Since learning on-line requires you to take charge of your learning experience it may be helpful to know there scientifically proven ways to optimize your ability to focus and remember.
- Increase the flow of blood and oxygen to your brain through rythmic deep breathing, relaxation & meditation, and mild aerobic exercise (like walking).
- Eat well-balanced meals at regularly scheduled intervals to keep thinking clearly. The B vitamins are especially important in brain function. Vitamin A helps to protect your vision. Vitamin E aids in cell oxygenation, while Vitamin C helps to protect the other vitamins in your body.
- Prior to studying, relax and think positive thoughts. A calm, confident attitude can increase your ability to learn.
- Understanding your own best learning styles can be very useful. For example, some people learn best by reading and taking notes. Some do better by focusing broadly on concepts and illustrations, while others need audio cues. Many find mind map techniques effective. Defining the process that works for you before you begin studying will save time and help to ensure your learning success.
- If possible, work with natural light from a window. If not, standard light bulbs are better than fluorescent.
- Keep clean, fresh air flowing through your study area and go outdoors for breaks.
- Room temperature should not be too warm, to keep mentally alert.
- Background music has been shown to aid the learning process.
Traditional courseware design includes components to ensure the success of your learning experience. Teachers are trained to guide you through these "instructional events." To make the most of self-paced, on-line study, you need to provide your own learning framework.
Ask these questions to focus your studies:
- WHAT do I want to learn? List your specific objectives. Try stating it this way: "When I complete this course of study, I will be able to ... "
- WHY do I want to learn this? In other words, how will you benefit from learning? (Will you be healthier? Have more money? Be able to share with someone who needs to know?)
- WHICH materials am I going to use? In addition to finding courses on-line, you may identify related reference information, books, tapes, video, etc. You may supplement this content with other activities: "field trips" to museums, colleges, libraries, zoos, or other places appropriate to your topic. Remember that there may be "prerequisites" required -- something you need to know first before you begin a course of study.
- HOW am I going to organize my studies? Some courses may be structured so that you can simply follow the recommended sequence. More often, you will need to determine the best structure and flow for yourself. Use "chunking," organizing the information into groups of a few related topics. After noting how the content fits into these groups, outline the sequence that works best for you. You may want to start with the topic that interests you most and branch out from there.
- WHEN am I going to study? You may want to schedule study time to take advantage of your "best" time of day, the time you feel most alert. In planning your learning schedule, it is important to consider that 30-50 minutes of study with 5-10 minute breaks will help you remember best.
After you have planned your course of study and have clearly stated your objectives, you can benefit by approaching each lesson with some specific study techniques.
The steps below highlight key elements of learning success:
- OVERVIEW -- Scan through the information quickly to get an overview and identify the areas that match your objectives.
- INTEREST -- Generate interest by asking "who?" "what?" "when?" "where?" "why?" and "how?"
- RECALL -- Stimulate recall of related knowledge by asking "What do I already know about this?"
- KEY POINTS -- As you read, make notes of the key points (or cut and paste important topic sentences to a reference file). Use the techniques that work best for you, based on your learning styles.
- REVIEW -- Summarize what you have learned after completing each "chunk" of information. This works best if you break each study period into 30-50 minute units.
- RELATE -- Reflect on how this new information relates to your previous knowledge, skills, and experience. You learn best by linking concepts to something you already know.
- TEST -- Confirm that you really know the content by testing yourself, and checking your answers. Looking up answers to questions can help "set" them in your memory.
- REWARD -- Plan something enjoyable as a reward for completing your studies. This helps to establish a positive attitude which can aid in learning.
After successfully completing coursework, you will want to commit what you have learned to "long term memory" and ensure the new knowledge stays with you.
Some suggestions for "setting" the new information:
- SHARE -- Explain the key points of your studies to friends and family.
- PRESENT -- If you can find an appropriate audience, deliver a short presentation about your topic to a group.
- TEACH -- If someone else can benefit by learning, offer to help them cover the material, guiding them through the process.
- APPLY -- Use the new information in your daily life, if possible.
- REVIEW -- Go back at intervals - a week, a month, 6 months - and review the highlights. This will help to retain the information, even if you are unable to "use" it in your daily life.