Edited by Scott Hawksworth and Sarah Bass. Published November 17, 2015.
Educational technology, and more specifically e-Learning, offers tremendous value to both students and teachers. Both are constantly evolving, and as such, challenges are inevitable. To that end, we surveyed hundreds of e-Learning experts in search of useful tips for teaching and learning online. Our search generated 101 amazing tips, which are presented below. For the first timer to the seasoned e-Learner, you’re likely to find many valuable tips to help you succeed online.
- You can access a pdf of this article by clicking here.
- To see the list of our contributors (and links to their social media accounts so you can connect!) click here.
- You can use the table of contents below to jump to each section of our guide.
- Time Management Tips for e-Learners
- Study Tips for e-Learners
- Useful Apps and Websites for e-Learners
- General Tips for New e-Learners
- Best Practice Tips for e-Learning Educators
- Tech Tips for e-Learning Educators
Time Management Tips for e-Learners
Time management is one of the most important skills necessary to achieve success in the online classroom. Below are a few tips from the experts on how to best manage your time and set goals in an online environment.
- Read the course syllabus and understand it. The syllabus contains the rules and a road map for your success in the course. Taking an online class is not the time for “trial & error” learning. Print the syllabus and post it by your workstation. Understand what the expectations in time and production are for you as a student, and what you can also expect from your instructor.
- Read and follow instructions and directions. Students often take an online class and underestimate the amount of online reading (via content, pdf’s, attachments, etc.) that is required. Re-read instructions to make sure you understand what is being asked of you or explained to you to do. If it helps, print them and use a highlighter. Additionally, as more video is added to online classes….WATCH them, start to finish and don’t be afraid to take notes.
- Do Not Procrastinate! Due Dates and Deadlines are NOT “start dates”. Use the syllabus and put the assignments & assessment dates 5-7 days IN ADVANCE on your calendar AND as reminders in your smartphone. Most online instructors can be flexible but, any request for an extension should NEVER come-in on the night before or on a due date.
- When learning online, the flexible schedule means that it is easy to procrastinate and get behind with your assignments. To avoid this, make a list of everything that needs to get done and be sure to set aside time each week to work on your tasks.
- Treat an e-Learning course as you would a regular classroom. Create schedule and stick to it! It is all too easy to fall behind in an e-Learning context, creating a set work schedule for your course will help you stay on track.
- Even though your online class probably doesn’t have specific meeting times–most don’t, which is one of the attractions–try to act as though it does. That means, as much as possible, scheduling your coursework, setting aside specific times during the week when you plan to work on this class or that class. You’ll find that you do your work more consistently that way and stand less chance of falling behind.
Dr. Cyndi Burnett
- When you are taking an online course, designate a time each week that will be your “class time”. Time will never magically appear to be open. You need to carve out the time, and alert family members/friends that you are in class.
Ana Cristina Pratas
- Pace yourself, stick to deadlines, and create a schedule for completing course tasks.
- Space out your study rather than cramming. There is lots of research to back up this point. You are much better off doing a little study each day or so rather than a lot of hours all at once. Although you get a short-term boost from cramming, you won’t remember much for long.
- Success in online learning depends upon staying on-time and on-track. Familiarize yourself with the “calendar” in your learning management system; use all of the features. Put notifications in your own personal email system to remind you of important deadlines and due-dates.
- Keeping on track in an online class is not easy for everyone. Set aside times each week to “attend” to the details of your online class. Just as you would have a class schedule for on-campus classes, set aside specific times to work on your online class – for example Sundays, 2-5 pm; Tuesdays, 8-10 pm; Thursdays 8-10 pm; and Saturdays 10-noon. Whenever possible adhere to these days/times in a quiet place where you can ignore text messages, telephones and other distractions.
- The power of online learning courses is the ability to go at your own pace, to jump to the areas that are where you need to learn and build upon; focus there and online learning works
- Add due dates to the calendar on your phone so you can be reminded to turn in assignments.
- When enrolled in an online course, look at the syllabus the first day and determine a strategy to manage your time. For example, if there are weekly assignments or due dates, create a time in your schedule to login to the course 3-4 days before something is due each week to complete readings, watch videos, and engage with other course content for that week. Then 1-2 days before the weekly due date schedule time on your calendar to work on the activity and submit. Students often “forget” about the time commitment necessary to be successful in online courses, because it isn’t something in their daily class schedule. If you set a routine and stick to it then you have a great chance at success.
Study Tips for e-Learners
For online students, a study plan is crucial in keeping you focused and motivated. What follows are a few tips that can help you study better and avoid common pitfalls of e-Learning.
- Blocking your Internet connection through tools like SelfControlApp.com (Mac) or GetColdTurkey.com are useful to focus on studying, but only in combination with goal setting, time planning, and mindfulness. It is more important to clearly set apart a block of time and commit to what you want to achieve in it. And when you feel the urge to check Facebook, just sit up straight and concentrate on breathing for a few seconds.
- Every 15 minutes play a mindless video game on your phone or other device for 60 – 180 seconds. It gives the brain a break, and allows it to more sharply focus when you return to your learning.
- The brain is highly effective at digesting 4 – 5 key pieces of information at a time. Write down what those are, and then test yourself through periodic questioning. You will solidify the info in your brain a lot more effectively.
- Studies have shown that readers typically retain about 70% of what they read online, as compared to what they read in print. Simply knowing this–knowing that you’re slightly less likely to remember what you read online–is probably half the battle. Be sure to concentrate fully when you’re reading online. Focus on what you’re reading, and don’t let your mind wander. Even better, take notes on what you’re reading as you go, and then review them afterwards. You can also use your computer’s tools to highlight passages or make notes.
- Set aside a designated time each day to check email and social media streams, and then stick to it! Close your email inbox, Snapchat, Twitter, or Facebook feed during the rest of your study/work time so you’re not distracted from the task at hand.
- Learn in chunks. You don’t have to go through the whole content during one session. Most of the e-Learning courses have bookmarking option, so you can be brought back to exactly the same place when you finished learning last time. 30 minutes learning per day is recommended, but you need to find your own pace of studying. Take short breaks. It will help your brain to relax and stay focused later when you need.
- Test yourself on key knowledge. Rather than just re-reading the same material or watching the same videos over and again, test yourself on the essential knowledge. It is proven to be much more effective. Space out your testing, so that it is an effort to remember – that way it does more good.
- Study a number of subjects at once. There’s also plenty of evidence to suggest that you are better off studying several different subjects at the same time, rather than concentrating on one subject for a long time then moving to another.
- When listening to a lecture, rapidly synthesize the info and take notes (I do it on Twitter), compile those notes a few days later, then write a blog post on those notes to cement what you learned and have something that’s searchable and permanent. You’ll learn much more with this level of timed repetition and you’ll have something permanent to refer back to.
Tips for Online Student Engagement
Learning online doesn’t mean learning alone. In fact, there are a myriad of ways to engage with your peers and instructors, and below are a few great tips on how to get connected and stay connected in the online classroom.
- Communicate. Communicate. COMMUNICATE! With your classmates, TA’s and instructor. Ask questions and demonstrate you are an active participant interested in learning in your class. Unlike an on-site class where raising your hand to contribute or clarify can be difficult, your email, chats, and course discussion boards offer you near limitless opportunities for important interactions. At the same time, be willing to ADD to your class by helping and assisting other students who might post questions in class too. A common complaint by students can be that instructors are unresponsive. The syllabus should explain what you can expect from your instructor and how to get assistance–hold them to it. But, if the class is designed to be an ‘informational download’ only–where students are expected to ‘teach themselves’, make sure it matches your learning style or transfer quickly so you get the learning experience you want and need.
- Collaborate! Work with other students in your group by collaborating online using a Google Document while talking on a Skype or Google Hangout.
- Use Twitter to make connections with other students and teachers. Students who are taking the same class can create a hashtag for the class (or the teacher can create one) and use it to share information with others in the class or to ask questions and seek help. The students can also have a weekly live Twitter chat with fellow classmates using that hashtag. Instructors could use that hashtag to share examples of good work in the class. If there is a certain educational topic students are working on, they can look to see if there is an educational chat dedicated to that topic and join it. For instance, if they are interested in programming in education, they can take part in the #kidscancode chat that takes place on Tuesdays at 8 pm or just search out the hashtag for information and ideas.
- Don’t lurk! Actively engage in both formal and informal discussions. Engaging in formal discussions affords your instructor a better ability to see your thought process and so to better guide the trajectory of your enquiry and reading. Informal discussion in student chat rooms affords you the ability to make connections with fellow students, collaboratively solve problems, and put a personal touch on the class.
Dr. Cyndi Burnett
- Often times in online classes, students are afraid to reach out to instructors. If you are local, set up a time to meet your instructor face-to-face to discuss your goals and expectations for the course. If you are at a distance, schedule a short meeting on skype with your professor so she/he knows who you are.
- Always participate actively in discussion forums. Often, this can be the best way to connect with your colleagues and course instructor, mimicking the experience of learning face-to-face.
- Make an effort to participate in discussion forums if they are part of your course. Connecting with and learning from other students will add an extra dimension to your learning experience.
- Reach out to your tutor at every opportunity. They are there to guide you through the learning experience and make sure you get the most out of your learning.
- Keep in touch with your online instructor; ask if she/he has “electronic office hours.” Check in regularly via the discussion board, online chat or even the telephone.
- Get in touch with some of your classmates – especially the ones who write the best discussion postings. Suggest that you start up a “study group” in which you can go over class materials and prepare for exams. Google Hangouts work especially well for this.
- If the professor running the online course is unmotivated or not responsive, go above them and contact the head of the department. The professor’s goal is to educate you online, not ignore you. When they fail to do so, it is the number two reason why online courses fail. It is a two-way street, not a one-way stop sign.
Ana Cristina Pratas
- Be an active participant! Get to know the learning and environment as well as your course tutors and peers.
- Ask questions! Ask fellow students in the discussion board, ask the professor via email, call or video conference during office hours, or use whatever means necessary to ask your questions. Students often “forget” to be proactive in asking questions in online courses because they don’t regularly see the teacher in person, this leads to lack of understanding and clarification on topics, which in turn leads to reduced success. Be confident, ask questions via whatever communication system is setup by the instructor.
- Make yourself accountable to others. Find a group from the class that you can regularly meet with. This will increase accountability and give you a better chance of finishing the class and doing better too.
Dr. Cyndi Burnett
- Make a friend at the start of class and see if they would be willing to have a weekly Skype meeting with you to discuss course content. Hold each other accountable for the work.
- If you’re unsure, ask. If something is not clear even though you’ve studied it thoroughly, ask your tutor or, if that facility is not available, your fellow students. You are likely to have a forum capability as part of your online course so use it.
Useful Apps and Websites for e-Learners
In addition to the incredible course management systems used by faculty and students for online learning, there are many useful apps and websites to help students further maximize their e-Learning experience. Below are a few notable resources as provided by our tech-savvy contributors.
- Use a site like Verification Junkie. It’s important to know how to evaluate the information you find online and know it is factual.
- Get smart about your online reading workflow. Use tools like diigo.com to organize and annotate online sources.
- Pollev.com app allows you to see student poll results in real time to get immediate feedback; engaging and effective tech tip!
- Every e-Learning activity, whether an online course, simulation, or video lecture, should be followed by a short conversation between the learner and a trusted peer. Remember, the “e” in e-Learning also stands for engagement!
- Zaption turns online videos into interactive learning experiences that engage students and deepen understanding.
- Participate in Twitter Chats to share your ideas and make sure to use the hashtags to follow along. You can ask questions and get some great ideas from these conversations.
- Try using an app like Pocket to collect information you’re interested in reading later. This app could be used for pleasure reading or for research for informational writing.
- If you are not sure how to do something, Google is not the only answer. Head to YouTube to find helpful videos on how to accomplish your task
- Use Twitter and Google Hangouts to connect and learn on a global stage. Use Twitter to find like-minded educators and use Google Hangouts to have face-to-face meetings.
- Create screencasts with tools like Camtasia or SnagIt to show what you know and to help peers understand key concepts.
- Conduct a Google Hangout or Skype interview with a person who is relevant in your field of study to gain additional insight on a topic.
- Have the proper software and be prepared ahead of class. If you do not have access to Microsoft Office, then consider obtaining Open Office free from www.openoffice.org or seek out software as a student. I buy my software from www.journeyed.com at student prices.
- There are tremendous open (free) online resources in almost every class content area. Check out Khan Academy, khanacademy.org. Creative Commons has a great search site through which you may find some alternative text and support materials, search.creativecommons.org. OER Commons also has a great searchable online library of materials, oercommons.org.
Ana Cristina Pratas
- Use social media, especially the G+ stream daily.
General Tips for New e-Learners
For those new to online learning, it’s helpful to get a few general tips and tricks from the experts on how to make online learning the best learning experience possible. All of these tips are helpful and are worth putting into regular practice.
- Become a self-directed learner. We are living in an age of information abundance where there are resources online for virtually every topic, so extend your learning by doing your own searches for articles, videos, and other online learning about the topics being covered in your class/course.
Rita Gunther McGrath
- After being exposed to an idea, apply it immediately to some kind of practical challenge. This will dramatically increase your chances of retaining the concept.
- As soon as you can, explain or teach the new concepts to someone who is not taking the course. The best way to learn something, ironically, is to teach it!
- Have you considered your level of Awareness as you begin participating in your e-Learning or distance learning program? What is your Mood? Is it in the right frame of mind to be open to new ideas? What impacts your mood? Your Surroundings? Time of day? Lighting? Level of Background Noise? Are you someone that enjoys the warmth of a fresh cup of coffee or tea? The Smell? Is there a type of music that inspires you? Do you feel better after a run? Once you notice your mood, observe how to influence your mood and take action to maintain or alter your mood…new possibilities will open up for you in how you approach online learning.
- Be sure to find out how to best communicate with your instructor and classmates. This could include calling, text messages, social media networks or email. By finding out their preferred method of communication it’ll be easier and quicker to get a response using a specific channel.
- Ask questions and engage your instructor in an on-going dialogue. Asking questions of clarification, or running ideas past your teacher is simply best student practice. Engaging your instructor in a dialogue not only clarifies instruction sets for assignments but gives the instructor insight into your thinking process, affording them to ability to give more precise advice and mentoring.
- e-Learning is becoming increasingly mobile. Try to access class assignments, videos, and other materials from a tablet and phone and see what happens. Sometimes teachers don’t even know how mobile-friendly their technology can be.
- Even though you’re taking an “asynchronous” online class, time still matters. Day turns to night. People need sleep. They have lives. Your instructor might be available via e-mail or chat room most of the time–but he or she won’t be available all the time, and it’s unrealistic of you to expect that. Pay attention to what your syllabus says about the instructor’s availability, and then try to respect those boundaries as much as possible.
- Partner with local business with free Wi-Fi (public library, restaurants like McDonalds, churches, etc.) to open their doors at specific times for students and parents without home Internet access to visit to complete their e-Learning projects.
- Prepare yourself and a room you’re going to learn online in. It’s better when you start learning relaxed (short walk is a good idea), have some water around you, as your brain needs it for better knowledge absorption as well as the oxygen, so remember to let the fresh air in the room.
- Find a rhythm. Don’t try to watch videos, read texts, and write assignments all in one day. Get into a regular habit of doing one of each, each day and then keeping your rhythm.
- The first thing to do in any online class is to find what motivates you. Whether it’s a goal for what you’ll get out of the class or a connection you’ll make with the topic, find that goal.
- Leverage the power of hashtags on social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram to help with learning about concepts and topics.
- Take advantage of collaboration tools like Google Docs and Google Slides when working on group projects in the physical or virtual world.
- Find a word processing tool (Google Docs, Pages, Word, etc.) that works for you and then figure out how to export into the tool that works for your teacher. It’s more important to learn how to work in and among various systems and be flexible than it is to get pigeonholed into one application.
- Find a simple tool to take notes and save them across all the devices you use. Evernote, Notes for Mac & iOS, and One Note are all great ways to have a simple digital notepad always at the ready regardless of what device you’re using.
- Self advocacy is a must when it comes to any type of learning. If you are unsure of something speak up! If you need extra help, make sure you get it. Set yourself up to be an expert as well, and make sure that others feel they can come to you for help. You will always get more out of learning when you are connected to others.
Best Practice Tips for e-Learning Educators
While these tips are geared towards educators, it’s helpful for students to know how online teachers engage their students and facilitate effective learning. In fact, the more you know about how your teachers teach and what they expect from you, the better you’ll do in your online classes. We’ve compiled these contributions into two sections, general and tech tips, to help our e-Learning educators share their ideas and methods for teaching online.
- Create a home for your online learning so students always know where to go at the start of class. Use this home page to maximize instructional time, keep students on track, and provide the next activity. That way, all students know where to find directions, homework, and extensions.
- Prioritize making your digital learning experiences accessible for all learners. If you are using a lot of audio, ensure that transcriptions of the audio are available for learners who may be deaf or non-native speakers of the language medium of instruction.
- e-Learning is all about visual communications. When writing your storyboard, don’t write anything that you can’t communicate visually.
- There are going to be times when it is simply not appropriate to use technology in your lessons. Accept that, and embrace that. Trying to shoehorn technology into a lesson where it doesn’t belong is a waste of your time and your students’ time.
- Join online communities of like-minded educators to help stay connected. There are numerous Facebook Groups, Google+ Communities, and LinkedIn Groups that are dedicated to helping teachers connect and learn from each other. Classroom 2.0 is another great resource that is also well worth joining.
- The key to e-Learning is focusing on the content not the device. When learning is made memorable, the students will thrive.
- I believe students should be taught to be device agnostic as you never know what device you will have to use in the real world.
- Always consider your instructional purpose before determining the technology you’ll use. Never use technology just for the sake of using technology.
- Digital access in libraries. Instead of blocking websites or banning mobile devices from within library walls, schools should be finding ways to take part in the digital side of students’ lives. This goes beyond e-book offerings and extends to things like mobile apps and permission-based email reminders of upcoming school library events.
- Remote access. Students should have the ability to tap into school library resources off campus. The most basic necessity is an online card catalogue that is browser-based so students can look for what they need any time of day and from any location. Remote access may also mean digitizing archival photos and documents so students can access them from home and use the information in reports and other assignments. There is certainly something to be said of visiting the physical library for learning purposes, but without instant, remote options, students will bypass any help the school library provides in favor of a more convenient route.
- Don’t be afraid to use ‘older’ forms of e-Learning. This isn’t supposed to be about who can be the coolest, so if using something as old-school as a humble email-list works for you and your students, knock yourself out. I often find that old, simple solutions can be far more efficient than overly complex, feature-laden ones.
- Continue your professional development through joining a Community on edWeb.net and take advantage of their great Webinars! Also follow their hashtag ~ #edwebchat.
- Continue your professional development through staying connected with Twitter Chats. Examples: #edwebchat, #edchat, #TNFlipChat, #BadgeChatK12, #engchat, #sschat, #edtechchat. Check out Cybraryman’s Education Chats page for listing of Twitter Chats by date and time: https://sites.google.com/site/twittereducationchats/education-chat-calendar.
- Set up a Facebook group for students in your class. Even though a lot of systems have a place for student interactions….let’s face it…there are some things you’ll want to discuss outside of the class. PLUS, those relationships will stay intact even when the course is over.
- Motivate students by letting them contribute to the real world. Many students papers can be easily restructured into blog posts, and tools like tackk.com allow students to publish their papers online without the hassle of setting up their own blog.
- Learning is more fun when it is linked to achieving broader life goals. Even a first year student can become a content curator (e.g., using scoop.it) and start developing his or her professional online identity.
- Replace your midterms through automated reading quizzes distributed via the online course compendium. You will free up time for discussing content in class, and your students will thank you for chunking up the midterm into many smaller pieces.
- Use QR code generator to allow parents to quickly access sites for information or signups, such as parent-teacher conferences.
Tech Tips for e-Learning Educators
Dynamic online classrooms call for innovative curriculums and instructions. The tips below offer advice on how to combine technology and education into one amazing space.
- e-Learning design is closely related to presentation design. If you want to design really great e-Learning, start by learning how to design really great presentations.
- Flip the classroom. Instructors could have the students research a topic and create a video lesson that would teach their topic to others in the class. Students could have free reign to choose whichever medium they would like to create the lesson but some suggestions I have are using iMovie or Animoto for photos and movies or the Educreations which is a white board app where students can draw, type, or import photos and record their voice. Or they could create an info-graphic to explain an idea using a site like Canva. Students internalize a topic more if they have to create something around it. Projects could then be posted for others in the class to view.
- When planning and collaborating with teachers on a technology-integrated learning activity, it is crucial to first focus on the learning goals and objectives before thinking about a tool that could enhance the student learning process and outcomes.
- It can be very easy to become overwhelmed with all of the tech tools that are available. Focus on integrating 1-3 tech tools/websites/apps and utilize them very well. Have your students become fluent in said apps/website/tool and integrate it in a variety of ways across your curriculum!
- Focus on CREATING with tech tools in your classroom. Too often technology is used to consume information. Get you students to create with apps like, Popplet Lite, KidBlog, Adobe Voice, Haiku Deck, Chatter Kid, Puppet Edu, etc.
- For teachers in 1:1 or BYOD classrooms, the quickest, most efficient tech support can come from the students in your own classroom. Recruit tech-savvy students to be leaders in your classroom. They can help other students to troubleshoot and fix basic technology problems that would otherwise get in the way of your students’ e-Learning opportunities.
- Teachers love using the tool Blendspace to organize digital content by standard and it is great for all age levels.
- Zeal is a new FREE site that makes grading exit tickets easy. Within 10 minutes you are able to create a free account to view Zeal as a student and as a teacher with their easy tutorial and create a class. The items are Common Core-aligned with 15,000 a question bank and sends the data instantly to the teacher and student in order for them to track their data. Zeal also ‘gamifies’ for the students by offering them to earn coins, move up the leaderboard and use the coins to upgrade their own avatar.
- Have students use iPad apps to show and explain what they know. Examples such as Explain Everything (paid), Educreations, and PicCollage are some examples for students to insert pictures and draw and record their explanations.
- Video is a more engaging form of instruction, in short bursts. Allow students to help each other by publishing user-generated video that will allow them to give tips to other students.
- When integrating technology in the classroom, never assume your students are familiar with or know about the tech you’re looking to implement. It’s easy for teachers to buy into the Digital Immigrant/Digital Native hype. Experience tells us that many students do not feel as comfortable with technology as many adults would believe. It’s important to first learn where your students are in their comfort level to ensure a smooth lesson and minimize student frustration.
- Remember, successful classroom technology implementation does not focus on the technology. A successful tech implementation focuses on the learning first, technology is secondary. A good lesson can be made a great lesson when tweaked and integrated with technology. A bad lesson will still be a bad lesson regardless of the amount of technology you throw at it. Design the lesson first then determine what tech can be implemented to take it to the next level.
- The effectiveness of the e-Learning is great only when educators rely on the right software and tools that promote and inspire learning. Otherwise, the students may easily become distracted by the plethora of online temptations. Among different e-Learning software I would recommend to use Adobe Captivate and Articulate. And don’t forget to try Coursera, edX and other online courses.