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Since March, when the COVID-19 virus shut down schools, businesses, and everything in between, we’re all spending a lot more time at home. To make the most of the time that would normally be spent out of the home socializing, a lot of people are picking up new skills and hobbies. Many who find themselves unemployed (currently 8.4% of the US population) are using this time to switch careers and boost their resume. 

Going into classrooms isn’t an option these days, so most people have turned to online learning. Without a clear end in sight for COVID-19, taking courses over the Internet is shaping up to be the “new normal.” 

While taking classes from home has a ton of benefits — no commute, self-paced coursework, and lower costs just to name a few — it isn’t always the easiest thing to get used to, especially if you are used to being on location to learn. Fear not! This guide will help set you up for success when learning at home by laying out the best practices you should know.

Make a Dedicated Space

It may feel nice at first to get comfy during your online learning by snuggling into bed or kicking your feet upon the couch, but sleep experts say that it’s best to keep the two areas separated. If you use your bed for study, your brain will begin to associate it with work and not rest. Clete Kushida, MD, PhD, and the medical director for Stanford’s sleep center says, “You really want to think of your bedroom as a place to sleep.” 

If your home is small, your options may be limited, but try to get creative. Use the kitchen table, or purchase a small, rolling standing desk that you can move out of the way when you’re finished.

Get Dressed

Again, being comfy can be a big perk of learning at home, but showing up for class in PJs every day isn’t always the best move. Getting dressed can go a long way in improving how you feel about yourself. When you feel clean, well-dressed, and groomed, it sends signals to your brain that what you are about to do is important — important enough to spend some of your time getting ready.

Getting dressed doesn’t have to be a big, elaborate, uncomfortable event. It’s 2020, who wears jeans anymore? Opt for a cute and casual style that makes you feel put-together. At the very least, try not to wear what you slept in.

Limit Distractions

Ah, the Internet: endless possibilities of infinite scrolling that can keep us entertained for hours. While this treasure trove of fun can be great for free time, it’s distracting when trying to learn something new. The downside of learning at home is that there isn’t a teacher or any kind of website blocks to keep you from getting caught up on the latest Tik Tok videos during class.

To get the most out of your classes, try to harness your focus. Turn off notifications for messages and limit your Internet usage to just the online learning website and academic resources. Also, if you live with roommates or family, let them know that you need some uninterrupted time to focus on learning.

Set a Schedule

When you begin a new class, it feels easy to dedicate time to learning. You’re excited to start something new and dive into an interesting topic. As time goes on, it can be harder to keep up with this momentum. To combat this, try setting a regular schedule. It could be something as simple as “Every Tuesday, I spend 1 hour on my online course,” or it could be “Every weekday at 11a.m. I do 30 minutes of my course.”

Since you’re not beholden to a teacher and classroom full of students, you are able to be flexible with this timing. Do you work from home during the day? Set aside time before or after work. Are you just really not a morning person? Set aside time in the evenings. Learning at home is flexible, so do what works for you, but try to keep to a regular schedule.

Take Breaks

Your mind needs regularly scheduled breaks in order to absorb information. While it may sound like a great idea to power through an online course for 12+ hours a day to finish it super fast and blast off into a new career, you will quickly burn out. Learning takes time, and that’s okay!

Ever heard of the Pomodoro Technique? Essentially, you choose a task (like an online course), and start the timer. The timer goes off every 25 minutes. At the end of the 25 minutes, you take a 5 minute break. Every 4th round, you take a longer break of at least 10 minutes. Working in short bursts with regularly scheduled breaks is a great way to get a lot accomplished. We personally love TomatoTimer for an online Pomodoro timer.

To Wrap It Up

Stay-at-home orders have been a thing for over six months now. Are you tired of watching TV yet? Change up your routine by taking a class at home. Check out our courses — from AI, Digital Marketing, and Data Science to Machine Learning and so much more — taught by expert instructors to find the right Nanodegree program for you.

Don’t forget, once you start your online class, make a dedicated space, get dressed, limit distractions, set a schedule, and take breaks to get the most out of your learning.

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Jennifer Shalamanov
Jennifer Shalamanov
Jennifer is a content writer at Udacity with over 10 years of content creation and marketing communications experience in the tech, e-commerce and online learning spaces. When she’s not working to inform, engage and inspire readers, she’s probably drinking too many lattes and scouring fashion blogs.