There’s no question that the internet has changed and improved upon many aspects of our lives. However, perhaps the most important are the changes it has produced in education. A society is nothing if its citizens aren’t adequately educated and informed about the world around them.
The internet has changed how we learn in so many ways. For one, it has made self-learning easier than before. To learn about something or answer a question, all you need to do is type it into a search engine, and voila you have the answer.
But it goes further than this. Now, it’s possible to enroll in entire degree programs and other forms of formal education, all of which can be conducted and concluded in an entirely digital environment, creating an opportunity for this generation to be the most educated yet (if it chooses to be).
However, as is the case with nearly everything in this digital world, navigating the online learning space can be a real challenge. There are so many different options that it can be really easy to get overwhelmed. To prevent this from happening and provide you with what you need to learn online, we’ve compiled this list of tips for online learning for the entire family.
Online Learning Statistics in 2020
To give you an idea of how big of a trend online learning is, take a look at these stats:
The Benefits of Online Learning
Before we talk about the specific ways you can help yourself learn online, let’s review some of the benefits and downsides of online learning. Knowing these will help make it clear why we are offering the tips below. The most important of the many benefits of online learning are:
- Learn what you want – The expansiveness of the internet means that there is no shortage of topics you can study. You aren’t limited by what’s offered by your local educational institutions. Instead, the world is your oyster!
- Learn when you want – Again, unlike traditional learning arrangements, you are not forced to follow many, if any, schedules or time tables. Instead, you can go at your own pace and learn when it is easy and convenient.
- Earn real degrees – If you’re learning so that you can get a diploma or some other certification that will open up additional employment opportunities, remember that many accredited online programs will give you a completely official degree when you complete them and allow you to walk away with the same credentials as someone who completed an in-person degree.
- Material for all ages – Because so many people are out there making educational material and promoting it on the internet, there is something for everyone. This means online learning is available equally to kids and adults.
- Cost savings – Many online learning programs are free, and those you need to pay for are often much cheaper than in-person degrees. Of course, if you enroll in a full-time program at a university or college, this may not be the case. But it’s often true that learning online will save you money.
The Downsides of Online Learning
While learning online has many positives, there are also a few negatives you should keep in mind and try to avoid as you embark on your digital learning experience, such as:
- Lack of personal touch – Some people want or need the experience of being in a physical classroom, and the reality is that learning online will not provide this. Even more interactive arrangements that include video and voice calling may leave you wanting. The lesson here is that online learning, while great, isn’t always for everyone, especially those with more demanding educational needs.
- Lack of practical application – In most cases, the learning you do online will be mostly theoretical, especially when studying something related to science. To do labs or other real-life simulations, you may need to either invest in the materials required to do them, or you may need to supplement your online education with an in-person component. Again, this depends heavily on the subject you choose to study.
- The need for self-discipline – Because online learning is often self-guided, the onus of learning is much more on you than in an in-person environment where there is often more accountability. Some prefer this laid back environment, but others will struggle to adapt to it. Again, this is all personal style and preference, but it’s something to keep in mind when you first start looking into online learning.
- More work? – Anecdotal evidence suggests that online learning is a bit more work than in-person education. Some things, such as class participation, are measured based on your online activity rather than what you do in class. In other words, to get recognized as an active participant, you may need to contribute to an online discussion forum, which means writing and time, instead of simply speaking up in class, which requires less preparation.
In general, these “negatives” can be avoided with the right approach. Still, some people are simply not suited for online learning, and it’s essential to be aware of this when starting a digital educational program.
How to Learn Online: Kids
One of the most challenging things about learning online is knowing where to look for materials. Since we’re focused on helping the entire family figure out how to learn online, here are a few great resources for kids looking to learn online:
- ABCMouse – Designed for kids aged 2-8, ABCMouse has an extensive curriculum, including math, science, social studies, reading, and art. This is a paid platform, but it’s well worth it if you want your child to have some high-quality practice.
- PBS Kids – a completely free website that offers educational material on a wide range of subjects. PBS Kids is designed to encourage kids’ curiosity and also help them develop critical thinking skills, two abilities that will take them far in life.
- Coolmath – As the name suggests, Coolmath aims to help make math – often everyone’s most hated subject – as “cool” as possible by using games and other interactive lessons. It’s been around since 1997 and is still helping change opinions about math, a subject that, if your child learns to love it, will open so many doors for them down the road.
- Reading Eggs – Designed based on the most recent research about the effective methods of teaching reading. This platform aims to not only teach your children but make learning fun, and the results they’ve achieved show that they know what they’re doing. To help your child catch up, keep up, or move up, consider Reading Eggs.
These are just four of the many online platforms out there designed specifically to help children learn. These don’t even include the many resources schools are already offering. In fact, in many cases, schools may have login information for paid platforms that will allow you to access them free of charge. So, give these a try and talk to your child’s teachers to see if there are any other tools out there that will support them in their educational journey.
How to Learn Online: Adults
In addition to the many resources out there for children, there are also tons of options for older learners, from young adults to the elderly. Here is a summary of some of the most popular and well-reviewed:
- Online degree programs – Many colleges and universities offer online degree programs and certifications, allowing you to earn a diploma without leaving your house. In many cases, it’s also possible to enroll in just one course that interests you, especially if you’re a senior citizen, which helps cut down on fees.
- Coursera – By partnering with major colleges and universities worldwide, Coursera offers high-quality courses and course modules that are often taught by professors well-renowned in their fields. Upon completion, you receive a real diploma that is fully accredited. Some courses are free, but some aren’t. Either way, joining a course gives you the chance to learn and participate in a truly global environment.
- Udemy – A similar platform to that of Coursera, Udemy is different in that it also allows users to create and promote their own courses, which allows for a wider range of materials. These courses are vetted before being offered, ensuring their quality and accuracy.
- Open Source University Materials – Many institutions in the United States, including MIT, Stanford, Harvard, Yale, and more, offer open-sourced course material that you can access entirely for free.
- Masterclass – This online platform has loads of materials made by so-called “masters” who are willing to teach you their trade. You’ll see things like “Learn writing from Steven King” or “Learn Coding from Mark Zuckerberg,” among many others. They tend to be short and to the point, but it’s not often you get such insight into how such prominent figures built their success.
- Professional Development – Many companies and organizations are turning to eLearning to help their employees learn new skills and better themselves. Ask someone at your company what’s available to you, as there may be some great resources you can use, many of which will be paid for by the company itself.
- Project Gutenberg – Although not a formal education platform, Project Gutenberg is where you can find digital copies of thousands of books now in the public domain. Interested in reading Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations” or Isaac Newton’s “Principia Mathematica?” If so, head here for a free copy (and then maybe enroll in a course so you can understand what the heck they’re talking about!)
These are just some of the many different platforms out there, and we didn’t even mention YouTube, which can often be a great place to get an introduction to a topic or learn a new skill. However, be wary of YouTube since anyone can post, so it’s not always a guarantee that the information is 100 percent accurate.
Warning: When searching for opportunities to learn online, you will undoubtedly come across degree programs offered by what are known as “for-profit” colleges. The University of Phoenix is perhaps the most well-known. We don’t want to make a blanket statement and say “avoid” these, but they don’t have the best reputation and have been involved in lawsuits due to some less-than-savory practices.
As a result, we would suggest you always double-check the institution’s credibility before spending any money on a program. After all, this is your education, and it’s not something with which you can really afford to take chances.
Tips for Online Learning That Everyone Can Use
Now that you know all the benefits and downsides of online learning and some of the leading options out there that will help you get smarter, here is our complete list of tips to help you make the most out of your digital education:
Make Sure You Have a Good Internet Connection
The first thing you want to do is make sure your internet connection is up to the task. Slow-loading videos, unsaved progress, upload mishaps, and much more can occur when you rely on a poor internet connection.
We recommend you have a broadband connection (cable, fiber optic, or DSL) that gives you at least 25 Mbps of download speed. However, if there are multiple people in the home and you plan on relying heavily on either watching videos or chatting with others via Skype, Zoom, or Facetime, we recommend having a connection of at least 50 Mbps.
Of course, the exact speed you need depends on what you are doing; just reading and writing might not need the speed outlined above. Consider this before you start learning online, as it can significantly impact your overall experience.
Make Use of Forum and Discussion Boards
Discussion is one of the most important parts of education. Asking questions, debating points, and listening to others is crucial to expanding your worldview and becoming a more informed person.
When learning in a regular classroom, this is easy – all you need to do is raise your hand. But in an online environment, you need to make a more concerted effort. This means participating and contributing to online forums and discussion boards. It may be a bit tedious at first, but you’ll soon find it very rewarding.
Yes, sharing your ideas and opinions can be intimidating, but remember, you’re online. For some people, the digital wall can be empowering, so we encourage you to try and push back your reservations and become an active learner.
Use Updated Technology
Ensure all the tech you’re using, such as your phone, computer, tablet, webcam, web browser, word processor, etc., are all as up-to-date as they need to be. This doesn’t mean you need to buy new equipment (that would be very expensive), but just make sure you’re not trying to live stream a class on a computer that’s 15-years-old. This will get very old and very stressful very quickly.
Create a Dedicated Learning Space
Just because you don’t need to “go” to school doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go through the same motions. Pick a room, or a part of a room, and make that your dedicated learning space. Remove distractions such as TVs and other electronics, and whenever possible, create a barrier between you and the rest of the house (a closing door is ideal, but whatever you can muster will work).
This will help train your brain to know when it’s time to study and when it’s time to have fun, for when you’re in this space, the only thing you do is hit the books. It will also signify to the other people living in the house you’re studying and need to be left alone if possible.
Create a Schedule and Stick To It
Along similar lines, it’s important that you create some sort of a study schedule and keep to it. As mentioned earlier, studying online from home is liberating but requires a bit more discipline than other learning arrangements. So, while you technically have the freedom to study when and where it makes sense for you, we recommend taking a more structured approach.
How you do this will depend on you. For example, you can plot out your study times for the next week or even month, or you can be a bit more free-flowing and choose which blocks of time you will reserve for learning as you move through your days. Either way, make sure you are consciously setting aside time to study and honor these commitments. Otherwise, you might find yourself putting things off until the last minute and then stressing because you’ve left everything for right before the deadline.
This is particularly important for kids, and parents should work with them to plan out when they’re going to study and when they’re going to have fun, for if we leave them to their own devices, most kids will push their studies away until they’ve landed themselves in a pickle.
Take Breaks and a Digital Detox
Whether you’re working or studying from home, there is often this feeling that you can and should always be working. Downtime feels like an opportunity to be productive, and if you’re in the mood for this, then great. But we feel the need to point out how important it is to take breaks.
This builds off the scheduling tip we just mentioned; you should schedule downtime as well as studying time. But you should also make sure to take periodic breaks while you’re actually working.
When you take these breaks, we recommend you do a mini “digital detox,” meaning you disconnect from all your devices. Go for a walk, run, or bike ride, take a nap, sit outside, etc. Taking your eyes off the screen and engaging in another activity can provide a huge boost in energy and productivity and make you a much more effective learner.
Pick a Subject and Stick With It
Because there is so much material out there that you can learn, we find that many people begin to suffer from a short attention span, meaning they switch from one subject to the next when it gets a bit dry or difficult.
Of course, it’s always important to try different things out, and if you’re truly unhappy with something, then there is no real reason to continue with it. But, in general, we recommend you try to stick with a subject for a while to learn more about it and learn some of its intricacies. This will not only help you get more out of your education, but it will help you develop a more informed opinion as to whether or not you actually like something.
Don’t Fear Membership Fees (And Write Them Off Where You Can)
There are many free educational materials out there, but a lot of the good stuff is hidden behind paywalls. Do your due diligence in looking for free resources, but don’t be afraid to pay. After all, $50 or even $100 is a minimal investment in yourself that can have tremendous benefits. Just think about all the things in your life you’re willing to spend that kind of money on, and then ask if they provide the same enrichment as an education. There’s no better way to spend money than on growth.
However, if this isn’t a convincing enough argument, know that many of the fees you pay for education can be written off from your taxes, especially if you are paying them for your children. Talk to a tax professional to see if this applies to you, then keep your receipts and accept the refund at the end of the year knowing it comes because you invested in something meaningful.
Time to Learn!
This guide was designed to give you all the information and advice you need to take advantage of the many educational opportunities available in our digital world. There is nothing more empowering than an education, and it doesn’t matter if you’re two or eighty-two, there’s always something new to learn. So, now that you have all the information you need, there’s only one thing left to do: get online and start learning.