How to stay focused during online learning

Most students around the world have experienced some degree of disruption to their schooling over the last 18 months. Thankfully most schools have developed ways to continue lessons, albeit online, which has managed to keep some levels of consistency. Naturally, this is no substitute for classroom learning, but it is an excellent alternative during extremely trying circumstances for everyone.

Most international schools in Hong Kong have conducted lessons through apps such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom. However, this has presented problems for teachers who have noted that some students may have difficulty remaining focused during the lesson. While this is understandable, it will inevitably have a detrimental impact on results and performance in the longer term. It is vital that students devise techniques to help them remain focused as online learning may become more prevalent in the future. Here are some of our tips that may help.

1. Find a quiet place to work

No one had ever anticipated that students would be spending all day staring at the screen, so, of course, no one was really prepared. While students may be used to do homework surrounded by their creature comforts and distractions, lesson time is entirely different. The temptation to lie on your bed, listen to music or play a game can become too much for some, but you must find a quiet place to work away from distractions.

You should set your workstation up at a comfortable desk with your seat height adjusted correctly and ensure sufficient light. Try to keep the doors closed while working to avoid distractions such as other family members or pets visiting your virtual classroom. The room is now your workplace and should be treated as such by both yourself and other family members.

2. Avoid social media

Why social media has many benefits, it can be a massive distraction with notifications and messages continually popping up on your screen. Of course, keeping in regular contact with your friends is essential, but you need to be disciplined and set a time to do this. If you keep stopping to check your phone, your productivity levels will be seriously reduced. You could try turning your phone off, putting it in another room or putting it on aeroplane mode.

If you are an avid follower of social media, you could use it as a source of motivation. For example, if you work for one hour, you can spend 15 minutes on social media. However, you need to be careful if doing this that the 15 minutes doesn’t become a lot longer!

3. Plan your week in advance

With online learning, there will be far more emphasis on planning your own timetable of learning. People prefer to work at different times, with some preferring mornings and others at night. It would be best to choose whatever works best for you, but you must develop and stick to a routine. Planning your week in advance will help you to stay on track and focused. Remember, online lessons will be a fixed time, so make sure you have included them in your timetable.

4. To-do lists are useful

Compiling a to-do list may sound petty and a waste of time, but they serve an essential purpose and ensure that you don’t forget things. If you formulate your list early, you can prioritise tasks and appreciate which will take longer than others. It is an incredibly useful skill to learn and one which you may rely on in later life.

5. Take notes

Just as you would in class, it is advisable to take notes during the lesson. It will help you remain focused and give you a point of reference that you can refer back to. Taking notes will also provide you with something to do with your hands as remember the whole class can see what you are doing! Don’t forget to ask questions or ask the teacher to repeat something if you are unclear. As much as possible, you should treat this as a regular lesson and try to cancel out your surroundings.

6. Wear headphones

Some people’s homes are inevitably noisier than others which can cause a distraction. Even if you work in a quiet space, using headphone, especially modern noise-cancelling ones, is advisable. It will mean that you can hear the teacher and your peers far clearer, and if they incorporate a microphone, they will be able to hear you. Some people like to listen to music while working if you are one of these people, we would suggest that you continue to do so, but don’t let it become a distraction!

7. Have a clock in the room

You must structure your day carefully, and this includes having sufficient breaks. If you plan to do an hour’s work, make sure you do so, but equally, you should take planned breaks. Doing too much can be just as harmful as not doing enough, especially if it becomes a habit.  

8. Drink plenty of water

When we become immersed in work, it can be easy to overlook some of the things that we need to do to ensure that we function correctly as human beings. You must remain sufficiently hydrated, as even becoming mildly dehydrated can impact concentration. You could bring a bottle or glass of water to the room with you; remember to keep it away from your computer in case you spill!

9. Eat the right foods

It is very easy to binge on crisps and chocolates when you are at home. While it is essential that you aren’t hungry, you should try to eat the right foods. Aim to eat high-protein food as this will provide energy for longer, while sugary foods may cause your energy levels to crash. Remember, your overall health is crucial, particularly at a time when you may be getting less exercise.

10. Get enough sleep

We can be all guilty of stopping up later than we intended, but getting sufficient sleep is essential when it comes to retaining your focus. Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time as the body will appreciate regular patterns. Quality sleep will improve your moods, memory, appearance and your grades.

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