Take the bull by the horns

June 2020

Paul Merison has 10 top tips to help you study more effectively online.

The coronavirus outbreak has resulted in face-to-face campus education being banned in many countries for the foreseeable future. If you want to study right now, it is going to be online.

I have been involved in providing online learning to students worldwide for 12 years. In addition, all of our UK campus students have had additional free access to our online classes for many years.

As a result, our college has experienced both the positives and negatives of online education and we have learned from the process. Here’s my advice to students.

1: It can be too convenient

Many students like online because they can study on their own anonymously, whenever they like, wherever they like. Lots of flexibility and no embarrassment if you say or do something wrong as nobody knows who you are. Nice.

However, in a classroom you get to hear what others are thinking, discuss your concerns with fellow students and as a result you have a better feel for how you are progressing.

Learning is not meant to be a comfortable process. The more comfortable you feel, the less you are learning. Anonymity might feel good, but it is not helping you.

2: You need to be disciplined

Going to a campus class, same time every week, forces you into regular organised learning. Online is different. Whatever structure your online provider gives you, it is a lot easier not to do it and to fall behind and then defer or drop out completely.

Set yourself some personal deadlines on top of whatever the tuition provider sets.

3: It can be dull

What would you rather do – watch football on tv, or go to the actual game? Watching anytime anywhere is certainly convenient. But choose a provider who has thought about keeping you engaged, and who is not simply lecturing at you.

4: Talk to your tutor and other students

Online, nobody knows who you are, your problems, your worries. Engage with your tutor, so they can understand you and what is best to make your studies successful. When your tutor asks or emails, reply, and aim to get some back and forth going. Use the student discussion forum – even if only one or two others do, the opportunity to test your understanding and approach with peers is invaluable. Learn by discussing.

5: Be active not passive

Many students now expect information to be delivered to them via their Twitter feed or similar. Your provider will have an online platform loaded with useful content. So does the professional body whose exams you are sitting.

Go explore, do not wait for it to be delivered into your lap.

6: Demand more from your provider

Many tuition providers seem to have just taken classroom lectures and added a camera. Many have taken the tutor’s face (and therefore enthusiasm) off the screen entirely, and what you are left with is a slow painful death by Powerpoint.

Use a provider who adds face-to-face mentoring sessions, and whose tutors are on screen and asking students, not just telling students.

7: Choose the best provider, not the funkiest website

To learn, you need good tutors who help you to construct your own understanding. The online technology is a support for the tutors, not the other way around.

Poor quality tuition does not become fabulous by putting it online.

8: Go for live and interactive, not just recordings

Recorded classes put online will no doubt be cheap. But then so is a second-hand textbook on eBay.

Learning is an active process. Your brain needs to be challenged and you should be asking questions and getting immediate answers, so you can ask more questions. Recordings, like study manuals, are meant to be a back-up to studying, not the primary source.

9: Don’t just dismiss online learning as ‘not for me’

Many theorists believed that each person has a preferred learning method that works best for them. This has been totally disproved in recent years. You might think you prefer classroom over online, or pictures and diagrams over words, but all the research shows that everyone learns best using a variety of all approaches. Don’t miss out.

10: Use the current situation to explore your options

All of us are having to rethink how we do things under the current restrictions. If you have never looked at what providers are offering online, now is the perfect opportunity.

Your learning experience will be changed forever.

• Paul Merison is Director of ACCA courses at LSBF