5 Ways to Improve Your Learning With Online CoursesOver the past few years, access to education has been revolutionized: Flip on your screen, login, and start learning. Online courses (e-learning) offer students the flexibility to master new skills and concepts on their own time and at their own pace.

But just like anything else, e-learning can still be improved—or, at least, your use of it can be. Here are five tips to optimize your online learning experience.

 1. Choose the right atmosphere.

One of the nice things about learning online is that you’re not stuck in a stifling classroom that you had to schlep through all sorts of weather to get to.

At the same time, though, those classrooms are areas that are dedicated to learning, and that singular purpose can make it easier to focus.

Give yourself the best chance of retaining information by setting up your computer in a quiet, low traffic area of your house with good lighting. Be careful to avoid comfy sofas and chairs—getting too comfortable could lead to nodding off instead tuning in.

 2. Break it into bite-size sessions.

Remember, online learning is all about flexibility. Just because a video is a half hour long, doesn’t mean you have to watch that full half hour all at once. In fact, since scientists seem to think that the adult attention span is capped at about twenty mintues, you probably don’t want to.

Feel free to take a break from your e-learning once you feel your attention starts to wane. Get up, walk around a bit, get yourself some water or do some other task for a few minutes before diving back in again. Remember, once your attention starts to wane, you’re not going to retain information well, anyway. Might as well give your mind a chance to rest!

 3. Learn when you’re freshest.

Unlike with real-world classes, you’re not beholden to the school’s or the professor’s schedule—you can learn whenever works for your schedule. Be sure then, to take inventory of when you’re at your best.

Scientists studying sleep and productivity have slotted people into three groups: larks (early birds), owls (night owls) or hummingbirds (right in the middle). If you’re a lark, you’re usually up early and tend to be freshest in those early hours, so you should try to log on to classes then. If you’re an owl, you’re up late and may learn best then.

Try a few different times of the day to find which works best for you, but try to avoid watching your classes right after a meal—almost everyone is too sleepy to learn well then.

4. Watch and re-watch.

Optimizing your retention of the information in your course isn’t just a matter of watching the video. To best retain and learn the concepts, you’re best off adding a few extra steps.

Try watching a video one time through without taking notes, just focusing on listening to the information. Step away for a bit (an hour or a day, if you have the luxury), then watch the video again—this time, taking notes.

The second time through, you’ll have a better idea of which concepts you need to write down and you won’t have to divide your attention between listening, assessing information and note-taking. Taking notes on the second viewing may also help you to remember the information even better than if you’d taken them on the first.

 5. Join the community.

One of the downsides to not sitting in a classroom with 25 other like-minded students is that you’re missing out on interactions with people who are learning the same things you are.

Many e-learning sites are trying to fix this by creating group areas for their students. Some offer forums where students can chat, others offer areas for students to post their homework/projects and comment on others’ and some sites have private Facebook groups where students can share, chat, or even make plans to meet-up for real-world study groups.

Do you have any e-learning tips I’ve missed? Let us know in the comments below!