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How I Make Online Classes Bearable

3 min read

Looking at your screen to learn medicine sucks.

I did not go into medical school to watch lectures at 2x speed.

You can't learn medicine by watching lectures; you need to see the signs and symptoms with your own eyes and examine your patients.

If William Osler were still alive, he'd say something like this:

“Medicine is learned by the bedside and not in Zoom. Let not your conceptions of disease come from words heard from your earphones or read from the book. See, and then reason and compare and control. But see first.”

I thought I'd enjoy online classes, but I was wrong.

Online classes are a massive productivity black hole. You need a ton of self-discipline to go to online lectures, and not stay in bed. And when you do show up, going on Twitter is more interesting than listening to your lecturer. No one is looking out for you; there’s no pain from dozing off when you can turn your camera off. There are zero accountability measures for you when it comes to online classes.

Trust me, I've been there and done all that. I've reached peak procrastination during the lockdown. I did everything I could to put off studying. I learned how to code, started writing online, read a lot.

Here are some steps I took to make myself a functioning medical student online.

  1. Accept the fact that it's an obstacle.

    At this rate, the thought of taking a year off doesn't seem too far fetched for me. I would learn better if I were to resume medical school when I'm allowed in the wards.

    I perceived studying online as an obstacle. And the obstacle is the way forward. It's time I realised that online class is an opportunity to be better, not an obstacle meant to stop me from being a doctor. Being online allows me to learn at my own pace and schedule.

  2. Create an accountability system

    Now that you're online, there's no one to look out for you in class. No one will pinch you when you fall asleep, no doctors scolding you for daydreaming in the wards: only you and your screen. With zero accountability, it's easy to fall into a slump and binge three seasons of Big Mouth in a day during your exam week. (been there, done that)

    You can set up systems in place to make yourself accountable. One of the most significant factors to make yourself accountable is pain, and there's no more considerable pain than losing money. You can use Beeminder to keep track of the amount of studying you get done, and if you don't hit a certain threshold, you will lose money.

    If you need a partner to work with, you can use Focusmate. Focusmate is a video sharing website where you turn on your camera and work alongside others. Focusmate works not because I need companionship, but because I need help showing up. Whenever I schedule a FocusMate session, I'll have to show up, and actually do the work, or else I'll let someone down by ghosting them. Not only that, at the start of a Focusmate session, you tell your partner about your goals, and at the end of the session, you report back on what you've done. You don't want to hurt your ego and say you accomplished nothing.

  3. Reward yourself

    It's important to reward yourself after a long day of studying. Too often, we fall into the trap of learning too much when we do everything from home and neglect our needs to relax and refresh our mind. Watch something on Netflix after studying, or talk to your friends. Having rewards at the end also motivates you to make some progress and avoids procrastination.

  4. Go out (if possible)

    I find staying indoors very unproductive. I love to work outside at random new coffee shops because it makes me learn better, and I look forward to going out. When you study at the same spot all day, it tends to get mundane and boring. You lose out on the excitement, and you don't look forward to studying at all. One of the flow triggers is a novelty, so I love to find new spots to do work. Being in an unfamiliar place helps me achieve flow, the state where you're so into work, you lose your sense of time.

    If possible, and you're not breaching lockdown rules, try to go out. You could study in parks and get some fresh air, or even go to your library if it's open.

  5. Make it enjoyable

    Try to make studying as enjoyable as possible. For me, that means having a fresh cup of coffee next to me and listening to instrumentals. Do what works for you. I make it a rule only to drink coffee when I'm studying, so that way, I look forward to learning each morning.

  6. Set barriers for distractions

    Since it’s much more enjoyable to watch cat videos than study, make it hard for you to fall for you. You can use website blockers such as Freedom to stop you from going on Twitter in the middle of class. I find the added friction enough to prevent me from being distracted. You can also turn your phone on do not disturb so your notifications don’t disrupt your flow and use headphones when studying, so other people know when not to interrupt.

Effective LearningMedical School


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