Getting Ready to Go Back to College Online? First You May Need to Learn How to Read!

old books in a library

By John Gallo, MS, MBA – Dean of Graduate, Adult, and Online Education

As many people recognize the importance and value of going to school online to complete their bachelor’s degree, there is a checklist of things that students correctly identify as necessary. Rearranging a spare room to turn into a workspace, check. Purchasing a new computer, check. Getting textbooks, check. Learning how to read, etc. Wait! What? Learning how to read? Seriously?

Yes, that is right. I am humbly suggesting that online students also need to rethink how to take in information to be successful in online students. Please understand what I am saying: I am not suggesting the problem is illiteracy but aliteracy. There is an apparent apathy towards learning and an inability to understand how to read complex textbooks.

Reading Has Changed

According to an article entitled “Why you should read this article slowly”, the digital age of scrolling through news feeds and using our cellphones has rewired our brains to be less inclined to read carefully. We are now more apt to skim. We read by scrolling quickly through news feeds. Images are used to capture our attention and pithy headlines to entice our eyes.

We “read” in short bursts while waiting for the bus, in line at the deli counter, or whenever we find a brief minute to tickle our intellectual curiosity with the most recent Buzzfeed story. Rarely do we take the time to sit down and digest a good book in a concentrated, meditative way. Sadly, most people rarely touch the pages of a physical book anymore.

The problem with this approach is that textbooks, by their essential nature, cannot be skimmed, perused, and skipped over. Skimming, as part of an overall comprehension strategy, does have its place in helping to mentally create a structure or outline of the material. It can help you prepare before you read. It can also help you review after you’ve read. However, as a standalone strategy for class preparation, it fails on many levels.

The writing level of textbooks is typically more complex. The terminology used is often unfamiliar to the student at first glance. Textbook examination typically requires elevated concentration and conscious deliberation to retain the information. As a result, some struggle with the successful transition to online learning. It requires the student to primarily “read to learn” rather than go to class and be told by the instructor what is important to know.

To further complicate matters, shortened courses of 8 weeks often require more concentrated amounts of studying each week than a traditional 16 week course would require.

So, if you are struggling to read textbooks, let me provide some helpful tips for you.

4 Helpful Tips for Reading Textbooks

  1. If digital texts cause distractions, ditch them for printed versions. If enjoying an ebook or digital version causes you to be distracted by notifications, and other electronic blips and beeps, then go with a print version of the text. Print versions can usually be rented at a considerably lower price than purchasing a digital version which can help save you some money as well!
  2. Recognize your circadian rhythms. Lying down in bed at night and opening a textbook to read carefully is a recipe for disaster, especially if you easily fall asleep by reading. As a viable alternative, get up early in the morning when potential distractions may be minimal and sit at a table.
  3. You cannot realistically achieve two things at once. You must focus on reading. Trying to peruse a textbook while preparing dinner, talking on the phone, or helping get the kids ready for bed will result in your eyes only “looking” at words. To truly digest the material and comprehend it, you need to tune out the distractions. Lock yourself in your office. Inform the family to not disturb you. Leave your cellphone in another room. If you need to listen to music to tune out the noise in the house, use headphones.
  4. If time is a problem, break larger reading assignments in manageable parts. As a hardworking, active adult, you may not have a 2-hour block to read that chapter. The problem is that if you look at the entire 100-page chapter as a whole, you may lack the motivation to even begin. A middle-eastern proverb answers the question “How do you eat an elephant?” with this response: one piece at a time. When you begin the week, look at how much reading you need to achieve. Divide it up into daily increments. Take that 100-page chapter and devote yourself to carefully reading 25 pages. Then, take a break. Later, come back and read the next chunk. Reward yourself when you read more than you anticipated.

In time and with the proper training and practice, you can strategically rethink how you read. In doing so, you may find that you genuinely enjoy the many intellectual and mental benefits that come with reading thoroughly.

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