As online learning becomes more common, it feels like I spend a lot more time sitting down and passively learning. I listen to lecture recordings and audio books and read lots of books and articles, without as much active participation as I had in my in-person classes. Unfortunately, that means I have to deal with my brain automatically zoning out when I’m stressed, tired, or have something else on my mind — which is honestly most of the time.
I know that there are a bunch of resources to help students learn better in an online environment (we even have our own!), but even reading those guides can feel like too much work sometimes. As with most things, I don’t think there’s an easy answer that works for everyone, but, over the years, I’ve found a few things that help my brain stay focused.
1. Make some fun. When I have to take notes for my course readings (and being in English Lit means I read and take a lot of notes), I try to be creative. Using unprofessional fonts and making silly comments/drawings helps me think creatively about writing notes, which prevents me from getting bored or tired. Silly summaries like “Crookshanks is again, an excellent cat, and tries to hurt Scabbers (good kitty)” lets me feel connected in silliness with my study group mates, makes my notes more fun to write, and more fun to skim when the exams come up. A win-win!
2. Have some fun. This isn’t as useful when you need to read something and pay attention to the screen, but if you’re just listening to something (e.g. an audio book), I’ve found that having something active to focus on, that doesn’t require any speaking/reading, helps me sit down and focus for much longer. I like arts and crafts, so I do things like sewing and cross stitching to keep my hands busy (a.k.a not squirming in my chair eager to do something), but you can also do coloring books, jigsaw puzzles, etc.! If you prefer something more physically active, you can take advantage of the time you spend on transit, or listen while you work out/go on walks, as well.
3. Breaks, breaks, breaks. I know sometimes we’re in too much of a time crunch to take enough breaks. But, I’ve found that the more overwhelmed, stressed, or other combination of common student struggles I’m facing, the more I need breaks. When I’m dealing with those struggles, there’s a lot of distractions – I’m hungry! What’s that outside my window? Should I take the trash out? Clearly, my brain is eager to be doing anything else but what I need to be doing. Taking breaks (even when I feel like I don’t deserve them) lets me set aside time to indulge in those distractions, without letting them takeover my entire work time. So, I set small goals whenever a distraction comes along (they always do), and tell myself to wait to indulge in those distractions. My brain won’t shut up about doing the dishes? Alright, finish this paragraph, send that email, tackle something on my to-do list, wait for my friend’s lunch break, or work until the clock gets to the 45 minute mark, and then I can go deal with that. If you want more tips on time management, you can find more here!
I hope these tips help you find ways to stay focused in the online learning environment. Let us know in the comments if you have your own tips and tricks for staying focused!