By Mike Johnson, director of online tutoring platform PiTutor
Right now you will be getting bombarded with resources from school and expected to learn independently, but where were the lessons on independent learning when you were actually in school?
So it’s understandable if lots of you and your parents feel like your new way of learning presents its own challenges, but with a few key techniques self-teaching online is definitely possible, and to prove it, here’s a few highly successful and self-taught people who did it before the internet was even a thing:
Here are a two things I have picked up working as an online tutor for the last couple of years:
2. Too much of a good thing
Online resources are great, but if you consume too much of the same content in one go it is very unlikely you are going to remember it.
It feels really productive to watch a whole series of videos, take active notes and then answer a bunch of past paper questions which by the end you are getting correct 100% of the time to the point it’s becoming easy. If I ask you next week you’re probably not going to remember a whole lot.
“But..” you protest, “isn’t that what you said before? I actively engaged in the content by making notes and thinking about the meaning, and then I answered questions to engage my brain and check that I’ve actually learnt the content. What more do you want from me??!!!”
Fair question. Now you are using all the right techniques – which is great – but that’s still not enough. It’s not your fault though! The way that most educational content is organised simply doesn’t agree with how we know your brain works.
Pretty much every textbook that you’ve ever seen is organised by topic, and within each topic, there is a section with information and then there will be a bunch of similar questions so you can put the knowledge you’ve just read into practice. When you practise a lot of the same questions, your brain will be very good at adapting to the method and replicating it.
The problem here is that this is all happening in your working memory. Your goal is basically to get the things you practise from your temporary ‘holding pen’ – working memory – over to your long term memory. The best way to do this is to spread out your practice over a period of time in much shorter bursts.
So let’s put it all together. First, you need to actively engage with online resources by making notes PROPERLY – in different formats while stopping often to think about meaning to make sure you understand. Now you leave it alone for a little while and then you do some retrieval practise using your own flashcards or online quizzes. Just 25 minutes every so often AT LEAST 3 times is good. If you can do both of these; active learning and retrieval practise, you are taking advantage of two of the most powerful learning methods currently known to science!
Online learning is still new and will take some time to adjust to. Hang in there. There is the inclination to see this all as some force of necessity, rather than an opportunity. As we begin to come out of lockdown, we might see our progress with online learning as the (potential) beginning of a new era for general education.
Mastering these tools now carves out another fork in the road, building on the traditions of old and making use of new technology to expand the limits of academia. It may seem a little overwhelming at the moment, but how we decide to learn from this experience will pave the way for new generations to get the most out of school.
So work hard. Focus on active learning and balanced techniques. Find new ways to learn independently and, above all, try to have a little fun with it.