Strategies for Online Learning Success

online learning methods and styles

Internet-based learning is very popular. Knowing your learning style and motivations will help you study smarter, not harder.

We tend to spend a lot of time online these days. Between watching funny YouTube videos, catching up on news and celebrity gossip, and binge-watching our favorite Netflix series, we even find the time to learn new skills. But are we in a constant learning process? How can we pluck out – from the vast resources of the Internet – the exact courses and methods that will work for us (or you) personally?

In this post, we’ll show you how to find your learning style and complement it with Internet-based materials and offerings.

How Are People Learning Online?

Although to us the Internet seems pervasive, only about half of the earth’s population is currently using it. In North America and the EU, however, these numbers rise to 89% and 81% respectively. [source: Internet World Stats]

Given that the Internet is entrenched in our cultures, it’s not surprising that many people use it to learn. Here’s what the data shows about our online studying activities: 32% look for information about education; 32% consider a training or course offer; 6% do an online course; 45% consult wikis; 13% use some type of online learning material; 7% communicate with instructors or other students using educational websites, and 18% pursue other educational activities. [source: Eurostat – Digital Economy and Society; Individuals – Internet activities]

As we can see, the practice of learning online is actually quite complex. The key to learning smarter is to know the answers to these questions:

  • What is my motivation?
  • What style of learning works for me?
  • Where can I find quality online learning opportunities?
  • What are the pros and cons of online learning?

Identifying Your Motivation

The subject and our available time are key criteria in deciding what type of online learning to choose. Usually, we know both of these right away. But something else can have a big impact on how successfully we learn: our motivation.

There are many motivations for learning new skills. Among the most common are:

  • We need it for our current job
  • We need it for school
  • We want to train ourselves for another job
  • We want to keep our technical skills up-to-date
  • We’re interested in the subject
  • We find it fun
  • We’re just curious

And so on. Obviously, someone who is just curious may not be motivated to finish a course the way someone who needs it for work would. This doesn’t mean that being curious is a bad thing; it just may take this person longer to finish the course, if they decide to finish it at all.

What Is Your Learning Style?

Now that you’ve pinned down your motivation, let’s talk about learning types. Finding your learning type is important because there are dozens of ways you can learn things online: websites, articles, courses, videos, recorded lectures, animations, ebooks, blogs, webinars, games, applications, etc. So how do we know which to focus on?

In this case, it’s useful to know what type of learner you are. There are four common types of learners: visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic (hands-on, or learning by doing). While most of us can use any of these methods, it’s normal for everyone to have one preferred learning type. Once you know that, you can narrow down which materials work best for your style.

  • Visual learners need to see information and the relationship between facts and figures or ideas. They prefer to read rather than listen. They like a quiet environment when studying. If you’re a visual person, pick materials with infographics, schemas, charts, and animations. Highly-visual explainer videos (not just the ones of someone talking) are also excellent.
  • Auditory learners prefer to hear information. They are usually linear thinkers who like things to flow in sequential order. Auditory people have a good memory for sounds and they easily remember what people say. To help themselves remember, they may talk to themselves or repeat themselves. Good learning resources for auditory learners include audiobooks, audiocasts, webinars, TEDx talks, videos, and recorded lectures. When using written materials, auditory learners often like to read aloud or verbally discuss what they read with others.
  • Reading and writing learners feel comfortable with the written word. They learn best by reading articles, absorbing the information, and writing down notes or ideas. Almost every type of online learning material works for these learners. However, they may prefer to watch subtitled videos or take notes during video presentations. They may even pause the video to take notes, or rewind to see bits they need to jot down.
  • Kinesthetic learners need to participate in activities. They usually have good coordination and are good at sports. This type learns best by taking action. They should favor short study sessions rather than marathons, and they should always give themselves time to get up from the computer and do something. While they are studying, they may fidget or take notes; this action helps them to focus and learn.

Of course, knowing your preferred learning style doesn’t mean you can only use materials suited to it. If you’re a visual person with a long commute, an audiobook will help you meet your goals. And if you’re in a rush, there’s nothing wrong with choosing short, on-the-go lessons.

Selecting the Right Online Learning Options

Now we’re getting into the meat of online learning. There are several things to consider, including:

  • Types of online learning currently available
  • Matching the subject to the learning tool
  • Your experience with the subject

Let’s start by considering some popular online learning options.

Four Ways to Learn Online

MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, are a very popular way to learn new skills. You know them as sites like Coursera, edX, and Udacity. MOOC platforms can cover a lot of subjects, from music appreciation to data science. They offer courses that have been created by colleges or companies with the express goal of training someone in a new skill. Often, students must complete assignments and projects to demonstrate their grasp of the concepts involved.

Coding websites are designed to specifically teach tech-related skills. I’m thinking of  Vertabelo Academy, Codeacademy, CodeSchool, and DataCamp. These often rely on short lessons that teach concepts in a step-by-step fashion. Similarly, tech companies’ websites may offer educational resources and training for their technologies.

You can also adopt a less structured approach to learning by seeking out quality articles, blogs, forums, YouTube videos, and other sources, but you’ll want to do so cautiously. Sometimes it is better to invest in a paid course that is recommended by a subject matter expert or a knowledgeable friend. You can also look at recommendations in technical forums, but look for programs or sites that get a lot of positive reviews from many different members.

How can you find a quality source? Compare various websites, blogs, articles, and videos; it will soon become apparent which ones know what they are talking about. Look at what is referenced in respected newspapers and other publications. There are also official open sources provided by governments, universities, and international institutions – such as World Bank, Eurostat, CIA World Factbook – that can help us verify facts.

Sometimes the way online texts are written gives us a clue about the quality of their information. If you see a lot of mistakes, poorly edited text, or pages that take forever to load, chances are that this isn’t the best source.

Matching Subject and Learning Tools

Another thing to remember is that you’ll do best to match the learning method to the subject. Learning SQL requires a different approach than learning Spanish. For a technical subject like SQL, interactive lessons work well because they give us instant feedback. What SQL lessons often don’t have is an auditory component, e.g. a sound file that shows you how to pronounce different terms. That’s not as important as grasping the concept. On the other hand, if you’re learning Spanish, auditory and spoken components are vital; without them, you won’t be able to communicate.

Your Subject Experience Level

Before we embark on acquiring a new skill, we want to consider our own proficiencies and our level of experience. For example, if we’re not great at math, we would seek out a very simple beginner’s course in geometry. On the other hand, if we know the basics of geometry and we love math, we should look for a more challenging course. This way, we won’t get discouraged and quit because we are trying to complete a course that’s beyond our current skill set. We also won’t get bored because we already know the stuff we’re “learning”.

What if we’re already quite advanced in a subject? Experts look for professional sources to increase their skills, like knowledge base articles, program documentation, and speeches or books from industry leaders. If you’re not sure how you’d place in a subject, you can look for a quiz to test your knowledge.

The Pros and Cons of Online Learning

Online learning has a lot of advantages. It saves time: We don’t have to go anywhere or wait for class to start. It saves money: There are lots of high-quality, low-cost courses out there, and an unlimited number of blogs, videos, and articles.

Online learning means we can learn anywhere, at any time. We can map out a personalized learning process that meets our goals. On the other hand, online learning forces us to take charge of our entire experience. We are responsible for keeping our schedule, finding the appropriate materials, and choosing quality sources. It can also be lonely: although social media and community forums help us exchange ideas, there’s little actual contact with other students.

To summarize, online learning gives us great possibilities. But it also requires us to be aware of our needs and objectives. To succeed at online learning, we need to call on a range of skills and learning opportunities. Start learning with some of our online courses and try it yourself!

Kamila Ostrowska

Kamila has been working in e-learning for three years, with an emphasis on adapting digital training methodologies to suit diverse learning styles. Kamila loves sailing, writing, reading, and taking long walks in the forest. Occasionally, Kamila grows nostalgic of the mountains she gave up in favor of sailing.