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5 Ways to Maintain Focus When Learning Online

5 Ways to Maintain Focus When Learning Online

Autor: Ines Jurković, Managing Director at COBE Tech

I know people from my work that have learned the basics of programming (and more) using nothing but their computers and the Internet. People like them are disciplined and motivated enough to finish a 3-month online course - in 3 months! Crazy, right? Well, I am not one of those people.

For the past 5 years, I have tried taking many online courses but never really found the motivation to finish them. The truth is, I need more structure and people around me because I am naturally a team player.  Therefore, when I signed up for the Algebra MBA class in Zagreb, I knew I would stay motivated, even though it involved traveling to Zagreb every other weekend. Why is that? Because it involved a classroom, a professor and 25 other students doing this with me.

Fast forward to March 2020 and a massive lockdown. Everything went remote and so did our MBA session. Oh, the terror of the classes moving online! Honestly, I was afraid I would not be able to stay focused and perform as well as I did in the classroom. I was just waiting for us to go back to the classroom. Unfortunately, 4 courses later and we are still online.

Staying focused was not (it still isn’t) easy, but somehow I made it work with a few simple tricks that I will share with you. If you are a student like me, continue reading. And if you are a teacher, one of our amazing MBA professors recently wrote an article about teaching online, so make sure you read it. I highly recommend it.

1. Take a walk around the block

Except for a few students that already work at Algebra, most of us had to travel to class. For some, that included a quick walk from their workplace to the Algebra classroom, for others, it meant taking the tram, and for me, it implied a 2.5-hour drive from Osijek. Although traveling for an hour or two sometimes felt like a drag, I think it really made the difference for me - switching from a work to a student mode was much, much easier.  When you both work and study from the same apartment, plus spend the rest of the day there, everything feels pretty much the same. You lose focus and a sense of time. That is why I found it helpful to close my laptop after I finish work and go out for a quick walk before the class starts. That way I would clear my mind and enter the online class with fresh thoughts. Maybe even fresh clothes. :)

2. Create a no distraction learning space

This one might be hard, especially if you have kids or live in a one-bedroom apartment.

Sitting in one place the whole day is challenging enough itself, so if you are not comfortable at your workspace, it could present an even greater challenge.  I was lucky enough to find a free spot in my apartment to put a proper desk and a comfortable chair in it. To make it even more appealing, I’ve decorated it with a desk lamp, flowers, candles, and a painting I bought from a street artist in Lisbon last year. When I feel a lack of motivation, I look at the painting and it reminds me why I even signed up for class.

Your workspace should be comfortable, but it also needs to be quiet and serve as a motivation to keep going. So decorate it however you want, get a comfortable chair (trust me on this one) and whatever you do, stay away from the couch! I know it looks like the most comfortable place on earth when you are sitting in your chair for 12 hours straight, but it’s a trap. You will fall asleep. I promise.

3. If you wouldn’t wear it to the classroom, don’t wear it to Zoom

Get dressed. Most of the classes are held on weekends when all you want to do is stay in your pajamas and watch Netflix the whole day. Add rainy or cold weather to that and the resistance to stay in comfy clothes, doing nothing, is almost futile. That is why I introduced the Golden rule - if you would not wear it to the classroom, do not wear it to Zoom.

Getting dressed properly can help you mentally prepare for school, but it is also a reminder that this is an academic event. I am not saying you should wear a suit, but try to find a comfortable, yet professional alternative. It might be online, but it is still an MBA study and wearing clothes you would normally wear in class, is a sign of respect for both your classmates and your professor.

4. Keep the camera on

If you are an introvert like me, hiding behind the black screen sounds appealing. First, you turn off the camera, then you move to the couch, and then you are out for the day.

However, when the camera is on, I know I won’t move from the desk until the break, I won’t look at my phone and I will listen more carefully to the professor. Keeping the camera on is a sign of respect towards the class and the professor too. I feel we sometimes forget that our professors are going through a pandemic too. It is not as if they chose to teach online, so the least we can do is turn on the camera and listen to them. Be a sport, keep the camera on and help them lead the class the best they can. It is in your best interest too!

5. Use the breaks smart

During the first online course, I was spending most of our short breaks on my phone checking messages and Instagram updates. What an amazing rest - from one screen to another. If we were in the Algebra classroom, I would spend my break by taking a walk, talking to the rest of the class, and catching some fresh air. Maybe we don’t have a chance to hang out with other colleagues now, but the rest of it we can and should do.
Next time when there is a break, get up, stand up, walk a little, go to the balcony, stretch... Do whatever clears your mind for a minute or two, and make sure you leave all screens behind.

As simple as this may sound, these tricks help me stay in the game. If you already follow some of these rules, you are one-step closer to staying disciplined and motivated in online classes. Life is not going back to normal any time soon, so we might as well start adjusting to the new reality.

Do you have similar tips and tricks? Feel free to reach out in the comment section!