums, ask questions during webinars, email the faculty.

Don’t be shy; you want to win at this, so take advantage of every opportunity to learn.

There are no stupid questions.

PROTIP: If your course doesn’t offer an interactive element, consider starting your own. Start a Facebook group, a Google Hangout, or organize a meetup if there are other students in your geographical area.

Whatever your favorite kind of meetup, use it to connect with other learners. Even if only a couple of people join in, you’ll get great value from having other students to talk with.

What did I miss?

What’s your experience with eLearning? Any tips I’ve missed? Best practices?

Drop a note in the comments, and share.