Published on February 4, 2021

7 Most Effective Online Learning Tips For All Learners

7 Most Effective Online Learning Tips For All Learners

Regardless of where you are at in your learning stage, knowing the best way for you to learn is key to intellectual growth. Growth can’t be achieved in your life as quickly if you’re not retaining as much information as you possibly could.

But the tricky part about learning is the fact that there isn’t a universal method that will work for everyone. Everyone is different in their own way of studying and learning. To help with that, I’ve put together some of the most effective online learning tips that you can use for yourself.

Even though each one of us has different learning styles and preferences, these online learning tips are still as applicable to you as they are to me. Here are the 7 most effective online learning tips for all types of learners.

1. Use a Learning Strategy That Works for You

The first online learning tip is to use a learning strategy that works for you. What I mean by this is that there are four core methods for us to learn.

  • Visual (learning through sight)
  • Auditory (learning through hearing)
  • Reading/Writing (learning through text and print)
  • Kinesthetic (learning through action)

Not everyone learns exclusively through one of these four methods though. We often have a mix of each one of these things. However, there is definitely one style of learning that each of us prefers over the other if we can get away with it.


Knowing which type of learner you are most dominant in can help you devise strategies and techniques around your studying habits whenever possible. Of course, you can still use the other methods loosely or may have to rely on them more in certain circumstances.

2. Pick the Best Time and Place to Learn

This online learning tip does not only apply to online learning but offline/physical as well. Choosing when to learn and study is very important in terms of maximizing your energy and learning more efficiently. We all have different energy levels over the course of the day, and some of us prefer to do certain activities at certain points in the day.

For example, your night time might be the best time for you to be studying as you can retain more information and you’re more alert compared to studying in the morning. The same could be said about the morning as well given that some folks are more alert (early risers) during the day than they are during nighttime.

Being able to strike a balance between your energy and alertness levels while also considering the time of day is crucial when it comes to learning and studying and even doing other things.

Another factor that can come into play aside from time is location. The atmosphere around you can contribute greatly to the quality of your studying and learning time.[1]


Things that can help with improving the atmosphere are things like:

  • Lighting
  • Seating
  • Tablespace
  • Quietness
  • Listening to music such as soft jazz or classical music.

3. Taking Good Notes

Even if you’re not physically studying at school or in a classroom, note-taking is still an important part of learning and growing intellectually. How good your notes are will determine how useful studying them later will be. A sign of good note-taking is when the notes are written or seen in such a way that you know the sequence of information that was brought up revolving around them.

With that in mind, you want your notes to be as detailed as possible for you to be able to retain them. It’s also here where you can lean into the type of learner you are. You could write or type out the information and have key bullet points, have a trigger word to recall what was discussed in class, or use pictures to help you.

Some other strategies to consider that can help you out are the following:

  • If you’re in a class that’s given assigned reading, read through it before the next class. Do the same with your previous notes.
  • Keep your notes from each subject together. Have notebooks for every class or topic you’re deeply exploring. This way, you avoid confusing them or mixing up information while reviewing them.
  • Always write down the main points of the topic so you can get a brief but solid overview of the subject.

4. Review and Simplify Often

Reviewing notes and previous ideas will, of course, be very helpful for you. Consider these as prompts that you’re able to use to recall the rest of the information. But instead of waiting until big tests or some other key date, I’d suggest getting into the habit of spending a half-hour every day to review content or notes. By reviewing things constantly, you’re not overwhelmed with the amount of information that you’ve got to handle.


Another thing you can consider is to simplify the process as much as you possibly can. I find this to be super helpful as it gets me to ask the question, “how can I make retaining this information easier for me?” This leads me to review my notes and reorganize them and then trim them down to easier and bite-sized pieces of information.

If you are constantly simplifying the process—from organizing notes to slimming them down—you’re still learning and growing. Some other methods for simplifying notes are highlighting or underlining keywords, concepts, or phrases. You can also employ more visual aids or construct mind maps to help with remembering better.

5. Avoid Distractions

This is probably one of the most obvious but also important online learning tips because any distraction is a bad one when it comes to trying to learn or review something. Sometimes, distraction comes from outside sources that are beyond our control. However, there are also several other things that are internal that can be distracting.

These are things like our cell phones or having various tabs on your computer up while you’re reading or studying something else. We don’t often think about those as distractions, but they can and will pull us away from learning.

Here are some ways that can help you mitigate distractions:


  • Getting a white noise generator
  • Listening to music that can help you concentrate and drown out any other sounds
  • Turning off your cell phone
  • Closing down tabs or even blocking access to certain sites during a period of time

6. Speak to Instructors or Use Feedback Loop

Another one of the key online learning tips is speaking with your teachers when you can or using the feedback loop if you can’t.

The feedback loop is similar to speaking to an instructor as you’re essentially roleplaying as the instructor and approaching the question with a fresh perspective and pair of eyes. From that perspective, you’re giving yourself feedback that wouldn’t be so different from a student/teacher relationship.

By employing the feedback loop or speaking to instructors, you’re able to look for more clarity and understanding in the situation. Seeking guidance also allows you to gain better insights and learn better and more effectively.

7. Study in Groups (Online or Offline)

Similar to talking to your teacher or using the feedback loop, discussing topics with other people around you is another way that you can help improve your learning. This online learning tip is a touch different from the previous tip because it’s more of a collaborative approach to understanding something.

There are other benefits as well with having someone to bounce questions and study together. It allows you to be more focused, bond more with other people, and can help you grow and maintain motivation, too. Studying in groups also helps you learn more efficiently and effectively.[2]

Final Thoughts

The key to studying and learning is to make it as simple of a process as it can be for you. But developing this system is an acquired skill for everyone, and it requires plenty of time and patience on your part. This is especially the case given the current global pandemic that we are facing, forcing us to remote learning. But through these online learning tips, you’ll be able to get closer to building that system and making studying and learning for you easier and more effective.

More Online Learning Tips

Featured photo credit: Wes Hicks via


[1] ResearchGate: Impact of Class Atmosphere on the Quality of Learning (QoL)
[2] The NightingGale Angeles Institue Blog: Benefits of Group Study

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Published on March 1, 2021

What Is Double Loop Learning And How Is It Valuable?

What Is Double Loop Learning And How Is It Valuable?

As someone on the Millennial/Generation X cusp, one of my first memories of a news story was the devastating crash of the Challenger space shuttle. I couldn’t process the severity or the specifics of the event at the time, but looking back, the Challenger explosion represents a heartbreaking example of what can happen when systems fail.

A part of the shuttle known as the O-ring was faulty. People from NASA knew about it well before the disaster, but NASA employees either ignored the problem—writing it off as not that bad—or were ignored when they tried to alert higher-ups about the issue.[1] This is a tragic example of single-loop learning where organizations focus on what they’re doing without reflecting on how or why they’re doing it, and it’s a recipe for disaster.

Single and Double-Loop Learning

Chris Argyris describes the difference between single and double-loop learning with a metaphor. A thermostat that turns on and off when it senses a pre-set temperature is akin to single-loop learning. The thermostat being able to reflect on whether or not it should be set to that temperature in the first place would be more like double-loop learning.[2]

Imagine the difference if NASA would have encouraged and addressed employees’ questions about how they were doing, what they were doing, and whether or not they should be doing it at all—you’ll start to see how an extra layer of questioning and critical thought can help organizations thrive.

Single Loop Learning

Single-loop learning is when planning leads to action, which leads to reflection on those actions and then back to planning, action, and more reflection. Now, you might think that because reflection is involved, single-loop learning would be an effective organizational model. However, because there isn’t room for critical questions that ask why actions are being taken, problems begin to bubble up.

The Double Bind

When organizations are operating in single-loop learning, they get stuck in what Argyris calls the Double Bind. Because there’s no value placed on questioning why the team is doing something, team members are either punished for speaking up or punished for not speaking up if something goes wrong down the line.

Primary Inhibiting Loop

When an organization is stuck in single-loop learning, the double bind leads to what Argyris calls the primary inhibiting loop. Real learning and growth are inhibited because team members withhold information from each other. This withholding leads to distrust and is difficult to remedy because even if employees attempt to become more forthcoming, lack of trust sours interactions.


Secondary Inhibiting Loop

Because information is being withheld, team members play unconscious games (not the fun kind) to protect each other’s feelings. For example, I might try to distract my colleagues from worrying about a problem in our plan by shifting the focus to another project we’re working on that’s going better.

When you’re stuck in single-loop learning, the organization does whatever it can to continue taking action after action instead of stopping to truly reassess the bigger picture. This leads team members to hide information from each other, which causes distrust and behaviors that try to mask flaws in the organization’s structures and systems.

Double Loop Learning in Organizations

A common misconception is that the opposite of single-loop learning involves focusing primarily on people’s feelings and allowing employees to manage themselves. However, the solution for single-loop learning is not about doing the opposite. It’s about adding an extra later of critical analysis—double-loop learning.

With double-loop learning, questioning why the organization is doing what it’s doing is an organizational value. Instead of moving from planning to action to reflection and back to planning, in double-loop learning, people are encouraged to reflect on why they’re doing what they’re doing. This can help the organization take a step back and reconsider what’s best for all stakeholders instead of being stuck acting and reacting.

Ultimately, double-loop learning gives team members the time, space, and systems to ask tough questions and have them addressed in meaningful ways.

Let’s think back to the Challenger disaster. If NASA had created an organization that uses double-loop learning, employees wouldn’t have felt compelled to stay silent, and the employees who did speak up would have influenced the process enough to reconsider the timeline and develop a solution for the O-ring problem.

Single-loop learning is like a train with no breaks. Double-loop learning provides the extra layer of critical thought that allows the organization to stop and pivot when that’s what’s required.


Think back to Argyris’ thermostat metaphor. Instead of just reacting—turning on and off when it detects a certain temperature—double-loop learning invites the thermostat to reconsider why it’s doing what it’s doing and how it might do it better.

How to Shift to Double Loop Learning

So, how can organizations shift from single to double-loop learning?

1. Stakeholders Must Level With Each Other

The first step to shifting from single to double-loop learning is for all stakeholders to sit down and talk openly about their expectations, values, and goals. These sessions should be led by organizational experts to ensure that old single-loop learning habits of distrust, withholding, and game-playing don’t keep people stuck in single-loop learning.

One of the keys to team members leveling with each other is listening. Focus on creating an environment where everyone can speak up without fear of judgment or punishment.

2. Create Benchmarks for Lasting Growth and Change

Old habits die hard, and single-loop learning is no different. If systems, check-ins, benchmarks, and periodic times to reflect and reset aren’t put into place, old habits of withholding and mistrust will likely creep back in. You can guard against this by making it a norm to measure, assess, and improve how new double-loop learning systems are being implemented over time.

3. Reward Risk-Taking and Critical Feedback

Double-loop learning requires squeaky wheels. You have to create a culture that rewards criticism, risk-taking, and reflecting on the system as a whole and the reasons the organization does what it does. Think big picture stuff.

This is about walking the walk. It’s one thing to tell employees to speak up and give their feedback, it’s another thing entirely to have systems in place that make employees feel safe enough to do so.


Kimberly Scott’s Radical Candor comes to mind as one way to start shifting to a more open and critical environment. Radical Candor is a system that incentivizes employees and managers to start speaking up about things they used to sweep under the rug. It’s a roadmap and a way to assess and improve open and reflective feedback between all stakeholders.

Double Loop Learning for Individuals

Double-loop learning isn’t only for organizations. You can also apply Argyris’ ideas to your learning.[3]

Here’s how that might look:

1. Level With Yourself and Seek Accountability

Instead of being stuck in a single-loop learning cycle, break out by adding another layer of critical reflection. Why are you learning what you’re learning? Is it important? Is there another way? Think big picture again.

Become clear on what you want to learn and how you’re currently trying to learn it. Then, open yourself up to others to keep yourself accountable. Leave the door open to completely shift major details about your learning goals.

2. Create Benchmarks and Don’t Put Your Head in the Sand

Just as with organizations, individuals also need to create goals and continuously reflect on whether or not they’re moving toward double-loop learning. Schedule times to meet with the people keeping you accountable for your learning plan. Then, ask yourself whether or not your learning goals still make sense.

Ask big picture questions. Are you in the right environment to learn? Is your learning plan working? Do you need to change course altogether or shift your goals entirely? If it’s double-loop learning, you can’t be afraid to ask questions about why you’re doing what you’re doing and change course when the need arises.


3. Value Risk-Taking and Accept Criticism

You’re also going to need to shift your mindset from simply learning and reflecting to accepting criticism, being critical of yourself as a learner, and taking risks and experiencing discomfort as you ask big questions and make drastic alterations to your learning plan over time.

Instead of concerning yourself with grades and GPAs, double-loop learning would mean you’re allowing yourself time to step back and analyze why you’re learning what you’re learning, if there’s a better way, and even whether or not you should be on that learning trajectory in the first place.

Final Thoughts

Think back to the thermostat example. Doing homework, handing it in, and then receiving a grade is single-loop learning. Thinking about why you’re doing any of that and making appropriate changes that align with your learning goals shifts you into double-loop learning, and that’s a great way to see the bigger picture and get the best results.

Learning and reflection are two of the most important things when it comes to organizational or personal development. This is why double-loop learning is key if you want yourself or your organization to succeed.

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Featured photo credit: Cherrydeck via


[1] NPR: Challenger: What Went Wrong
[2] Harvard Business Review: Double Loop Learning in Organizations
[3] Journal of Advanced Learning: The role of reflection in single and double-loop learning

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