The Best Productivity Tools For Distance Learners I Oxford Open Learning
Distance Learning

The Best Productivity Tools For Distance Learners

2020 was a year when many of us became accustomed to working from home. Yet the seismic shift that some of the working population have experienced this past year is the day-to-day reality for most distance-learners. We all know there can be plenty of benefits to distance-learning, such as being able to digest the content at your own pace and receiving one-to-one guidance from your tutor.

This doesn’t mean that it doesn’t come without its challenges though. With no one to hold you accountable daily, it can be easy to struggle with motivation, and with lockdown restrictions ongoing, it can be difficult for distance-learners to gain the socialisation they would normally experience outside the house – leaving some of you feeling especially isolated. However, thankfully there are plenty of fantastic productivity tools out there that can assist you in achieving your goals.

Of course, there’s no need for distance learners to feel that utilising these tools is yet another ‘To-Do’ to cross off your list, but you could instead try a few of them and see if they suit your learning style and personality. This list is by no means exhaustive, but I hope that amongst these you can find some tools that will accelerate your progress.

Grow Your Own Forest!

If you frequently find yourself becoming distracted by your smartphone, Forest might be the ideal app to prevent procrastination. Simply categorise your task, for example, ‘Studying’, set the timer for the amount of time you want to work and watch your tree grow. If you become tempted to browse the internet and navigate away from the screen, Forest will gently remind you to return to your task, but if you quit the session, your tree will die and you will have to start again.

If you need any further motivation to stay on track, the Forest team have partnered with the real-tree-planting organisation, Trees From The Future, to help them plant real trees. Once you’ve had several successful sessions, you can spend the coins you have earned, and the Forest team will donate to Trees From The Future. So far Forest donations have helped plant 973,873 trees, showing that you can achieve your goals and help the environment along the way!

I even used Forest to write this very article!

The Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro method was developed in the late 1980s by Francesco Cirillo. Pomodoro is Italian for ‘tomato’ and is named after the tomato-shaped timers that could be found in many-a kitchen in the 1980s. The technique itself is as simple as it gets: set a timer for twenty-five minutes and focus solely on your studying during this time, before taking a five-minute break. After four Pomodoro sessions, you can take a longer break of fifteen or twenty minutes.

The technique taps into a few different areas of human psychology – if we feel like we’ve got endless time to complete a task, we’ll take endless time to complete it. Trying to beat the clock gives us a boost of motivation. The method also recognises what some scientists have long believed – that many older children, teenagers, and even adults, struggle to focus for much more than twenty minutes at a time. Though not for everyone, I used the technique very successfully when studying for A-Levels via distance-learning. The combination of the razor-sharp focus it gave me and the promise of a regular break was exactly what I needed to get through assignments.

The 80/20 Technique

The 80/20 technique, or Pareto Principle, could be described more as a productivity system than a tool, but it’s extremely useful nonetheless. The principle simply states that 80% of outcomes come from 20% of causes (or inputs.) It was developed by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who in 1897 observed that 80% of Italy’s land was owned by 20% of the population. A way to implement this into your studying or revision schedule could be to identify and understand a small number of quotations or facts thoroughly, rather than trying to memorise endless information. Alternatively, you could spend time identifying the core themes of a novel or textbook – thus distilling the parts that are most likely to come up in an assignment or exam – rather than attempting to memorise entire sections word-for-word.

The 80/20 technique can also be applied beyond academia – and it’s important to remember that our lifestyle also has a huge impact on our motivation and productivity. If you’ve ever heard that you should eat healthily 80% of the time and enjoy treats just 20% of the time – that’s the 80/20 rule in action right there! Applying the 80/20 rule to your distance-learning might be a little more complicated than some of the other productivity tools we’ve looked at, but if you can identify that goldmine – the 20% that yields 80% of results- then your productivity and efficiency are likely to greatly improve.

Organise Your Work With Notion

Notion is a project-management, organiser, and note-taking tool all rolled into one. You can make it as simple or as comprehensive as you wish, but all basic accounts are free. From calendars and to-do lists to reading lists, Notion has it all. Once you’ve created your workspace, you can even collect web-articles that you need to read for your assignment, clip educational videos to watch now or later, and even track your progress towards your academic goals – however big or small.

When you first get started with Notion, you’ll be greeted by a blank page, which might not strike you as the most sophisticated of technology. Yet the magic of Notion is in its simplicity – by providing you with a blank page, Notion encourages you to spend time simply thinking and concentrating, without getting distracted by gimmicks. As you get to know Notion, you’ll learn that there aren’t any limits on what it can do – but to get you started, you might want to check out its template gallery.

As we mentioned, distance-learning can sometimes be lonely, but Notion is also built to be a collaborative tool. Share your workspace with your tutor or your fellow distance-learners, and you’ll quickly create a workspace that is organised, synergetic and fun!

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Jessica is a freelance copywriter and content writer based in Richmond-Upon-Thames. With a degree in English Literature from University College London, she has experience as a private tutor for 14-18 years olds and adult learners. She has also worked in Widening Participation as a Mentor, Student Ambassador, and Student Leader. As someone who achieved A-Levels through distance-learning, Jessica has first-hand experience of the unique challenges and rewards that distance-learning offers. She regularly contributes content to educational websites including eNotes and Tutorful.

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