Hack Your Online Class: How to Stay Awake and Alert

This post was originally published on October 26, 2015.

I have a confession to make. Sometimes I color in my coloring book while I’m in class. And you know what? I’m a better student for it.

Photo by Lea Latumahina on Flickr Commons. Licensed by CC 2.0

Photo by Lea Latumahina on Flickr Commons. Licensed by CC 2.0

Staying alert and focused during online classes can be challenging, as other HLS writers have acknowledged. We online students have infinite distractions at our fingertips and nobody to hold us accountable except ourselves. Between Facebook, your dog demanding to be let outside, and that new game you’re addicted to on your phone, it can be hard to stay totally engaged during class. Synchronous classes in particular have no opportunities to pause the lecture or come back later if you’re having trouble concentrating. Based on the conversations I’ve had with other online students, I’m not the only one struggling. 

Friends, we must resist these temptations. I know it’s hard, but in-class time is so, so important as online students. It’s our best opportunity to engage with our classmates, the professor, and the material. As an easily distracted person, here are some of the things I’ve found to keep me focused during in-class time:

  • Close those links! Out of sight out of mind. If you’re not looking at your email, you won’t be tempted to read it.
  • Find your ideal study space. It might be locked in your office, at a coffee shop, or on the couch. Try out a few different locations and see how they work for you. Protip: don’t attend class from bed. I tried that once, after a 12 hour shift nonetheless, and…well, it just didn’t work out.
  • Use your break time! Most professors will allot a five to ten minute break towards the middle of class. Use those few minutes to walk around, stretch, do some push-ups, make some tea, or whatever helps clear your mind.
  • Have an IRL friend or coworker who’s taking the same class? Attend together from the same room. You can help keep each other accountable.

…Okay, now back to that coloring book thing (it’s a coloring book for adults, by the way, and it’s amazing). I’ve found that doing a separate activity with my hands that doesn’t involve reading or watching anything increases my attention tremendously. I’ve been know to knit during class as well, though your thing could be painting your nails or doing origami. Coloring indulges my need to do something with my hands, while keeping my eyes and ears open to the class.

The argument over whether or not online education is as valuable as in-person education is over, in my opinion. Degrees from online schools are just as highly regarded as traditional schools and the coursework just as rigorous. The general acceptance of online education means that more and more schools are adding online courses and even on-campus students are enrolling. This shift towards online education poses new challenges. Students no longer have a typical classroom setting or the social motivation found in a classroom. We have to use online class time wisely in order to make the most of our degrees. It’s up to us to decide what we are going to get out of our education. The first step: staying awake! 

What keeps you focused during class? Do you have any tips for online students?

2 replies

  1. They’ve done studies showing that doodling in class increases attention and information retained so I’m not surprised you’re having success with the colour books! I love that idea.
    – Kate


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