I’ve known plenty of smart, successful people who simply weren’t great at focusing, whether that was during tests, when studying, in class, in meetings, etc. I’ve also known people who loved to talk, but hated classroom discussions, or simply chose their words carefully, and thus were mostly quiet.
Point being, personal traits don’t always translate how one might think they should. It’s the beauty of us all being different, and in this case, unique learners.
For parents now playing the role of home teacher during this pandemic, we might be expecting that our straight-A students fall easily into online learning. If they can do it at school, while battling myriad distractions, they should be able to knock learning out of the park while home, right?
Unfortunately, it’s just not the case, and in a shaky period forcing everyone to make adjustments, students and new online learners aren’t spared.
Online school tips
So, while there are a number of factors that go into being a great online learner, many of them revolve around this one key term: focus. If you can get your kid or teen to simply focus, more than half the battle is won.
The tricky thing is that focus hinders on quite a bit.
Here are the tips:
- Be aware of online learning platform differences
- Prepare for learning as kids normally would
- Adopt the mindset that everything else can wait
- Sleep, exercise, and eat well.
- Block distractions with earplugs or headphones
- Address the situation if uncomfortable
- Don’t focus too much on focusing
#1: Be aware of online learning platform differences.
Imagine enrolling your child in a particular school and then having to pull them out because it simply wasn’t a good fit. Unfortunately, it happens, and it’s a gigantic headache logistically.
But one of the benefits of online learning is that you’re pretty much free to try new and different opportunities as you please, thanks to shorter-term commitments, and less formality.
And there are a lot of opportunities.
While each may appear to be the same more or less on the surface, there are a few key differentiating aspects to look out for. For instance, free online learning for kids can offer a drastically different experience than one that has an attached cost or fee. The same goes for traditional online platforms versus those that have a face-to-face or two-way, interactive component.
Anyway, there is a handful of points to consider here, and we have broken down a few of them in our piece on selecting the best online learning platform, but they boil down to these key pieces:
Multi-level engagement: Meaning, not just, “point, click, advance” engagement, but deeper levels filled with challenges for critical thinking, creativity, and problem solving (and not just memorization).
Personalization: If you sign your child up for a self-paced learning experience, there simply isn’t any way that experience can be greatly personalized to fit their needs. Sure, they might be prompted to answer a few guiding questions, after which the computer spits back some guidance, but not much else from there. No person on the other side to ask questions or tailor curriculum should your student get stuck.
Measurable outcomes: No more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks. A silly saying for sure, and we all know the student reciting it probably did something to deserve that “look,” but with online learning, it’s all true to a degree. Literally no more pencils, probably no more books, and no watchful eye of a superior, typically. Plus, perhaps no homework, and often no tests! A child’s true learning dream come true.
Well, for the parent, it’s a nightmare, and could easily lead to nothing more than wasted time only disguised as learning.
So, if the online learning option you choose offers measurable outcomes through the use of a live instructor who can still very much keep an eye on students and track their progress, that’s excellent! If not, we should take the extra step of communicating the need and value of charting outcomes, and offer guidance on how our students can go about doing so.
#2: Prepare for learning as kids normally would.
The antidote for many areas we’d all like to improve; the 3ps—preparation, preparation, preparation.
Nothing can rock focus more than a lack of engagement or confidence. Meaning, those who fail to mentally prepare themselves for an hour of learning will probably spend the first 30 minutes of that hour getting in the groove.
Likewise, and especially in a live learning setting, students who don’t prepare might lack the confidence needed to fully interact with the instructor or student group for fear of embarrassment.
So, by preparing, students can sit down with an online experience with heads held high, ready to engage and absorb.
And note, that preparation will differ by opportunity. For instance, self-paced learners might simply need to put themselves “in the zone” and into the right headspace to be learning, while others in a live one-on-one or small group scenario may actually have homework or prompts they’ve been tasked with.
Now when it’s learning time, prepared students can relax and let their brains do the thing they are there to do - think - rather than worry and scramble, or simply tune out.
#3. Adopt the mindset that everything else can wait.
One reason many are unable to focus during learning time is the nagging feeling of, “why do I have to waste my time doing this?”
For many kids, learning is nothing more than a formality. Thus, they don’t particularly enjoy doing it, don’t look forward to it (and thus don’t prepare), and feel all that’s transpiring is the fact that they’re being kept from doing things they actually want to do..
In order to focus on the task at hand, kids will benefit from remembering that “everything else” will still be there when they’re done testing. It's a key piece of time management for kids—the games, the sunshine, the texting; all things they can’t wait to get to will all be there waiting after their learning sessions.
So, remind students to try their best to focus on the task at hand, knowing it’s just a speed bump they’ll need to deal with regardless (and probably more so if they can't show they're making progress).
#4. Sleep, exercise, and eat well.
Think about how quickly a yawn or thought of “I’m tired” can throw you off the scent of whatever you’re thinking about?
Same goes for the feeling of sluggishness or low self-esteem, or even a gurgling stomach or indigestion.
But beyond all of that, maintaining a healthy lifestyle increases confidence, endurance, and other areas that are surely beneficial to online learning.
#5. Block distractions with earplugs or headphones.
I regularly wear headphones when writing. It doesn’t really matter what kind of music is playing, and honestly, sometimes there isn’t any music playing! But, just having something to block out the extra noise is helpful.
For those learning from video or audio, headphones are required anyway, but for students simply interacting with on-screen, sound-less text, consider fitting them with headphones, and maybe even go the extra step to restrict peripheral vision if possible.
This tip could easily be labeled under “utilize a dedicated learning space” but frankly, one benefit of online learning is the ability to move about as one wishes.
So, kids should definitely still have some sort of “learning base” that removes them from heavily-trafficked home areas, but for the times where they want to learn from the backyard or somewhere else, make sure they’re outfitted with tools to keep their eyes and minds on screen.
#6. If uncomfortable, address the situation.
Just because your home has an office and desk doesn’t mean it’s the best setup for your kid or teen to utilize for their e-learning classes.
Sitting in a rigid seat for prolonged periods of time is enough to make anyone a little stir crazy (I mean, even a bed can be uncomfortable at times). So, if learners are uncomfortable, encourage them to do whatever it is they need to do to get back on track.
Meaning, if they’re often thirsty, have them prepare and come ready with a glass of water. Head itch from the hat they’re wearing? Shower beforehand and ditch the hat.
Do whatever they need to do to decrease the chances that those little annoyances will be distracting their brains during their online learning.
#7. Don’t focus too much on focusing.
I’ll end by saying paralysis by analysis is very real, and sometimes focusing too much on a single thing can prove even more detrimental.
If you are a parent of a new, struggling online learner, first, talk things out, and act as a sounding board. A situation can appear to be much worse and more dire if internalized and obsessed over without an outlet in place to receive the benefits of encouragement and guidance.
Not to mention that these are weird times, simply put. Days are blurring together, and many of us haven’t seen or experienced the real world for quite some time. Thus, we have to roll with the ups and downs of the adjustment period.
Circling back to the differences between online learning options, this is where it’s helpful to maintain a human touch if possible—both in terms of being able to learn from a live instructor who is capable of picking up on the cues of a disengaged student, and to learn with like-minded peers who thrive with that crucial social component.
If you wish to explore something like this even further, Virtual Tech Camps are available now, and delivering those very aspects to thousands of students globally. Structured, weeklong sessions in classes of 5 students max per live instructor, in courses built around Python, Minecraft, Roblox, AI, 3D modeling, and more.