6 Things Everyone Needs to Know Before Taking an Online Class

There’s no shortage of online classes and courses – so how do you choose the right one for you?

Of course, you’ll have your own goals and motivations for choosing an online course. Perhaps you want to learn how to play an instrument, pick up a new language, or even learn how to invest in stocks.

But shockingly, online instructors won’t share these 6 things everyone needs to know before taking an online class.

Once you know what they are, you can quickly determine if the online class is best for you and can determine, in advance, whether you’ll be successful.

Or perhaps you realize that knowing ‘how to learn’ before you attempt to take any other course unlocks your success so you can quickly master any other skill you choose to learn.  

You need to constantly upgrade your skills to stay competitive, so knowing ‘how to learn’, which is something schools don’t teach, will give you a way to approach all your learning that aligns with how your brain learns best.

And that one master skill gives you the edge you need.

Whatever your reason for looking into and considering online classes, to make sure you can meet your goals, you’ll need to find the right course for you.

Table of Contents

1. Make Sure You Can Take Courses at Your Own Pace

2. Know ‘How to Learn’ Before Taking Any Other Online Courses

3. See Your Progress Straightaway

4. Accommodate Your Learning Style

5. Use Brain Science Learning Chunks

6. Empower You to Change Your Life for the Better

6 Things Everyone Needs to Know Before Taking an Online Class

1. Make Sure You Can Take Courses at Your Own Pace

6 Things Everyone Needs to Know Before Taking an Online ClassYou might have plenty of commitments to balance along with your online class of choice.

If you’re taking an online video course, make sure you can pause it when you need to, and pick up where you stopped. This is essential to your success so check beforehand that you can do that. 

This isn’t just because it’s more convenient when you aren’t limited to specific class times, as you would be during a live classroom session happening in real-time.

If you sign up for two hour lectures at a fixed time, you’ll need to be certain in advance that you can be there for the entire two hours if it’s a live class, or you won’t be able to get the most benefit from the class. So be sure to block off the time in your schedule.

What you may not know is that there’s a catch – according to neuroscience, studying for such long stretches of time is counter-intuitive for building your long-term memory and learning recall.

This is because as you’re learning something, your brain uses a temporary type of memory called the working memory.

Your hippocampus, the part of the brain that’s a major player in your learning and memory, holds the short term information until it heads into your long-term memory because you review it and it connects to what you already know

However, if your brain doesn’t get the chance to review this information, and you keep adding new information to it, it’s kind of like a glass of water overflowing. You end up losing both what you’re trying to learn, as well as some of what you already learned.

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Think about it this way – would you be able to remember a date, or a phone number, after hearing it just once and not making any attempts to remember it? Like, for example, repeating the numbers to yourself, asking for confirmation about whether you got them right, or jotting them down somewhere?

Your short-term working memory is very limited in how much information it can hold at a time. And this is why you might find your attention wandering during long classes or meetings even though you had no trouble paying attention at the beginning.

Choose Online Courses that Allow Brain-Friendly Breaks

6 Things Everyone Needs to Know Before Taking an Online ClassLuckily, there’s an easy fix – neuroscientists find that giving yourself a 5-minute break after every 20-25 minutes of learning can restore your working memory.

During this break, because your brain isn’t actively focusing on learning new information, it gets to wander. It mulls over the new information it obtained, makes sense of it in connection with what it knows, and embeds it into your long-term memory.

And just like you might need to repeat a date or a phone number to yourself a couple of times to make sure you remember it, review helps solidify your recall.

You can’t exactly stop every 20 minutes during a real-time class session to take a break or halt an in-session lecture to review what you learned.

But a good, asynchronous (meaning you can take it in your own time) online course gives you this control. You not only get to keep your learning to 25-minute sessions with brain breaks in between, but also have time to review before starting every new learning session, to make sure your learning recall is solid.

You can spend as long as you need on a learning topic until you’re sure you’ve mastered it, before you move on to the next section – purely at the pace comfortable to you!

2. Know ‘How to Learn’ Before Taking Any Other Online Courses

6 Things Everyone Needs to Know Before Taking an Online ClassKnowing ‘how to learn’ is like having the master key to unlock all knowledge.

Without this skill and the right strategies, going into an online course is like asking you to cook a new dish without a recipe, or setting up a complicated new appliance without an instruction manual.

Even if you’re given all the information you need to learn something new from your online course, if you don’t know how to learn it – i.e. you don’t have the tools and strategies that effectively let you absorb this information – it’ll be like trying to pour water into a bucket with a hole.

You’ll end up losing what you’re trying to learn.

Before signing up for a new course, consider one that teaches you how to learn best, like Total Recall Learning.

Knowing how you learn best, how your memory works and how to use this to your advantage, how to recall everything you learn and read, embed new information you learn into your long-term memory instantly, switch your learning style to match the style you’re tested in – school doesn’t teach you these strategies.

But having these strategies gives you the assurance, in advance, that you’ll succeed in any new learning scenario – that your effort and time will pay off, and you won’t struggle with your learning.

For example, Chris S., who works for a global tech firm, said this about knowing how to learn:

“After taking the foundational course that taught me ‘how to learn’ and apply new information effectively, I received a bonus and helped my company secure a multi million dollar contract.

Knowing ‘how to learn’ before you attempt learning anything is the roadmap to your learning success in every other subject.

It allows you to be highly adaptable in a work environment that is constantly evolving.”

So, before jumping into a new online course, make sure you have all the tools and strategies you need to succeed by knowing how to learn, and how to learn anything faster.

3. See Your Progress Straightaway

6 Things Everyone Needs to Know Before Taking an Online ClassIf a course promises you that only after ten weeks of constant classes and practice, you might see a result, it’s probably not the right choice for you.

An excellent online class is one where you get to track your progress from Day 1.

The course gives you actionable strategies you can practice from the get-go. And although you’re not going to miraculously master everything overnight, you’ll be able to see the difference that taking this course makes from the very first session.

For example, in Total Recall Learning, I provide brain-friendly tips and learning strategies every step of the way throughout this ten-day course.

You can try out these strategies for yourself, and immediately notice the difference it makes to how you learn, how much faster you learn, how you recall, and how much faster you recall.

Over the period of this ten-day course, and of course with your own practice and application of the strategies you learn to your daily life, all your learning progress adds up.

By the end of this course, you can double, if not even triple, your reading, learning and recall speed!

4. Accommodate Your Learning Style

6 Things Everyone Needs to Know Before Taking an Online ClassNot everyone learns in the same way – you have your own unique learning preferences that help you learn best.

In a classroom where there are dozens of other learners with their own unique learning preferences along with you, all receiving the same type of instruction and assignments, you don’t always get to play up to your learning strengths.

Choosing the right online class not only lets you do this, but also helps you add on specific learning strategies to yours that give you an advantage in traditional classrooms and exams.

If you’re a visual learner, for instance, you’re probably great with recalling text, and process visual information like diagrams, charts, and graphs easily.

If you’re an auditory learner, you like to listen to information better – you recall what your teacher said in class more vividly than you remember what you read in a textbook.

If you’re a kinesthetic learner, you prefer actively engaging with your learning environment. You’ll have no trouble grasping the mechanics of an experiment or practical lesson, but might struggle to remember the theory behind it if you’re just reading it from a textbook.

Play Up to Your Learning Strengths

6 Things Everyone Needs to Know Before Taking an Online ClassThe right online course for you helps you play up to your learning preferences.

If you’re an auditory learner, for example, you’re going to love courses with audio, which narrate and explain the information to you as you move along the course.

This reinforces the information you’re taking in visually, activating more parts of your brain than you’d be activating if you were just reading, or just listening.

As a result, you create a much stronger, vibrant memory of what you’re learning.

If you’re a kinesthetic learner, courses that ask you to participate – by physically doing something, trying a strategy out for yourself, etc. – would help keep you engaged.

The actions you’re carrying out also helps embed the information you’re taking in visually and auditorily deeper into your memory, by activating more parts of your brain.

The best courses also have a strong visual component, which helps you build associations between the images you’re seeing and the information you’re learning.

This is because your brain recalls images much, much faster than it remembers words you read or heard, or the sequence of actions and consequences you carried out.

Around 80% of your brain is involved in visual processing. Images activate both cognitive and emotive pathways within your brain – this is why the saying that one picture is worth a thousand words is absolutely true!

An image can communicate a ton of meaning and evoke an emotional response from you, far faster than a page of text describing what’s in the image.

Try it out for yourself – what’s faster? Remembering the faces of your classmates or colleagues, or remembering their names?

Visual learners have an easier time in exam rooms because of this. They’re able to recall what they learned much faster because they committed what they learned into their memories as images and mental movies.

A great online class helps you embed what you’re learning into your memory naturally, by combining different learning modalities and using attractive and meaningful visuals to help you visually process and remember what you’re learning!

5. Use Brain Science Learning Chunks

6 Things Everyone Needs to Know Before Taking an Online ClassAn online class might have everything you’re looking for in terms of content, but you might still struggle to learn.

And one reason this might be the case is because it’s not designed to align with how your brain learns best.

Playing up to your learning preferences, and taking brain-friendly breaks, are ways to learn that neuroscience confirms is optimal for your learning.

Chunking your learning down into a series of mini tasks or topics is another way you can help your brain learn better and faster.

Breaking a task down into smaller tasks is a science-backed way of keeping yourself motivated for learning!

When your brain expects that it’s about to accomplish something, it releases the motivation molecule dopamine.

This is the neurotransmitter that causes you to feel that sense of reward and pleasure when you achieve something – like learning something new, getting a raise or a compliment, etc.

Even if you had to work really hard on something, you still feel accomplished and content when you’re able to pull it off successfully, right? It makes you more willing to try it out again – whether it’s finishing a marathon, scoring well on a test, or getting a high KPI score at work.

This is the secret to motivation. When your brain expects a reward, it releases dopamine, and this keeps you driven to complete what you’re working on.

On the other hand, when your brain expects a reward, and it doesn’t get it – like, for example, you’re working your way through a really long online class without hitting any milestones – your dopamine levels actually fall.

You feel demotivated and unsure if you really want to push through.

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A good online class is structured to help chunk your learning down and help you stay motivated by mapping out your milestones and when you reach them.

For example, on Day 1 of Total Recall Learning, I walk you through the full learning roadmap you’re about to embark on.

Each day is chunked down into different segments and strategies, and you get to celebrate completing each section.

You experience first-hand your ability to complete these sessions and note your progress as you do, and this keeps you feeling great about your learning and motivated to move on to the next section!

6. Empower You to Change Your Life for the Better

6 Things Everyone Needs to Know Before Taking an Online ClassYour time, energy and effort are all priceless resources.

When you’re balancing work, homelife, school life and more with your online classes, it’s all the more important that you know, going into a new course, that you’re going to get long-lasting benefits from it.

Questions to Ask That Help You Determine Whether an Online Course or Class is Right for You

Ask yourself, how will this course change my life?

Will I be able to use what I learn from this course throughout my life?

What are my goals for taking this course?

Will what I learn from this course help me achieve my personal goals?

I call this giving yourself a strong enough “Why”. To go into new learning and ensure that you’re not only successful, but also improve your life through it, you need a powerful reason to guide you to success.

A powerful “Why” helps you commit to your goal and see it through to the end.

This is the reason, inside Total Recall Learning, I have you complete a goal sheet called Life by Choice, Not by Chance, which helps you put into perspective not only the specific goals you wish to accomplish, but also the obstacles in your way, the habits slowing you down, how your life will change once you achieve your goals, and so on.

By doing this, you put your “Why” for taking an online class into perspective – and this helps you understand if the class you’re considering is the right match to help you accomplish your goals.

With these 6 things everyone needs to know before taking an online class, I hope you have a much better idea on how to pick the perfect match for you, out of all the options available.

Which of these tips did you find the most helpful?

pat wymanPat Wyman is the CEO of HowtoLearn.com and an internationally noted brain coach known as America’s Most Trusted Learning Expert.

Pat’s superpower is helping people learn, read and remember everything faster. She has helped over half a million people in schools and corporations such as Microsoft, Intel and Google improve their lives with her learning strategies, learning styles inventory and courses, including Total Recall Learning™.

Pat is the best-selling author of more than 15 books, a university instructor, mom and golden retriever lover!

Do you have a product or service that makes a difference? Apply for the Parent and Teacher Choice Award here.

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