Stage 3 Talent

Tips & Tricks for Learning Online

Over the past few months, learning opportunities have moved more online. Being in technology, many of our learning opportunities are already online. From taking online courses from places – like edX, Udemy, and Coursera – to learning from conferences that have moved online – such as Microsoft Build and Red Hat Summit – to local user groups moving in-person meetings to virtual experiences over Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and other platforms, there are many online opportunities to learn and hone our skills.

Having led an online team for a coding bootcamp, I have dealt with helping others migrate to learning in an online world. These are some of the tips and tricks that I share with all who are trying to figure out how to learn from online sources.

Taking Notes

When you’re learning, you may find it helpful to take notes. However, how do you take notes when you’re in an online way of learning?

  • If you are one to take notes in a notebook with pen and paper, continue to do so! This is my choice of notetaking, as it sinks in my brain better when I hand write things.
  • If you are more the digital note taker, some common digital notebooks include OneNote and Evernote. If you are using these, something that helps is catching screenshots of videos.
    • In Windows 10, the snipping tool can be brought up with Windows key + Shift + S.
    • In previous versions of Windows, you can find the Snipping Tool through searching the start menu.
    • On Macs, there are a variety of keystrokes to capture screenshots. See this support document from Apple.
    • On various distributions of Linux, screenshots can be caught with various keyboard shortcuts involved the Print Screen button. Consult your distro’s documentation for capturing screenshots. For example, Ubuntu has a Desktop guide with a page on screenshots and screencasts.
  • If you prefer a mixed way of taking notes, where your handwriting can get sent to the cloud, consider Rocketbook. One of my past teammates used one of these, and it was neat to see that he could do the handwriting in a notebook and still capture it electronically.
  • OneNote also has technology for writing notes and possibly converting it to text, when writing is decipherable.
  • If you are working on learning a programming language, consider taking notes with an interactive code environment:
  • When learning from a video, make use of the timeline and pause features. The beauty of a video is you can take notes and move at your own pace. Many video players have speed controls as well, so that if a speaker is talking too slow for you, you can speed it up. Or if the speaker is speaking too fast, pause it, scroll back on the timeline if you need to, and replay that part as you write your notes.
  • Take notes in a way that makes sense for you.

Communicate!

If you’re learning something online, it’s easy to feel isolated from everyone else. So to get past that:

  • Before you start, know who you can contact if you have further questions. So places to check for this information include:
    • Check the syllabus to see if there is contact information for the instructor or teaching assistants.
    • Make note of office hours if they are listed. Take advantage of office hours to ask questions and confirm your understanding.
    • If you are looking at a conference or user group presentation, the author’s contact information tends to be included as part of the meeting information. However, it may typically be found either on the opening slide or ending slide.
  • If there is a community channel – such as on Slack or Discord – take advantage of the opportunity to collaborate as a community. Having support of others going through what you’re going through can ease some of the fears and burden, especially if you find others willing to collaborate with you.
  • If you are participating in an online course and feel like you’re falling behind, reach out to the teaching assistants or instructors or both. You have to be the one to reach out, as no one looks out for you better than yourself. Your instructor may see your progress from a grading perspective; however, if you feel like you’re lacking understanding, ask for help – from more examples to having more conversations where you talk about what you do understand, these can offer insight on how they can help you.

Clone and Code

Many coding-related learning opportunities typically have related code available in a code repository such as GitHub, GitLab, and others. Take advantage of their offerings, clone the code repository locally, and explore the code!

Pace Yourself

With an online learning environment, it’s easy to get caught up in the online content and forget the world around you. Forgetting to eat meals, forgetting to shower, forgetting life outside of learning, forgetting to take care of yourself… these all come at a cost. It is possible to burn out from getting too much in the zone and losing touch with reality. Carve out some time for online learning, and make sure to carve out some time for breaks.

Conclusion

There are plenty of opportunities to learn online. The strategies for surviving are slightly different than an in-person delivery, as being an online learner differs from in-person events, sometimes significantly if you are used to only in-person and are now joining the online realm. Clone code repositories when they are shared so that you can see the suggestions in code. Carve out time for online, and make sure you take a break. Communicate and collaborate.