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How to ace your online study with these study hacks

BY: Brigitte Schwartz|9 April 2019
BLOG| The digital student life

Learning to learn effectively is a powerful skill. In the age of Industry 4.0, continuous learning is one of the best means to future-proof a skillset, by enabling the quick bridging of capability gaps. While it’s true that everyone learns differently, there are numerous ‘learning hacks’ that make studying more efficient for most people.


Online learning lends itself to these – especially as it can be done anywhere, anytime! Learn on your terms and mix up your study environments to maximise memory retention. Whether you’re listening to an online lecture in a bus en-route to a backpackers in Machu Picchu, live-streaming a lecture by the pool, or tucked away in the corner of a coffee-shop immersed in talk via VR (virtual reality), if you can ‘crack’ these hacks, your studies will be ‘A’ for away:

1. Move location often:

Context dependent learning has long been recognised as an important factor for studying smartly. It turns out that changing environments – popping to a library or coffee shop, for example - aids information retention. That’s because we tend to remember the context we study in – the background stimuli around us - as well as what we’re studying.

2. Learn in bursts:

Spaced recognition learning is all about repeating revision exercises at incrementally increasing intervals. So, re-study the same information 24 hours later, then two days later, then four, eight, and so on. Also, studies have shown memories are encoded most effectively in the hippocampus when synapses are activated for short periods every hour. So, cramming for long hours at a time often doesn’t work. Learn in short bursts instead. 25 minutes on, 25 minutes off, etc.

3. Do practice tests:

Regularly practicing tests is the best way to ensure you can recall information quickly. Plus, it highlights any ‘fluency illusions’ you may have – the belief you know the answer to a question when, actually, you don’t.

4. Try scent memory:

This one’s a little more obscure… the link between scent and memory is strong so try wearing your favourite perfume/ cologne when you study and then again when you’re completing online assessments. The smell could help prompt information recall?

5. Block the distractions:

There are various apps you can download to limit your browsing options while you’re studying online. Apps like StayFocusd restrict your access to time-wasting websites to help you stay in the zone.


It’s also important to establish how your brain likes to learn. Do you need to hand write endless notes to recall information? Is it easier for you to learn by making connections through a mind-map? Do you learn visually? Or audibly? Could colour-coding information help you to retain it? Find your studying style. Then put the right processes in place.


Check the recommended hours your online course advises you study each day. Then diarise these into a clear, concise plan. Set up short- and long-term rewards to incentivise good studying behaviour. For example, if you manage four short 25-minute study bursts in a day, you get a reward. Get your family and friends on board as well – their support and understanding will help carry you through the more intense times.


It’s also important to use all the support your online educational institute provides. From tutors and virtual – and physical – study meet-ups, to learning support staff and regular check-ins, SGI specialises in providing a nurturing, holistic study experience that’s all about helping you reach your potential. Find out more about Stellenbosch Graduate Institute’s academic support programme and the courses we can offer you. 

Three bonus studying top tips:

1. The Mozart Effect:

While evidence is inconclusive as to whether classical music actually improves cognitive performance, it can lift your mood, which might make you more receptive to information.

2. Learn to use Google, like a Scholar:

There’s an art to really drilling down and finding the right info on Google. Spend some time mastering the tricks – starting with using Google Scholar.

3. Teach it to someone else:

Apparently, as soon as you know you’re going to have to teach information to someone else, you immediately concentrate harder on learning it. So, teach anyone who’s willing to listen – even if it’s your cat.


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