Learning How to Learn Online

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May 29, 2024

By Jeff Simmons, IDLA Superintendent 

A common frustration shared by parents and students of first-time online learners is that students need to learn both the course content and the online learning process. In the online classroom, students learn the same concepts to the same depth as in the physical classroom, but how they learn these concepts is different. One key difference between the online classroom and the physical classroom is that, in the online classroom, students need to be more self-directed.

A physical school has a bell schedule that tells students what class to attend and when. An online school does not. A physical school typically has a schedule for each class daily, dictating where students should spend their time that day. An online school does not. A physical school also has a teacher or another adult who can quickly assist students if they are confused or need guidance. An online may not, especially if students are completing their online courses from home.

Anyone can teach the skills needed for students to become better self-directed learners. As parents, this is an excellent opportunity to come alongside our students. With a little coaching on scaffolding and some support, we can help our students learn how to learn online. Here are a few easy things we can do each week to help support our students:

  1. Create a schedule each week. Not having a regular class schedule in an online course can be both a blessing and a curse. If I don’t have to do something each day, it’s easy not to. As parents, we can help our students build their weekly schedules. Schedules are tricky since they likely include athletics, extracurricular activities, church commitments, and other social activities. Sit down with your student each week, look at the work due for the week, and help them put time on their calendar that will help them balance the work they need to do in their online course with the other commitments they have for the week. Some students prefer to do this with a calendar tool such as Google Calendar, and others like a good ‘ol agenda.
  2. Time Management. Similar to creating a schedule, students need help navigating their weekly schedule. Should they work on all of their math before tackling English? Or should they work on each course each day? Students need help prioritizing how much time they should spend on each course and course tasks during the time they have scheduled each week. Parents can help their students with this as they set a weekly schedule.
  3. Create a space conducive to learning. Each home environment has limitations, but students will learn best in an environment where they can focus. If possible, find an area free of distractions where they can focus on their learning. Some students may work better listening to music with their earbuds in. Some may do better with quiet. Help students create a physical environment that supports the way they best learn.
  4. Check-in regularly. Your students will love this part. 🙂 Check in with them regularly. Ask how they are doing on big projects. Ask if they need to adjust their schedule. Find out where they are struggling and work with them to find the help they need. Utilize tools available to parents, as well. Many online schools use tools that allow parents to access student grades and courses.
  5. Celebrate successes. Celebrate even the smallest successes! This is where students build the resiliency they need to persevere through their next challenge. Focus on growth and effort. Improvement, even if it didn’t reach mastery, is worth celebrating. None of us learned everything well the first time, and those journeys full of challenges brought us our greatest rewards. Help students learn to celebrate their growth, and they will learn to persist more strongly toward challenging goals.

Learning to be a self-directed learner is a skill that students must master. Whether they go to college, launch into their career, or choose another path, they will need to direct their learning in their life. Online learning provides students an opportunity to do so sooner. As parents, we can help support our students so they can find success.

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