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Five Research-Based Study Strategies for Online Students

The EvoLLLution | Five Research-Based Study Strategies for Online Students
Educators can implement a range of specific interventions and tactics to maximize student learning in the online environment.

Online education allows students to work at their own pace and customize their learning, but it also brings a unique set of challenges with it.

Online students are often more susceptible to distractions, and without the face-to-face support from teachers and person-to-person feedback from peers that traditional students have, they are more prone to procrastinating, which can eventually cause them to fall behind.

Fortunately, over the years research has uncovered plenty of strategies to enhance learning, and the following research-based tips are guaranteed to help online students work more efficiently.

1. Tasks can be made harder in order to block out distractions

What can students do to stay focused when studying in noisy or otherwise distracting environments? The solution, according to research from the University of Gävle in Sweden, could be as simple as making tasks more difficult.

The researchers explain that increasing the difficulty of a task or introducing “desirable difficulties,” can facilitate memory and problem solving because it causes students to use deeper processing strategies and improves their performance, especially when studying in noisier environments.

For example, someone studying in a coffee shop that’s buzzing with activity could switch to a more difficult-to-read font to increase their concentration.

2. Handwritten notes are more effective than digital ones

Most students these days are accustomed to taking notes on computers or even touch screens, and the practice of putting pen to paper has become a rarity.

However, research shows that the use of our hands plays an important role in learning as it requires us to shape each letter individually and helps restrict our visual attention to the point where the pen hits the paper. It also takes longer to write by hand, which gives the brain time to process any new information it may be receiving.

One study even found that different parts of the brain are activated and recollection is better when someone reads letters that have been learned through handwriting as opposed to typewriting.

Of course, it’s not practical or feasible for online students to use only a pen and paper, but they can certainly benefit from taking down important notes by hand, especially when learning new material.

3. Learning should be spaced, not crammed

It can be tempting for students to put things off until the last minute, especially when they’re given a more flexible schedule as with online learning. But numerous studies have shown just how important it is to space learning out over a longer period of time.

One study in particular, published in the journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that taking a one-hour break between learning sessions can greatly improve a person’s ability to retain information for longer periods of time.

So rather than committing to long study sessions or dedicating just one or two whole days to their studies each week, students would be better off fitting in shorter, but well-spaced sessions each day.

4. Use frequent testing as a learning tool

Testing is one of the most effective ways to learn, and research shows that it can improve learning for students of all ages, primarily because of the feedback it leads to.

A study carried out by two psychology professors from the University of Texas at Austin showed that students who received recurring and immediate feedback on their performance through daily quizzes performed better in other classes, both in the semester and in subsequent semesters.

Even if an online course doesn’t have frequent testing built into it, students can still test themselves by using study apps that allow them to create flashcards and quizzes based on the material they are learning at the time.

5. Implement short, energetic breaks during study sessions

It’s important for students to take frequent breaks throughout each study session to clear their head, and research shows that active activities could be particularly beneficial to the learning process.

Exercise is known to boost cognitive function and even promote the growth of new brain cells, and one study in particular showed that just 12 minutes of exercise was enough to boost students’ selective visual attention and reading comprehension.

Researchers in Edinburgh also found that going for a brief walk out in nature, such as a park or other green space, can help ease brain fatigue, restore drifting attention and sharpen thinking. So taking a short break to walk outside or even jog in place could help keep students sharp and motivated when studying from home.

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