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Study Skills: Online Learning Success

Information and tips on studying


It is often misunderstood that online learning is easier than traditional classroom learning. Though the content is the same, the structure that comes from having an instructor in front of students each week helps them focus and brings a sense of accountability. Since those things are less available in the online environment, it is important that you create your own method of organizing, managing time, studying, and connecting. Below you will find some tips to help you do just that!

Time Management

Study Schedule

  • Online courses have the benefit of flexibility, but students who create a study routine are able to manage their workload in a timely manner and avoid cramming the night before an assignment/exam is due. This will help to lessen your stress.
  • Set aside time each day to focus on your classes.
  • Think in one- to two-hour blocks, not lengthy marathon sessions. Research shows that we lose focus if we try to study for long, unbroken periods. Take frequent, short breaks. Go for a quick walk, make a cup of tea, or find a pet to cuddle.
  • Write out a weekly schedule with dates and times for each class.
  • Using a chart like the one below

Weekly time chart

  • Mark assignment due dates on your calendar.

Avoid Multitasking


If you’re doing more work on your own and your time is less structured, you might be more tempted to multitask. Many people think they can do multiple things at once. But research shows us that only about 2% of the population can multitask. Even if you feel like you’re multitasking, you’re probably not... really, you’re switching between tasks very quickly (some call this “micro-tasking”).

The downsides of multitasking and microtasking:

Assignments take longer. Each time you come back to an assignment (from Instagram for example), you have to get familiar with it, find your spot, remember what you were going to do next, etc.

You’re more likely to make mistakes. Distractions and switching between tasks tires out the brain.

You’ll remember less. When your brain is divided, you’re less able to commit what you’re learning to long-term memory (because it doesn’t get encoded properly into your brain).


What to do instead

When you need to study something important, consider The Magic of Monotasking.

  • Focus on one thing at a time.
  • Take breaks between tasks.
  • Consider the “pomodoro method” to help you focus for 25- or 50-minute periods and then reward your-self with 5- or 10-minute breaks.

Stay connected

Stay Connected

With limited  face-to-face time we spend with others on campus, connecting with family and friends in other ways is more important than ever. And staying in touch with instructors, classmates, and group mates is still important for continued classwork. Here are a few ideas:

  • Use free accounts on platforms like Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom or WhatsApp to connect with classmates and meet with study groups
  • Speaking of study groups use an online service like Google Calendar to arrange convenient meeting times
  • Schedule video calls with friends and family. Talking with loved ones is often really helpful when you’re stressed or nervous about something. Taking a break to have a laugh is also important.


Helpful Techniques

Study Skills

Reading for content

1. Choose the best place to read

Consider your learning style and choose the right reading environment. What noise level can you tolerate? Is there good lighting? Consider these three factors: location, atmosphere and distractions. You'll comprehend more if you're in a place that increases your focus and concentration.

2. Preview the material before reading

Surveying the text helps you learn the material more efficiently because it sets a purpose for reading. Read the title to get a sense of the text's key points. Look over the key parts of your textbook: front and back pages, table of contents, glossary and introduction. This will help you digest the material when you finally dive in.

3. Mark key words and concepts

As you read, use a highlighter to capture key information. Pay attention to important terms, definitions, facts and phrases. Don't get carried away with the highlighting—only highlight the information that matters. If you prefer not to use a highlighter, try annotating the text. This involves writing notes in the margins and underlining key phrases.

4. Build your vocabulary

If you come across an unfamiliar word that may be vital to understanding the text, look it up. Use a dictionary or computer while reading. You can utilize online reference sites like and Merriam-Webster.

5. Reference any questions you have while reading

When you ask questions, your reading comprehension improves because you're able to make connections with the text. Read through each section or chapter carefully. Keep a list of questions you think of while reading and look for the answers as you continue.

6. Take notes

As you read, think about what you're reading and take notes. Think about the main point of each chapter you're reading and only jot down relevant information. There are plenty of note-taking strategies (e.g., outlines, mind mapping, bullet points). Good notes will give you a starting point when it comes to understanding the text and writing papers.

7. Paraphrase what you've read

After reading, summarize what you've read in your own words. Summarizing will help you pull out main ideas and take better notes. Creating a summary also demonstrates that you understand what you've read. You can do this by leveraging one of the many note-taking applications available. If you don't understand or remember what you just read, reread it carefully.

8. Review your notes

Reviewing notes is just as important as writing them. Looking over your notes regularly helps you retain information. It also helps you avoid last-minute cramming and exam anxiety.

video lectures

  • Stick to your instructor’s schedule as much as you can. Staying on a schedule will help you have a feeling of normalcy and prevent you from falling way behind.
  • Find out how to ask questions. Is there a chat feature? Is there a discussion forum?
  • Close distracting tabs and apps. Humans are not as good at multitasking as they think! (See multitasking information)
  • Continue to take notes as you would if you were there in person.
  • Watch recordings at normal speed. Research shows that playback speed of 1.5x can lower your retention and can result in lower scores on assessments. Faster playback speeds are worse for complex, multi-step material (which most of your lectures probably are). Remember: this is all about 1.5x. There hasn’t even been research on 2x playback speed, which is probably even worse.

Create a study space

Study Space

  • A clean, distraction-free environment will help you learn and focus better.
  • When setting up your study space, make sure you:
    • Have the required books, materials, and technology for the course.
    • Have headphones for listening to lectures or discussions (especially important in shared spaces).
    • Remove distractions (social media, etc.)


  • ‪Get a little help from your friends (and family)
    • Don’t be afraid to ask friends or family for some of their time to help with your test prep