Approximately 98% of universities offer online classes, and roughly 50% of professors approve of virtual schools. The pandemic helped create a cosmic shift in the way people learn, but one issue remains: how to stay focused during online school.
And when I use the term “school,” this can mean:
- Online classes for:
- K – 12
- Online courses
- Corporate training / education
- Any type of distance learning
Unfortunately, many ways to stay focused in school don’t translate to online learning. For example, paying attention in class is easier for many people because an instructor will make sure they’re not on your phone, running to the refrigerator to grab a snack, playing video games or petting their dog.
Virtual classes give you a lot of freedom, but if you think back to your education, you’ll often find no one really teaches you how to stay focused while studying.
In fact, you never really learn how to learn.
If you want to learn how to learn, there’s a great, free class on the subject on Coursera called: Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects. Barbara Oakley does a fantastic job instructing the class, and I’ve personally enjoyed it.
However, today we’re going to hone in on how to pay attention in online classes. We’re going to go through tips to stay focused, how not to get distracted during online school and actionable methods that you can apply to your learning today that will make a dramatic difference in your learning.
How to Stay Focused During Online School Using 9 Simple Hacks
1. Create a Dedicated Study Space
Online students are slowly retraining themselves on how to learn virtually. Want to know how to stay focused on studies? Create a dedicated space. Think of your actual class environment. What does it have?
- A desk or some place to take notes and open a book
- Organization, primarily because the desk is empty
- No clutter
Ideally, you’ll want to pick a room or space in your home where you have everything you need to learn. Notebooks, pencils, pens, organization tools and not much else. Your space should be clear of clutter and have the main goal of making it easy to learn.
If your space is cluttered, your mind will be cluttered.
2. Set Daily Schedules
Many people never truly learn how to stay focused in class because they allow themselves too much freedom. For example, a student in high school isn’t likely to create a strict class time, which includes:
- Class schedule
- Study schedule
Instead, they’ll give themselves little time to focus on schoolwork, cram everything in at the last minute and hope for the best.
Unfortunately, a lot of students do well with this last-minute hustle.
However, if you can’t focus on online classes, it’s eventually going to lead to poor study habits. You should create a schedule that works well for you, and your schedule can even evolve. For example:
- Monday: Class from 9am to 10:30am; Study time from 6pm to 7pm
- Tuesday: Class from 10am to 10:30am; Study time from 3pm to 4pm
One of the best things about remote learning is that focus time can often revolve around your schedule. Sure, if you have strict class start times, you may have less freedom to choose when to go to class, but you’ll always have the freedom to study on a schedule conducive to your type of learning.
You need to get to bed on time, wake up on time and remain consistent. In fact, studies show that your brain works to store external stimuli when you sleep. If you’re not sleeping enough, you’re hindering your brain’s ability to store the information you learn.
3. Create Daily Checklists
Many teens want to know how to stay focused in high school, and one of the best methods is to make daily checklists. If you’re in college, university, taking an online class for leisure or work or anything else, these same to-do lists will work great.
- Create a list of things you need to get done
- Sort your list by each task’s priority
You may list everything from making coffee before class to mental breaks, study breaks, showering, etc.
If you have a daily checklist of all of the major tasks that you need to complete, it will make your day – and learning – much easier.
4. Block Background Noise
If you’re at home and hear someone else in the house talking or watching their favorite television show, it’s going to be very distracting for you. White noise is an excellent option because it will block noise so that you can focus on learning.
However, you need to find a way to block background noise for yourself.
Learning styles are different, so you may find that you’re best able to block noise with:
- Noise blocking headphones
- Classical music
- White noise
Simply find a way to ignore the noise and focus on your academic success.
5. Use Offline Tools
Education really has two parts:
Your professor or teacher may spend an hour teaching you a subject that you study for four hours on your own. A major issue when people learn how to focus on online school is that they do everything online.
By everything, this means that they take all of their notes online, study online and go to class online.
If the Internet is down for a few hours, they shrug and just skip the day’s learning. You should be utilizing offline tools to help you study, too. A few of these tools are:
- Physical notebooks
- Stored media (offline mode)
In fact, a 2009 study suggests that handwriting may provide better recognition and recall than typing. Brain imaging seems to back this theory, too. So, if you’re taking notes online, it may be beneficial to start writing these notes out for better recall and also to use them offline, too.
How To Focus on Online Classes by Eliminating Distractions
When first researching how to stay focused during online school, it was apparent that time management and eliminating distractions would be crucial to your success. As someone that has been running a business from their house and learning online for over 10 years, I have a lot of firsthand experience on distractions.
And while I don’t have an answer for a needy dog wanting to play catch midday, I do have a few great, personal tips on eliminating distractions for long periods of time.
A few of the tips that work well for me to get rid of distractions are:
6. Create a No Person Allowed Space
Distractions are often associated with notifications on your phone, but some of the main distractions exist right in your home. For example, dogs, kids, parents, spouses and everything in between can become a distraction.
Actually, procrastination plays a major role in these distractions, too.
If you don’t want to log into your online class, you’ll decide it’s a great time to go ask a random question to anyone in the house.
However, you’re just putting off the inevitable and will need to go back to studying eventually. One method that works wonders for getting rid of distractions when studying is to make your designated study area your own space.
No one is allowed in this space while you’re studying.
Put a sign on the outside of the door. Lock the door. Do whatever it takes to keep other people from distracting you while you’re learning online.
7. Block Non-essential Notifications
Notifications on your phone, and to a lesser extent your computer, are going to be very distracting. The average person receives over 63 notifications a day, and if you’re trying to get anything done, you’ll quickly find that your productivity rate plummets from a single notification.
A few ways to block notifications are:
- Turn your phone on airplane mode
- Turn off all notifications
- Use an app
- Turn on Do Not Disturb Mode
Blocking notifications will allow you to focus on online courses and school.
8. Block Distracting Websites
One of the best tips for how to stay focused at work also applies to learning online: block distracting websites. There are numerous, technical ways to do this, but one of the easiest methods is to use a browser extension.
A few of the best options available, include:
If you don’t see the browser you use listed above, you’ll surely find equivalent options available.
9. Block Social Media Channels
Social media wastes 145 minutes of people’s time per day. Imagine your boss or teacher telling you that you need to spend 2 hours and 25 minutes of your day doing more work. Instead, you’re losing this same amount of time on social media.
Using the same extensions above, you’ll want to block all, non-essential social media channels.
By non-essential, we mean any social media channel you’re not using for school or your course. Additionally, you’ll want to shut off notifications on your phone or simply turn it upside down while you’re studying.
Figuring out how to stay focused during online school or classes takes a lot of time and effort. Everyone has a different attention span and learns in their own unique way. However, the tips above are a good starting point that you can build off to find your own ways to stay focused when learning online.
Mike’s an obsessive gnome, always worried about bettering himself, overcoming physical limitations and trying to grow his homestead. He’s a former computer programmer, turned researcher/writer with a focus on health and wellness.