8 Ways to Avoid Distractions When Taking an Online Course

8 Ways to Avoid Distractions When Taking an Online Course

Many people sign up for online courses with good intentions. They genuinely intend to learn, to improve themselves, to upskill. Often, it never crosses their minds that they'll have to contend with internal and external distractions.

Taking an online course, as opposed to the traditional brick-and-mortar class, has many advantages. But it's important to not miss out on these opportunities or waste the time to learn by getting distracted unnecessarily.

So what exactly counts as a distraction? A game on your phone? A text message? Grabbing a snack you don't need? Whatever the case, a distraction is anything that takes away your focus from the task you are engaged in while diminishing the quality of your work. When it comes to studying, it's not quantity but the quality that matters.

In other words, the online learner must figure out how to make the most of these learning opportunities while managing distractions and avoid wasting time. 

Let's take a deep dive into some research-backed tips! Below are eight strategies that can help you to avoid distractions while studying online.

Pick the Perfect Study Space

Some of us work best in a library, others in a coffee shop, and there are a few who love having some noise around them. Everyone has their own perfect study space.

Consider this: ‘perfect' is whatever keeps distractions as minimal as possible. You may not always be able to step outside and go to your favorite spot to take your online course during these times. You will have to make do with what you have at home.

One thing you can do is to mimic and create a conducive work from home space. As much as possible, make this space your favorite place to study. If it's a library, study next to a bookshelf; if you like a coffee shop, brew a cup as you take your course; and if you like being around people, call a friend or study mate during your break.

Organise Your Environment

Imagine focusing on shooting a target while there are bright colours, strange noises and other moving bodies distracting you. What is the likelihood that you'll hit the target?

Apply this same principle to your online course irrespective of the online learning platform. Paying attention and absorbing the information is the target; a chaotic environment is a distraction. It might sound like a no-brainer, but our environment can tend to get messy due to “piled-up neglect.

A study published in the journal Current Psychology looked into the correlation between a cluttered environment and procrastination. Wouldn't you know it—the findings showed that a cluttered environment is not only likely to lead to procrastination but also a lower quality of life.

Before your course, tidy your space, make sure your mind can't wander and your attention span will thank you for it.

Put Electronic Gadgets Away or on Silence Mode

A study conducted at the University of Waterloo found the use of technology in classrooms distracted nearly half the students. That's a classroom setting. Imagine the level of distraction when there is no risk of getting caught. You are more likely to pull out your phone and check on something that—let's be honest—can really wait until later.

To combat this distraction, it's recommended to keep any unnecessary electronic gadgets in another room. To take it a step further, turn off the device. You're less likely to take the effort of walking over to the other room and waiting for the device to turn on just to check for an update or play a game. If you really need to check on your device, do it on your break.

Keep Away from Social Media

Going back to the same study conducted at the University of Waterloo, the survey showed that students viewed the use of social media during classes as a non-negative, normal thing.

Just as in the case of distracting electronic gadgets, you're more likely to check on social media when there's little to no risk of getting caught. This one is more challenging because you can browse through social media on the same medium you use for your classes.

If self-control with social media is not your strong suit, then it's time to humble yourself and be accountable: use productivity tools that will help you manage your distractions.

Some productivity software can nudge you when you're getting side-tracked by unproductive apps and websites. These distraction management tools are good at tracking your website usage, categorising unproductive websites and giving accurate reports of productivity.

Given that social media is quite addictive, it also helps if you have someone keeping you accountable. So, consider having your productivity reports sent to a close friend or a family member.

Take Timed Breaks

Like any other muscle in the body, your brain will function well under work only when given proper rest. The findings from a 2011 study conducted at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign showed that “brief diversions vastly improve focus.

Now, what do you do during these breaks? Healthy activities include, but are not limited to:

  1. Meditation
  2. Walking
  3. Cleaning up
  4. Drinking water
  5. Napping
  6. Eating good food
  7. Stretching
  8. Reading
  9. Listening to music

Even playing games that are quick and fun, like solitaire, will help you relax and recharge your mind so you can focus again. 

What about the duration of the breaks? Well, that will depend on the individual. See what works best for you. Remember not to get carried away with your break just as much as not getting carried away with your studying.

Get Adequate Sleep

Studies suggest that sleep is the most important but most neglected part of a student's life. Is it a surprise that 60% of college students are sleep deprived?

Some college students have online jobs, and are using their spare time to work and make an income. But most of the time it's because of poor prioritisation and stress from their studies and distractions.  

You can waste your time scrolling through umpteen articles, case studies, and surveys emphasising the value of sleep and its crucial role in attention and focus. Or you could spend that time studying, not procrastinating, and most importantly, getting some well-deserved shuteye.

Current sleep research shows that there is a direct link between sleeping habits and academic performance. It's important to prioritise sleep over other distractions, especially since getting enough sleep can improve your ability to focus and concentrate on your online course platform.

DO NOT Multitask

Multitasking might make you look busy and important, but does it enhance your productivity when studying? The obvious answer is no. There are many negative side-effects to multitasking. Some of them include:

  1. Longer duration on shorter tasks
  2. Increased frustration and stress
  3. Low level of retaining information
  4. Burnout from over-focusing

Multitasking can either be from focusing on more than one of the tasks on hand, or distractions. Often multitasking is a sign that you're swamped and overscheduled. If that's the case, you need to create a schedule you can stick to.

A simple solution to multitasking is creating a priority list of the tasks you wish to accomplish. List them in an order that you feel works best and complete them one at a time. Not only will you finish faster, but you will not have sacrificed quality.

Create a Routine & Prioritise Your Tasks

This time management technique ties together all the other advice with a nice little bow on top. I'm sure if you do a web search on it right now, you can find myriads of quotes on forming good time management habits.

Common sense dictates that the more you do something, the better you will get at it. Apply this to your daily routine. Set a time for your study and breaks and how you will manage and prioritize them.

When it comes to studying, the order of prioritisation goes as follows: duration of the task, level of difficulty, and the time you will need. This is obviously not a one-size-fits-all solution. Prioritisation of your tasks will depend on various factors such as the subject being studied, daily tasks, and social life, to name a few.

The most important thing is to give everything its time and place. Order will only follow if it's set right.

In Conclusion

Does all of this mean that you won't have any distractions? Of course not. But you are trying to minimise them and get as much undisrupted studying done as possible. 

Begin with what's in front of you and around you: your desk and your environment. Set these in such a manner that is most conducive to your level of focus.

Next, remove the nearest distractions: social media and technology. Temporarily block any unnecessary websites and keep all enticing gadgets in the other room (switched off, if necessary).

Time your breaks and take your rest. How much you rest is just as important as how much you study, if not more. Get plenty of sleep at night, so it does not distract you during the day.

Avoid multitasking. Set a routine and prioritise your tasks so that you don't end up sacrificing the quality of work you put in.

Getting all this down to a tee will take hard work and discipline. Be consistent, and you will surely make great strides.

If you're looking to learn how to manage your time effectively and efficiently, we recommend our time management course taught by industry.

by Chioma Iwunze | 27 Sep 23

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