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8 Tips to Successfully Take an Online Class

8 Tips to Successfully Take an Online Class

Online classes are both similar to and different from regular courses. In principle, the goal is exactly the same: to successfully learn the concepts being taught. In practice, you’ll need to approach the course from a slightly different angle. Follow these tips and you will be on your way to a passing grade.

1. Read up ahead of time.

Your school is likely to grant you access to the online class up to a week before it starts (or more). This is a good time to familiarize yourself with the layout of the course, peruse the syllabus, and perhaps shoot an email to the professor. Getting the lay of the land early will prepare you for the months to come.

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2. Schedule it in like any other class.

Online courses are really easy to forget about because they don’t necessarily have a regular meeting time. The best way to deal with this is to pick a set day and time every week to sit down and do the class. Finish everything you are required to do, and then plan for the next week. Tell your friends and employers that you will be busy at this time, just like if you were physically in class.

3. Don’t put it off.

Life happens. You will probably disregard the last tip a few times during the semester simply because things came up. As soon as you take care of your obligations, get right back on the ball. If you can’t do it on Tuesday afternoon, do it that night. Don’t give in to the temptation to put it off.

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4. Consume everything the professor posts.

Do so regularly, and for everything. That includes every bulletin post, announcement, document, PowerPoint presentation, video, audio file, hyperlink, and so on. The professor will probably test you on all of this, so you need to be familiar with the entirety of it.

5. Interface electronically with the professor.

Let him or her know that you’re a human being, not just a name on an electronic list. Discuss your grades with him. Ask questions to her about the assignment. The more the professor is aware of you, the better your chances of getting a good grade. Doing so won’t automatically bump you up, but it can’t hurt.

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6. Go to office hours at least once.

This is important for the same reasons as number five. Your professor will now be able to put a face to a name. You inherently become more real to them from a psychological standpoint. As a bonus, you also get to understand who your professor is as a person, which may offer some insight on how to better complete the course.

7. Get ahead if you can manage it.

Many professors of online courses will post every homework assignment at the beginning of the semester. If you have the time and dogged persistence, getting a few weeks ahead almost never hurts (so long as you don’t do so as an excuse to slack off). This will give you time to approach your exams at a more relaxed pace, and perhaps review material on which you were not as clear.

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8. Talk to your classmates.

Your online class platform probably has a means to discuss the assignments with others taking the class. You may or may not need to utilize this feature, but it’s a handy one to have. Typical setups include message boards, social networking, and profile creation capabilities. Even if you don’t think you’ll need it, put your email address on your profile during week one.

Optional: Consider investing in a laptop.

Having constant access to your online class can make or break your grade. You don’t want to be stuck somewhere, unable to finish that test or watch that video because you don’t have a computer available. Consider purchasing an inexpensive laptop for this purpose. Many schools have promotions and deals specifically for students in need of a portable computer.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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