Being a student in today’s technologically connected world is a double-edged sword. While students have immediate access to more information now than ever before, they also have access to countless distractions that can pull a student’s attention away long enough to render study time ineffective and pretty much useless.
After all, how easy would it be for you to tear yourself away from a chapter of your biology book for a round of Angry Birds or some back-and-forth with your classmates via Facebook? I used to find myself distracted by MUDs, BBS door games, Need For Speed, and even Solitaire. This was back in the ’90s, but you get the idea.
Being a student today can put you at a huge advantage over generations that came before you. Becoming a computer programmer before you get out of junior high is not only possible, but commonplace these days. Some of the biggest business success stories come out of people who were either in high school or early into their college years. In fact, 29 is jokingly considered to be an age at which people become senior citizens in the tech world.
So, how can you put technology to work for you as a student? Can technology actually improve your study habits and maximize your time?
Use Social Media to Your Advantage
Social media might be the biggest distraction out there, but did you know you can actually put it to good use while studying?
Some time back, an article was published on Chris Pirillo’s blog detailing a number of ways that social media could be used for the purposes of learning. In the article, several key techniques for improving the effectiveness of social media as a learning tool were outlined.
One of these suggestions included creating a virtual study group that reaches outside of your local class to a broader setting. Just because you’re learning about the biological properties of plants with your class doesn’t mean you can’t join a study group going through the same basic material from another school. Imagine being able to gain perspective and understanding of a subject from multiple sources and viewpoints outside of your local learning institution?
Students that study remotely can also benefit from being able to work with classmates around the world as you tackle a given subject. This is one of the key reasons so many people still recommend learning at a physical university, and you can achieve it through powerful social media tools such as: Google Hangouts and Facebook groups, among others.
Apps Can Help
Believe it or not, smartphones and tablet computers are great learning tools. Sure, it’s fun to talk and text on them, but imagine being able to us that same screen to enhance your learning potential?
Recently, Craighton Miller, a student himself, outlined ten of the top educational apps for iPhone. These apps, which include iHomework, a virtual assistant that helps you keep homework assignments organized, reading assignments in check, and provides reminders for classes and other important appointments.
Some apps can even help you gain a better understanding of a given subject, providing additional details and unique information that can assist with breaking the learning curve so many courses can impose.
Google is Your Friend
Craighton Miller advised, “Google is your friend.” Simply put, while you could spend hours in the library searching for reliable sources for your term paper or thesis, Google can give you immediate access to reliable sources that could suit your needs quite well.
In addition, you can take advantage of Google Books, a giant catalog of books from around the world and trough time. Not only can Google help you find the book you’re searching for based on your topic, general research needs, or direct inquiry; but it can even present you with a full digital view of the book if it is out of copyright.
Google Scholar is another excellent resource for students, making it easy to find reliable sources to cite in your research or even help you gain a better understanding of a given subject.
Cloud-Based Study Tools
When it comes to taking and reviewing notes, few tools have changed the way modern students work more than the cloud. Craighton advised, “Cloud note taking apps such as Evernote have helped me keep track of all of my note taking in classes and storing them for use anywhere on my iPhone, iPad or computer to look them up wherever I need.”
He then went on to say, “Google Calendars has helped me keep track of all my classes, projects and upcoming test dates.” Google Calendar does indeed have plenty of useful tools to help a student keep track of scheduling, especially when that student uses multiple platforms such as an iPad, smartphone, and desktop computer. Having one calendar everywhere can be a great way to avoid missing an important appointment.
Being able to collaborate with others is also a great way to gain an understanding of a subject. Being in a study group that combines notes into a single document over Evernote or Google Docs, for example, makes it easier to pick up on the details you might have otherwise missed. For example, during a lecture about American history, you may miss a specific date or detail as you write and review notes about the last topic the speaker covered. You never know when that one thing you missed could come back to haunt you.
If anything makes iTunes, an often poorly received program by Apple for managing media files and syncing devices, worth installing, it’s iTunes U. Don’t worry, you can also experience this service through an app for your iOS device, if you really don’t want to deal with iTunes.
Imagine being able to download lectures from some of the greatest minds in our modern age, experience entire courses from top universities, and do so without having to pay a single dime? Apple has made this possible with iTunes U, a free service powered by the iTunes Music Store.
Whether you’re a college student, in K-12, or a fan of the subjects at hand, you can learn a lot from seeing and hearing the content presented by a different source. Some teachers have a method of getting information across that works great for the majority of the class, but is completely lost by others. iTunes U gives you the ability to see the lesson from another perspective, and gain a better understanding of the material.
This isn’t a big secret, either. According to The Loop, both Stanford and Open University have reached the 50 million download mark for content published through iTunes U. This is a remarkable number, and serves as a testament for the potential educational power of the platform.
This is especially useful if you’re working on an assignment and feel that the content is over your head. Watching a lecture at a college level could clear out some of the cobwebs and put you ahead of the rest of your class in some ways.
A bonus to this list is the free, non-profit, online series of over 2,000 video lectures about everything under the sun that comprises Khan Academy. Humbly beginning as a way for New Orleans native Salman Khan to remotely help his sixth grade cousin with her math homework, Khan University grew with grants from some pretty big names (Bill Gates among them) and now educates people of all ages from around the world.