One of the biggest benefits of online learning for many people is flexibility. You don’t have to stick to a school schedule, and you can fit your work into a time that suits you. This flexibility may, however, cause other problems—namely, distraction. Learning how to stay focused while studying is key, as it’s easy to squander your time browsing the millions of other, often more amusing, things on the Internet.
This has become so common, it’s even been named. When we browse, play games or spend time social networking instead of working, we’re cyberloafing or cyberslacking. Studies on how this impacts productivity tend to be workplace based, but their findings can easily apply to online education. A study by Kansas State University estimates that 60-80% of the time an employee is online at work is spent cyberloafing.
With so many distractions lurking on your screen, it’s not surprising that most people will tell you online learning requires a lot of self-motivation. Hopefully you’ll be more engaged in your online education program than many employees feel at work, but it’s still worth looking at ways to stay focused and to remove the temptation to slack off.
You can, for example, use social media or website blockers. These programs allow you to impose external controls on what you’re allowed to view on the Internet. At a basic level, you could simply switch off access to your social networking sites for a set period of time; for more extreme cases, you can set up your computer so that all you can use on it is word processing software. If you find yourself frequently slipping into cyberslacking, then being able to take this kind of control can be a godsend when thesis deadlines are approaching.
Some students also find that listening to music improves concentration while studying. It is best to experiment with this, as some people get distracted by listening to songs with lyrics. A study by the University of Dayton confirmed long-theorized links between improved cognitive performance and listening to Mozart. Many students also find that natural background noises such as birdsongs or rainfall help keep them on track, which is where the Rainy Mood website comes in. The soothing sound of the rain “outside” is surprisingly conducive to work, helping you feel like there’s no better place to be than comfortably inside getting some work done.
Finally, if you find large assignments daunting, you may find that setting short-burst goals helps you focus on online learning more effectively. Apps like Focus Booster time you to do a task for 25 minutes before telling you to take a short break. This is based on the Pomodoro time management technique centered on the idea that short bursts of work combined with regular breaks is an effective way of completing larger tasks. If you feel completely wiped out and unable to focus, tell yourself that you’re only going to do 20 minutes of research or reading, and then take a break. You’d be surprised how often ten minutes turns into an hour, as you find yourself getting more engaged with work you thought you couldn’t possibly manage today just a short while ago.
Do you have any other ways to help stay focused while studying? Let us know in the comments below.