7 Brain Proven Tips for Remote Learning

Struggling to stay focused and productive during remote learning?

Everyday might feel like more of the same, and you might be having trouble staying motivated.

But with a couple of brain proven tips, you can not only take control of your productivity and motivation during remote learning, but also make the most of learning overall!

These strategies have lifelong benefits, and the best part is that they are backed by neuroscience and proven to work.

By knowing how your brain learns best, you can be confident not just during remote learning, but in any new learning scenario, that you have what it takes to succeed!

Table of Contents

1. Take Brain-Friendly Breaks for Better Memory

2. Break Your Tasks Down into Smaller Tasks

3. Cut Down Distractions in Your Environment

4. Cut Down on Blue Light

5. Make Sure You’re Getting Quality Sleep

6. Stay Physically Active

7. Use Focused Breathing to Enter the Ideal Learning Headspace

7 Brain Proven Tips for Remote Learning

1. Take Brain-Friendly Breaks for Better Memory

7 Brain Proven Tips for Remote LearningHaving trouble staying focused for long stretches of time? You might be facing this problem not just in remote learning but also regular in-person classes as well.

This happens because your brain doesn’t learn well over long stretches of time.

When you’re in the moment, focusing on something, your brain is using a short-term, limited capacity type of memory. When this working memory gets too full, you might feel overwhelmed, unable to focus or take in any new information.

Sound familiar? You’ve probably experienced this during long classes when you have to pay attention without breaks – you might be focusing just fine at the beginning, but at some point your mind starts to wander.

The Ebbinghaus curve of forgetting illustrates why this is a bad thing for your learning – it shows that the longer the gap between the beginning and end of a learning session, the more you’re likely to forget.

This is because as you’re learning, your brain is temporarily storing information in your hippocampus to review later. But if your working memory goes over capacity, your brain may lose this information before it gets to process and consolidate it into long-term memory.

The solution, thankfully, is simple – by reducing the gap between the beginning (primacy) and end (recency) of your study session, you retain more of what you’re learning!

Neuroscientists find that 5 minutes of break after 20 to 25 minutes of learning is enough to restore working memory back to normal.

And this 5-minute break isn’t a waste of time either. Because your brain is no longer busy focusing on something, it gets to roam, and start reviewing what you learned, create associations with what you already know, and come up with new ideas and answers to problems.

While you might not get to schedule your own breaks during in-person classroom sessions, you are doing a lot more independent learning during remote learning. So take advantage of this and schedule more brain-friendly breaks for yourself!

And made sure you quickly review what you learned after each break before moving on to new information! Review and repetition help activate the brain cells involved in your memories of what you’re learning, and the more they activate, the more permanent your recall becomes.

2. Break Your Tasks Down into Smaller Tasks

7 Brain Proven Tips for Remote LearningAnother great way to keep yourself motivated on demand is to break the tasks you need to do into smaller tasks.

Instead of jotting down challenging and demanding tasks as one item on your to-do list (e.g. “Finish studying for test”) break them down into a series of items instead (e.g. “Finish studying chapter 1”, “Finish studying chapter 2, etc.)

As you go through this chunked down list, you’re going to be ticking off more items as you complete them, compared to one big task that might take longer and be more challenging for you to complete.

By doing this, you take advantage of your brain’s in-built motivation system, thanks to the work of the neurotransmitter dopamine.

When you accomplish something – finishing a video game round, nailing a recipe, getting a compliment from your professor – you experience a sense of achievement, right?

It’s a good feeling, and you usually want to experience it again.

This happens because accomplishing a task activates your brain’s reward centers, and causes the levels of your dopamine to spike, creating that pleasurable feeling.

Your brain loves this feeling, and it wants more of it, making you want to do more of what you did to experience it again. This is the secret to motivation!

So, say that you set yourself a huge task, like finishing studying for a big test. No matter how hard you work and how much progress you made, you aren’t able to finish every item you needed to cover.

Your brain was anticipating a reward, releasing dopamine expecting it, but when it doesn’t get the reward your dopamine levels crash and you end up feeling demotivated instead.

However, when you chunk your learning down, your brain gets to experience this sense of reward for every smaller task you check off.

Even if you don’t complete the whole syllabus, you’re likely to continue feeling motivated and accomplished from all the things you did finish.

This in turn keeps you driven, productive and on track to complete everything else!

3. Cut Down Distractions in Your Environment

7 Brain Proven Tips for Remote LearningYou’re probably a little guilty of getting distracted in class – maybe you couldn’t resist checking a message on your phone or chatting with your friends when the professor wasn’t looking.

At home, the potential for distractions is multiplied tenfold.

You don’t have to hide your phone from anyone, you’re surrounded by distracting items like the TV or your gaming console or even your bed, your family might be up to far more interesting things that keep drawing your attention away.

And all of this is pretty bad for your brain.

One study actually finds that once its concentration is disrupted, it can take your brain almost 30 minutes to refocus on what it was doing.

That’s one whole brain-friendly study session! And if you get distracted multiple times during the day? That could be a whole day’s progress lost.

Although it might seem tempting to just set up for classes and learning someplace comfortable, like your bed or the couch in front of the TV, make sure you’re creating a distraction-free location for yourself to learn in.

This should be a space set away from where people would be passing through regularly and shouldn’t be a place your brain associates with relaxing, like your bedroom.

One of the biggest culprits in distracting you may even be the devices you’re using for learning.

I completely get the temptation of having a tab open with YouTube or Netflix, or quickly glancing through your socials to see if anything interesting is happening.

But this is an example of the dopamine system you read about earlier working against you.

When you come across something interesting to watch or get a message notification from someone or engagement with a post you made, your brain experiences that sense of reward.

And because of the dopamine spike it causes, you keep expecting to feel rewarded by using all these apps and websites more, even when nothing is happening.

So, to maximize your focus and make the most of your study time, switch off your notifications, or use blocking software to limit your access to distracting sites.

Look at it this way – with minimal distractions, you get more done in less time, and then have more time to spend doing what you like later!

And speaking of devices and screens –

4. Cut Down on Blue Light

7 Brain Proven Tips for Remote LearningWith all of your classes moved online, you’re now spending a lot of time on screens.

And if you’re experiencing tired and irritable eyes, headaches, brain fog, trouble focusing or remembering what you just read, this might be why.

Your computer and phone screens, and even TV screens, give off artificial blue light, a type of visible light that your eyes aren’t very good at focusing on.

There’s blue light in natural sunlight as well, but because this is mixed in with other wavelengths of light, it’s less disruptive and actually good for you.

Too much exposure to artificial blue light, on the other hand, forces your eyes to work much harder to make out what you’re reading on your screen.

And this can irritate and dry out your eyes, cause your headaches and brain fog, and even lead to long-term damage to your eyes.

Another downside – blue light signals your body to stop or reduce melatonin production. This hormone regulates your sleep – low levels of melatonin during the day keeps you alert and awake, but at night can keep you sleepless and exhausted.

As you’ll read in the following section, sleep is essential to better, brain-friendly learning.

So how can you cut down on all this blue light, especially when you’re spending so much time on a screen?

You can look into blue light blocking screen protectors for your laptop, computer, phone and other devices, from brands like Ocushield, which feature medical grade blue light protection.

Another option is to pick up photochromatic lenses, which darken when in contact with UV rays. Along with blocking UV rays they can also block blue light and reduce eye strain.

Tinted glasses are also an option. During the day, yellow-tinted glasses can cut down the bad blue light coming off your screen while still letting the good, naturally occurring blue light in. At night, rose- or red-tinted glasses are the best since they completely block out all artificial blue light.

5. Make Sure You’re Getting Quality Sleep

7 Brain Proven Tips for Remote Learning

In the previous section you read about blue light disrupting melatonin production and messing up your sleep cycle.

This can have many short-term and long-term implications on your learning.

Your brain doesn’t stop learning and creating memories when you’re sleeping – in fact, getting enough quality sleep actually improves your learning and memory.

This is because when you sleep, parts of your brain, like the hippocampus and neocortex, get time to go over everything you learned through the day, make sense of it, and convert it into long-term memory.

Better sleep actually helps you come up with better solutions to problems and think of original and creative ideas!

On the other hand, a lack of sleep can create a waste product in your brain which can disrupt your learning and memory-making and create brain fog.

It’s also likely to affect your amygdalae, the part of your brain involved not only in memory but also regulating negative emotions like fear, anxiety, stress, and so on.

People who don’t get enough Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep tend to stay stuck in a negative mindset the following morning, compared to those who get enough REM sleep.

And remember the motivation molecule, dopamine? Not getting enough sleep causes your dopamine levels to fall, so you feel more demotivated and unfocused the next day – all bad news for learning.

Cutting down on how much blue light you’re exposed to during the day can help you sleep better by keeping your sleep cycle working normally.

Even then, I advise putting away your devices a couple of hours before bed, since the unhealthy dopamine spikes might keep you scrolling through your social media or through Netflix when you should be sleeping.

6. Stay Physically Active

7 Brain Proven Tips for Remote LearningStaying physically active throughout the day can also help you sleep better – and can do wonders for your learning and memory too!

Because of remote learning, you may be spending long stretches of time sitting in one place – even more so because you don’t have to do things like walk to school or campus or switch classrooms.

Just a couple of minutes of physical activity – this would be an excellent use of your 5-minute breaks – can improve your learning and focus.

Taking a short walk or doing a few stretches helps speed up the blood pumping through your body. It also makes your body draw in more oxygen.

As a result, your brain receives an enriched supply of oxygen and nutrients. This not only helps it create connections between its brain cells for learning and memory faster, but also helps you grow new cells, especially in parts of your brain involved heavily in memory and learning, like your hippocampus!

Exercise thus speeds up your learning and memory making process. And because it also stimulates the release of dopamine, and other brain chemicals like serotonin and endorphins, it keeps you focused, motivated and in a good mood doing so, too!

7. Use Focused Breathing to Enter the Ideal Learning Headspace

7 Brain Proven Tips for Remote LearningThere is a huge and growing amount of scientific evidence that deep, slow and focused breathing can have numerous benefits for your brain and body health – and for learning and memory.

You might, understandably, be stressed and anxious about remote learning. And this stress and anxiety may in turn make it difficult for you to focus and stay productive through the day.

Deep, focused breathing can help you switch this around, by stimulating your longest cranial nerve, the vagus nerve.

Your vagus nerve then sends signals throughout your parasympathetic nervous system.

It helps slow down your pounding heartbeat, relaxes your tensed up muscles, reduces your blood pressure – you physically calm down by controlling and focusing on your breathing!

And not just that – doing this also helps you access your alpha brain wave state. Out of the four brain wave states – alpha, beta, theta and gamma – alpha brain waves are the best for learning since they put you in an alert but relaxed state of mind.

You feel clearheaded and calm, better able to focus and more receptive of new learning.

Here’s an easy focused breathing exercise.

Sit or stand up straight, and from your belly, slowly draw in a breath for 4 counts. Hold it in for 4 counts, and then breathe out slowly, from your belly, for 4 counts.

Repeat this several times. By focusing on counting your breaths, you’re taking your mind off the things stressing you out, and the act of breathing slowly and deeply is physically resetting you into a calmer mental and physical state!

These 7 brain proven tips for remote learning aren’t just great for learning at home – they’re proven brain hacks that can help you in learning situations throughout your life.

For more brain-based strategies to help you unlock your full learning potential, check out my course Total Recall Learning!

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, such as Total Recall Learning™.

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

Related article