How to Learn Online: 4 Ways Be Your Own Professor

It seems like there’s no shortage of online education platforms. Whether you want to learn to code or learn to knit, chances are you can learn to do it online. But just being able to learn online isn’t the whole game – you also need to know how to learn.

EdTech and Education 2.0 aren’t going to destroy higher education, although they are signaling that traditional education needs to change if it wants to stay relevant. But there’s something EdTech users can learn from good ol’ fashioned teachers: how to design a course.

These are just suggestions, but for anyone trying to learn a new skill online, there are simply too many great options available to choose just one tactic. Here’s how you can combine online learning startups and traditional techniques to round out your experience into a complete courseload.

1. Take a Class

The basic unit of a course is the lecture. Every class is likely to take the form of an expert passing on her knowledge to you, in an orderly and well-reasoned fashion, so that you can write it all down and try to memorize it. Online, this process is a bit better, because you can schedule it yourself, and pause when you want to. Video lectures and podcasts were among the first EdTech innovations, and this category includes some of its most venerable, stately, and well-qualified members. Just to name a few, some options include Khan Academy, edX, Udemy, Coursera, and YouTube tutorials for just about everything.

2. Give Yourself Homework

When you’re learning under your own direction, it can be easy to assume you’ve learned and now you’re done – but, just like traditional school, you’re still going to have to apply your new knowledge. For coders, this can be rolled into the curriculum with platforms like Codecademy, Udemy, Treehouse, and RubyMonk. Language-learners can check out LiveMocha to practice with native speakers. Otherwise, you can try using Skillshare and Meetup to connect with some like-minded locals to work on your skills together.

3. Test Your Knowledge

You might think we’re tooting our own horn, here, but the evidence suggests otherwise – as UnCollege scholar Dale Stephens notes, testing more often during the learning process helps you remember more information. Education publishers are streamlining their online assessments, too – Pearson Education just rolled out their new gamified learning platform Zeos for middle-school students. Robert Sun of Suntex even thinks assessments are the key to energizing learning in underserved populations. There may not be a huge number of online tests now, but in schools, online assessments should equal traditional tests by 2015. So test yourself. Whether it’s another session on the Smarterer test for your new skill or by setting and meeting a challenge, prove your skills to yourself in order to reinforce your learning and find out where you need to focus on improvement.

4. Grade Your Work

Since I’ve already covered certification in online learning, I’ll keep this relatively brief, but there are a lot of options for grading yourself and proving your newfound mastery to others. Some of the best, like Pathbrite and Degreed, offer you the chance to combine your online learning and your traditional learning into one cohesive version of your educational history. You can even certify what you learn online with Udacity and Coursera, which edX partners will likely start doing as well.

For detractors and skeptics of EdTech, the problem often comes down to some element of the traditional education that’s missing from whichever platform they’re looking at. Right now there is no one online solution to replace college, at least yet. With an open mind and a little resourcefulness, however, you can find all the ingredients to learn online – it’s just a matter of combining them in a recipe that works for you and your brain.