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7 Universal Study Skills for Online and In-Person Learning

The 2020-2021 school year was simply unimaginable, unless you lived through it, to believe all that occurred.  For so many students, parents, and staff, online learning became the new normal for receiving instruction.  Content that previously required daily instruction to master was now taught in short “mini” lessons, with independent work/study time filling the remaining minutes of the class, until the next teacher’s zoom session started.  As difficult as receiving information virtually was, being assessed over material without the assistance of teachers being available before and after school, or during a class period for questions or additional assistance, made maintaining a respectable GPA all the more difficult.

Most who were involved in the 2020-2021 school year would heartily agree that being a strong independent learner was a key ingredient to success.  Those students who did not do well as independent learners before the pandemic started, struggled with the online learning model, because access to teachers, motivation, and social pressure to complete work were lacking.  Moving forward, many schools and universities will likely keep components of online learning, and even those that go back full time in person, will lean on a student’s ability to effectively learn and study material outside of the classroom, in order to do well on assessments and truly increase the fund of knowledge to keep moving forward year after year.

Wait: I have to learn how to study before I can study to learn?

Study Skills are like any skill.  They may come more naturally to some, but everyone can improve with knowledge of skill execution, and practice.  They require learning a behavior and paying attention to practicing the skill, before the skill becomes automatic.  For example, when first learning how to drive, it takes all of one’s mental energy to think about the direction, speed, pedals, mirrors, and steering wheel to execute the task. At first, study skills will also take time and energy to get the execution basics down, before studying becomes automatic.   Another way to think of study skills is to think of them as learning strategies.  Study skills help students develop the ability to retain and recall information, and when effective study skills are used, it becomes an efficient use of study time that translates into greater confidence and less anxiety for all students.

7 Universal Study Skills for Covid Learning and Beyond

Study Skill #1: Location, Location, Location

The act of studying implies focus and attention on new subject matter.  If this is true, setting yourself up for success by finding the location in which attention and focus can be maximized is key.  This should be based on personal preference, and different environments work better for different individuals.  For example, some students require a silent environment when working, and others do better with light background music.  Some students like low-lighting with lamps if they are sensitive to overhead lights, and others need a bright and well-lit location to do their best work.  Some do better in study groups with others to process information, and some do better all alone.  Help your student find the best environment to work in and be sure to set the studying mood before each study session by creating the optimal study environment.

Study Skill #2: Build a Learning Toolkit

The phrase “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” applies to study skills, too.  If students only know how to study with notecards and tries to apply the notecard studying technique to all learning, this may be ineffective if they have to learn more in-depth topics, or knowledge application that may not fit on a notecard. Furthermore, the same study skills for one student may not work for another.  For example, some students may do better writing everything down and practicing facts or studying new knowledge.  Other students may do better listening to such information repeatedly auditorily.  Others may prefer typing the information out and studying from a device/app. It will take practice to find the way to use a skill and tailor it to different learning styles.

Study Skill #3: Time Management/Self-Assessment

Time management and Stephen Covey’s Habit #2 of Highly Effective People: Putting First Things First is an important priority when studying.  Help your child become self-aware of their own distractions, and help set them up for success by working to prioritize what needs to be done.   Some students do better if they allow themselves frequent breaks, others do better working straight through.  Some students may need to create a special “holding place” for their cell phone while they study, so they can focus on learning, and take “phone check breaks” from time to time, rather than constantly check their phone with each notification. Help your child decide how to best manage their time in order to execute their other study skills most effectively.

Study Skill #4: Less is More

Waiting until the last minute, and then trying to study by pulling off an all-nighter or ‘cram session’ is about as effective as it sounds…it isn’t.  Cram sessions are compared to trying to drink from a fire hose.  So much information is overloading the brain, that hardly anything actually finds its way into long-term memory storage for later retrieval.  Help your child by working backwards from an assessment/due date, and spacing the study sessions out into digestible chunks, rather than long and ineffective sessions.

Study Skill #5: Practice (Testing) Makes Permanent

Reviewing material regularly in a quiz-fashion or with practice tests helps build student self-confidence and self-assess how well they really know the material.  It’s one thing to review and re-read your notes, but even more effective to have a partner (or parent!) ask you to explain your answers or quiz you.  This will help find holes in knowledge, and also take some of the anxiety out of the test day, if students have practiced in advance.  Students can also quiz themselves using a variety of techniques, as simple as covering the answers up and responding aloud, and then checking to see how accurate the answer given was.  Practice assessments can be especially helpful for high-stakes assessments such as the SAT or ACT, with several publishers to choose from that include practice assessments before the actual assessments.

Study Skill #6: Visualization Matters

Using as many visual cues as possible when studying can significantly boost memory and recall of material.  Visual cues can of course mean pictures, diagrams, graphs, or videos, which are all extremely helpful and aid memory.  Visualization can also help simply by using multiple colors for stronger associations.  For example, if studying the branches of government in a text, green highlighted material is on the executive branch; yellow highlighted material is on the legislative branch; and pink highlighted material is on the judicial branch. This visual change-up can help a student recall information more specifically.  Similarly, mnemonic devices are another form of visualization.  We all use mnemonic devices taught to us in grade school to remember our directions (Never Eat Shredded Wheat for North-East-South-West) and treble clef notes for sheet music (Every Good Bird Does Fly for E, G, B, D, F).  Teach your student to get creative in creating his or her own mnemonic devices for other topics requiring memorization.

Study Skill #7: Use Technology to Your Advantage

As shared in the beginning of the article, students today as expected to be skills consumers and navigators of technology and should use this to their advantage whenever possible.  Students can record themselves reading their notes or important subject matter in an mp3 file using their Recording app on their phone, and then listen to it when they are in the car, exercising, or doing chores or getting ready for school in the morning.  By putting the content into their own words, and listening to it, they are efficiently and effectively using their time wisely, and reinforcing the past learning, to translate into future assessments and confidence.  There are other apps that can help students with study skills that students should be encouraged to use if they are helpful to them.  Often the difficulty is being able to concentrate only on the schoolwork without being distracted by other apps/websites while on a screen, so be sure to monitor how focused your child is when using an app for studying.

The potential of future online learning and increased need for study skills seems to be here to stay. Going through school by making the best use of study time can really elevate the school experience to be more positive and fulfilling.  We hope students and parents will take these ideas to heart to help maximize student potential for success!

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