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11 tips to help you make the most of online learning

With the economy in flux and many facing redundancy, online learning is more than just the preserve of those wanting to expand their minds. It can be a route to employment too
As many turn to online learning, The Big Issue has launched a one-stop-shop to help peeople who have been made unemployed get back on their feet. Image credit: Longinueve_ilustra / Pizabay

Most of us are no longer strangers to some form of online learning. 

During the first lockdown we became a nation of students, whether it was through virtual PE lessons with Joe Wicks or attempting to perfect a new skill while furloughed

But as Covid-19 continues to devastate the economy, with 1.74 million people now out of work, virtual education is more than just the preserve of those wanting to expand their minds. 

It is also a vital tool in the arsenal of anybody seeking work, with courses on just about anything available to help you land your next job. 

But with so many different training providers and routes in, it can feel overwhelming and be difficult to know where to start. 

That’s why The Big Issue has launched RORA Jobs and Training, a one-stop-shop to help people who have been made unemployed during the Covid crisis get back on their feet.

Here, we have compiled ten top tips on how you can get ahead when it comes to online learning.

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Give yourself time to recover before starting online learning 

If you have just been made redundant, it can be tempting to rush into decisions. You might be concerned about what the future holds and how you are going to get by

This might mean you find yourself applying for every job you can find and trying to be as productive as possible, but according to writer and consultant Cate Sevilla, this is one of the worst things you can do. 

Consume whatever it is you need – whether it’s copious amounts of cheese or soothing podcasts – to try and make coping easier,” she said. 

“Making decisions, especially when they’re related to your career, when you’re in a place of grief, desperation or panic never ends well. Giving yourself time to process what’s happened is crucial.” 

The same applies when it comes to online learning. You should try not to rush into anything and give yourself time to breathe, reflect and think about what is best for you as you take your next steps. 

Know where to get support 

Finding yourself struggling with the world of online learning? The first thing to say is you will not be the only one. 

There may be cases where you have to learn before you begin learning – figuring out how to get onto the internet, accessing word processors, and getting things like videos to work. 

Fear not. That’s where the Online Centres Network is on hand to help. 

Made up of over 5,000 grassroots organisations, it works to tackle digital and social exclusion by assisting people to access digital technology. 

You can find your nearest centre on their website for support near you. 

Take advantage of the range of opportunities on offer

For anybody considering online learning, choosing the right course can be critical. 

Choose the wrong one and you are likely to become demotivated, uninterested and at risk of losing time, money and energy. 

Luckily, though, many online courses provide a low barrier to enrolment, meaning you can often start to learn for free or very little money. 

Matt Jenner, director of learning at training provider FutureLearn, explains this can give you the freedom to explore new topics and stick with those that truly resonate. 

“It’s also good to make a habit of signing up to one or two new courses a month,” Jenner said. 

“It might not sound like a lot but to regularly learn something new can open the next door to opportunity.” 

Hold yourself accountable

Not everyone has the time to commit to new courses each month, so know what you can realistically do and hold yourself accountable. Make time for your learning and stick to it.

“Set goals at the beginning of the course,” said Kirstie Mackey, head of LifeSkills, the online learning hub created by Barclays. “If you’re having trouble holding yourself responsible, pair up with a friend to check in as an accountability partner.”

You might not get it right first time, but that doesn’t mean you should give up. Just aim for something that is more achievable the second time around.

“When it comes to online classes, you need to have the discipline to sit down and say, ‘I am going to do this,’ as well as actually follow through,” Mackey said.

The great thing is that you can work at your own pace and go back to anything if you need to, she added.

Try to make your online learning environment shine 

As libraries are still shut and many of us are likely to be learning from home, this one is crucial. 

It’s essential to create a learning environment with space, light, warmth and comfort. This will help you stay on top of what you need to do and put you in the right place to get learning. 

“It’s important to set up a dedicated learning environment for studying,” said Mackey. “Try out different things to discover which type of setting boosts your productivity. Wherever you choose, make sure there’s high-speed internet access so you’re not trying to take an online course over a bad connection. You will also want to select a place with minimal distractions.”

And, according to Jenner, time can be just as important as space. 

“Creating a set time within your schedule – whether it’s half an hour or two – to dedicate to thinking, planning, preparing and reflecting on your learning can all help bring it together and fit it into your life,” he added. 

Embrace the flexibility of online learning

The flexibility afforded by online learning is something we can all embrace with a million and one other things constantly competing for our attention. 

Digital inclusion charity Good Things Foundation, who support people to learn digital skills and overcome social challenges, said online education means you can learn at your own time of need. 

Virtual learning lets you do things at your own pace, dip in and out of material and teach yourself new skills from the comfort of your own home. 

Pick the right time to learn

This one sounds obvious, but if you are new to the world of online learning, it is a tip worth repeating. 

Some of us love nothing more than waking up and getting on with it, while others are night owls and prefer easing into the day. 

Good Things Foundation told The Big Issue that learning at a time that suits you is essential. If your brain is clearer in the morning, do your learning early. If you feel more energised in the afternoon, learn then. 

Picking the right time to learn is particularly important for those who might have additional responsibilities, such as childcare. 

Take regular breaks 

If you haven’t been in education for a while, the memories that stand out the most are likely to be cramming for your school exams and desperately trying to learn as much as possible in a short amount of time.

But the experts say that is not the way to go. 

You should take regular breaks and spend time thinking about what it is you are learning. It’s also critical to get enough shuteye, as research has found that sleep is proven to help memory and retention. 

Have fun

Educating yourself for the first time in a while might feel daunting but you should try not to stress. 

Learning shouldn’t feel like a chore and although it might take a while to find the course that’s right for you, there are plenty of options. 

Jenner added that exploring new topics is an opportunity to “satisfy your fascination and hobbies”. 

“Turn that short story into a novel, study your diet and become a nutritionist, or broadcast your living room, creating a mindfulness community,” he said. 

“You can build on this into something more substantial, smaller steps into your passions can become larger leaps into a new life.”

Share what you’re learning 

Many people find learning more enjoyable when doing it with others, particularly in the often isolating times of lockdown. 

FutureLearn describes itself as a “social learning platform” and provides opportunities for those who are learning new skills to invite friends, colleagues or family members to join courses. 

“Connecting with others about what you’re learning on social media is also a fun way to open up discussions and share knowledge,” Jenner added.

“Learning is different from the latest season of a TV show but millions of people are doing it every day, you never know who else in your network is learning online too.”

The Big Issue is also on hand if you would like to share tips on learning or finding new ways to gain skills following the pandemic. You can send us stories and ideas or join our Facebook page

Practice makes perfect 

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the old adage “practice makes perfect” couldn’t be more relevant when it comes to online learning. 

The Good Things Foundation says repetition helps you hold on to information for longer, so practising and taking regular breaks will be key to your journey of navigating online learning. 

Have you been affected by the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic? The Big Issue is committed to supporting its readers and find ways to help people stay in their jobs and in their homes through our Ride Out Recession Alliance. Send your stories and ideas to to help us support those who need it most.

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