The pandemic has pushed millions of school kids into a new world of online learning. But it's not just children who are looking at virtual classes with fresh eyes. If the response to my recent posts about online classes is anything to go by, lots of entrepreneurs and other professionals cooped up at home are taking a new interest in upgrading their skills online during the pandemic.
Choosing to sign up for a class and deciding which one to choose is only the first step, however. You also have to actually complete the course, and learn from it.
Ensuring you maximize the benefit of virtual learning is the subject of a roundup of recent research results in the field from the British Psychological Society Research Digest blog. The post runs through a ton of interesting findings. Some are exclusively geared toward university students and younger learners, but several can help professionals get the most out of at-home learning too.
1. Use the most effective note-taking strategy
Anyone who has spent any time in a lecture hall can tell you that taking notes helps you remember more of the material, but not everyone is aware that all note-taking techniques are not created equal. Research shows that old-school pen and paper notes will help you retain more than typing. If you're interested as to why, here's a write-up of the findings.
It's also important you use those notes the right way once you've taken them. "Both organizing information and using it to test your knowledge, rather than just passively writing and rereading notes, is also likely to boost your memory," BPS stresses.
2. Ask a "prequestion."
What you do while learning matters a lot, but what you do before you start studying has a surprisingly large impact on how much you learn as well. Deciding what information you'd like to get out of a class before you engage with the material -- known as setting a "prequestion" -- helps you get more from whatever class you're taking.
"Researchers believed that this technique was especially effective for learning from videos: It's not easy to skip through video content to find answers to those prequestions, so viewers likely end up paying more attention," notes BPS.
3. Choose (and prepare) wisely.
Science also suggests another preparatory trick for online learners: Think ahead and consider how much time and effort you're willing to give to a course and select one that realistically suits your situation. Also, spend time ahead of time thinking about which study strategies and schedule are likely to work best for you. Finally, set yourself specific goals so you can measure how much you've actually advanced thanks to your efforts.
4. Be as social as possible.
You might not be able to hang out with fellow students in person at the moment, but even hanging out online may boost your learning.
"One study suggested that discussing course material with other students in online forums may improve outcomes: The students who were most active in the learning forums were more likely to achieve a higher final grade. Some of this will obviously have to do with motivation and effort -- students who put in a lot of effort studying and working on papers are also more likely to put effort into engaging with classmates. But active learning can't hurt either," claims BPS.
Chatting with fellow learners can also relieve some of the isolation and tedium of online learning, and as Einstein noted, the more fun you have, the more you are likely to learn.
5. Sleep enough.
When one MIT professor asked his undergraduates to wear Fitbits for the semester for a study he was conducting recently, he noticed an unexpected pattern in the data. The more a student had slept during the semester, the better he or she did in the class.
Other studies confirm the massive impact sleep has on learning. "Periods of sleep between studying can help you learn faster and retain those memories for longer," BPS says. This is just as true for adult professionals as it is for college kids or kindergartners. If you don't sleep enough, you won't get as much as you could have from virtual learning.