October 14, 2020

The Best Way to Learn During the COVID-19 Pandemic

With the current coronavirus outbreak still roaring upon us, many people are finding themselves with the same question: what is the best way I can learn during the COVID-19 pandemic? 

Motivations might be different: you might be finding some downtime you want to fill in with some productive activities, you might want to consider a career change, you might have been laid off as a result of the COVID-19 crisis and now trying to upskill yourself to be more employable… Maybe you want to future proof yourself after seeing the world of work completely change in the last few months! The list is ongoing. But no matter your reason to learn, deciding how to best approach your learning journey is a key factor to your success.

To help you make the best decision about how to approach your learning this 2020, we have developed a comparison table of different learning methods for you. We have also developed a method for you to evaluate your choice, so you can be sure you are taking the right decision in your learning strategy during this pandemic. 

Structured vs. independent learning

When it comes to learning, the first decision you need to make is if you are looking for a structured or independent learning path. 

Structured learning

Structured learning is when your learning path is already laid out for you. This is the case of academic learning like school, university, master studies, PhDs and some online courses. The benefit of structured learning is that you do not need to worry about what you should be learning and in what order. This makes it easier for you to stay on track with your learning, too, as everything is clearly stated for you to follow and you know where you should be in your learning path at all times. In most cases, structured learning is done in cohorts of students. Having peers on the same journey can also boost your motivation and make you accountable for staying on track, making it less likely you will fall off your journey.

Independent learning

Independent learning, comparably, does not consist of a planned learning path. When you are an independent learner, you will craft your learning as you go, making the decisions of what to learn, in what order and format. This is fantastic for people who are very interested in very particular topics, do not perform well at structured learning or like to have the freedom to adapt their path. Independent learning can come in the form of reading materials like books and articles, online videos, podcasts, speaker events and online courses. Unlike structured learning, independent learning tends to spread across more than one learning platform at the same time. That is, you might be learning on a topic both by reading a book and taking a short online course at the same time. 

Depending on your learning goals and your preferences, you will have to choose the type of learning path you want to follow.

How to choose your learning style during the pandemic

On top of the type of learning path you prefer, there are many things you will want to take into account when considering what is the best way for you to learn something new. Especially now with the ongoing pandemic, there are some new factors to take into account, such as the flexibility of the teaching or if it is face-to-face. You might also want to consider if some decision elements have changed in importance to you as a result of the COVID-19 crisis – perhaps price. 

Asking yourself the right questions before you start learning

Before jumping into comparing, ask yourself these questions:

  • First and foremost, what is your learning goal? Are you learning for pleasure, to upskill or to make a career move? Having this very clear in your mind will condition the type of learning approach you will want to take and your answer to the following questions.
  • What is the budget you have for you to learn?
  • How flexible do you want your study to be? Do you want to have a set schedule or do you prefer to do it on your own?
  • How much knowledge do you want to acquire on this topic? Setting realistic goals on how proficient you want to become is essential. Becoming skilled at something will take more than to simply understand a topic.
  • How fast do you want to achieve your learning goal? Warning: Be realistic!
  • Do you want to be able to prove your knowledge to others in the form of a certificate or badge?
  • And lastly – very important in COVID-19 times –, how safe is this learning method for your health? Will the coronavirus pose a threat or be a disruptor to your studies?

Make sure you make note of your answers. You will want to abide by them when considering the table below.

Comparing different ways of learning during the 2020 pandemic

With your priorities in hand, jump into the table to see how each learning method plots itself. Keep in mind that the table shows the average performance of each learning tool for each factor, but you might find exceptions to these.

Comparison table of the best ways to learn during the COVID-19 pandemic developed by CFTE. It compares books, online videos, podcasts, online courses, academic learning and speaker events across the following factors: type of learning, price, proof of knowledge, flexibility, time to completion, depth of knowledge and covid safety.


*Due to COVID-19 a lot of schools and universities have moved online. For this we will consider them somewhat flexible, but prior to this they would have been inflexible.

Key to the table:

  1. Proof of knowledge: for this comparison, proof of knowledge is either a certificate, badge or diploma that can be used as proof of your learning.
  2. Flexibility: We have factored both schedule and location flexibility. For this, ‘flexible’ learning is when you can both learn anytime and anywhere. ‘Somewhat flexible’ is when either timing or location is flexible. ‘Not flexible’ means time and location are set for you.
  3. Depth of knowledge: not all knowledge is comparable. We have defined depth as ‘superficial’ (recall facts), ‘solid’ (knows how to apply the knowledge), ‘expert’ (critical thinking revolving the topic).
  4. Price: given in ranges.
  5. Time to completion: time from the moment you start learning until you complete the learning path.
  6. COVID-19 safety: refers both to your health integrity (risk of getting infected with COVID-19) and the chances of your study being disrupted by the virus (classes being cancelled or moved online). A tick represents a low health risk and low disruption risk. A cross represents considerable health or disruption risk. 

How to evaluate the best learning option for you

With your priorities in hand and our comparison table available to you, choosing your learning approach should be easy. However, you might still find it challenging to choose if not all factors match your needs. For example, you might love the flexibility and safety of online courses but be dissuaded by the price of some.

If that is the case, doing a multi-weight scorecard might help you. This will allow you to assign value to each factor depending on how much they weigh on your decision. Doing this is easy, simply follow these steps.

  1. First, create a list of values and what they mean in your decision. For instance, you might want to give a 5 to something that you think is perfectly aligned with you and a 1 to what could break the deal. Make sure you assign each value a real description of what they mean so you are consistent in your grading.
  2. For each factor to consider, break the values into ranges
  3. Allocate each range a number, based on their priority to you as decided on step 1.
  4. Repeat this for all factors in your decision making (price, safety, time to completion…). What is important here is that you allocate the same value to different factors with the same importance to you.
  5. Now clear a table in which you input these numbers for each learning method. 
  6. Sum the values for each method to obtain a final grade. This is what you will want to take into consideration. Remember, if you decided that lower values were better you will want to go for the lowest valued method. If higher values weighted heavier for you, then you will go for the highest one.

Here is an example of how to implement this. First, we decide our values and how they align to our decision: 5 – excellent, 4 – very good, 3 – okay, 2 – poor, 1 – bad. 

Now, we break the options into ranges. In the case of price, you might want to consider breaking it down into 0-50, 50-100, 100-200, 200-500… How you break the prices into ranges is really up to you! For each range, you will give it one value of how much that will weight on your decision.

PriceWeighted value
0-505
50-1005
100-2004
200-5003
We assign each price range a value based on how it weights on our decision

Now we repeat this with the next factors. Here is how we might do for having proof of knowledge. Notice how having no proof for us is okay, and having proof is very good. You can be even more specific and value differently diplomas over university degrees.

Proof of knowledgeWeighted value
No proof3
Proof4
We value the proof of knowledge based on what we decided on step 1

After you have completed this step, copy our comparison table and substitute for your own value. When that is done, add all the values per row to have a final grade.

Yours might look like this:

Learning toolType of learningPriceProof of knowledgeFlexibilityTime to completionDepth of knowledgeCOVID safetyTotal grade
Books353545530
Online videos353543528
Podcasts353533527
Online course344555532
Academic learning404312115
Speaker events403335119
Our table after assigning each range a value and transposing it into the comparison table

Looking at our weighted scorecard, we can conclude that for our priorities online courses is the best option for our learning (if yours is too, you will want to check our CFTE’s online courses). This might have been tough for us to conclude earlier, but the comparison has allowed us to make a comparable decision.

Starting your learning today

We know trying to learn during the COVID-19 pandemic can be both exciting and daunting. In a time of uncertainty, you can now be sure to be ready to make the right decision in deciding the best way for you to learn during this pandemic.

Remember these simple steps to making an informed decision:

  1. Consider your learning priorities
  2. Ponderate the important of each factors in your decision
  3. Choose the learning option that suits you best

Learning is a lifelong journey. Start yours today!

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