Young Black female student wearing yellow headphones, smiling at laptop

5 Tips for Focusing and Notetaking in Online Classes

Online learning is now a huge part of many students' lives. Take better notes in your remote classes and stay focused with these helpful tips!

Online education has been growing as a learning option for years. From online higher education options to remote public schooling for K-12, web-based learning programs have existed in many forms. But remote learning became a bit more commonplace in the last year (in case you hadn’t noticed). While there’s hope that vaccination efforts, social distancing, and other measures will hopefully have students back in classrooms and on college campuses by September, remote learning doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Here are some tips to increase your focus and retain more information in your online courses.

1. Limit your distractions

We’re all guilty of thinking we can multitask. And sometimes we can, but often it’s best that we don’t. One of the best ways to focus while you’re learning at home is to remove your distractions. If you’re in a Zoom class, use full-screen mode and close any other windows you have open. If you have a dual-monitor setup, don’t pull up anything on your other screen except relevant course materials or whatever app you’re using to take notes. You can also put your phone on “do not disturb” mode and place it face down on your desk or put it in a different room. If you can’t see or hear it, it’s like it’s not even there. And if you have a smartwatch, make sure that’s on “do not disturb” too—otherwise you might still get those notifications.

Related: 6 Tips to Transition to Online Learning

2. Establish your workspace

Not only is it important to reduce digital distractions, but it’s also crucial to remove environmental distractions. While it may not be possible to completely remove them, there are ways to reduce environmental effects to improve your focus. For example, if you’re sitting down for classes in a bedroom, put your back to the bed. Also make sure it’s made and pile on the pillows or stuffed animals. Take it from someone who loves to sleep: make your bed as uninviting as possible. Otherwise, while your teacher is talking about factorials, you’ll be concentrating on nap-torials.

If you’re taking your classes in a more centralized location in your home, such as the kitchen or a living room, it’s a bit more difficult to reduce distractions. Headphones are a great way to cancel out unwanted noise. You also want to turn away from distractions such as windows looking out on a busy street, the television, or the refrigerator. It’s hard to focus on online classes when you’re thinking about lunch!

3. Try hand-writing your notes

I know what you’re thinking: “Really, grandma? Who uses notebooks anymore?” Studies have actually proven a positive correlation between handwriting notes and memory. Putting a pen to paper is a different sensory experience than typing on a keyboard, and that can help you remember what you wrote better than taking notes on a computer. It also gives you more creative freedom in taking notes, like following the Cornell notetaking method or drawing pictures to retain information—basically, anything you could do instead of bullet points in Word or Google Docs. Handwritten notes also allow you to keep your focus on the class video. If you use a notebook, you don’t have to find a way to balance screen space between Zoom or Google Classroom and whatever you’re using to take naps—I mean, classes.

Related: Secrets to Successful Studying

4. Plan ahead for class

You know what time your class is, so make sure you’re ready to go. Charge your laptop or tablet, or set up your space near an outlet. Have a fresh cup of coffee or a full bottle of water—it’s optional to drink the coffee, but water is essential. Eat a balanced breakfast in the morning or have a quick snack before your afternoon class. And make sure you get to the bathroom just before or just after class. (Guaranteed, the line is shorter at home than it would be at school.)

5. Dress the part

What you wear when you’re taking online classes can absolutely affect your ability to focus. Now, I’m not saying put on your school uniform or get up early to do your full hair and makeup. But make sure you’re not too comfortable. While it’s tempting to wear your pajamas to class, separating your relaxing-at-home clothes and going-to-school clothes can help keep you focused in online classes because you’ll feel more ready for your day. You can still wear leggings or sweatpants…just have class-time leggings and after-school leggings instead.

Related: How to Take Charge of Your Education in Online Classes

There are a lot of simple and effective tips you can utilize to help you focus in online classes—but at the same time, we understand it’s been a tough year. While you should try your best, also recognize when you need to take a step back and take a breather. However you’re conducting your online education, be sure to keep in touch with your teachers, counselors, and advisors because they’re the people who can help you finish this year strong.

For more information and advice about the changes the pandemic has brought to education, check out our COVID-19 student resources page.

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About Kara E. Joyce

Kara E. Joyce is an editor and writer who frequently contributes to CollegeXpress. When she isn’t hunched over editing material, you can find her powerlifting in the gym, pirouetting in a dance studio, or planning her next adventure.


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