With assessments going on now, you might find yourself running at full capacity and your mind being more busy than usual. Last week we had Lizi Green from AbilityNet present some techy solutions that can help overcome common barriers to learning and have the potential to increase your academic performance.
Apps offer agency for neurodiverse individuals (Demo, 2017) and help us to build useful study habits (Stojanovic et al., 2020). Although it might mean sacrificing apps which are distracting and overwhelming. Do take a balanced approach to app usage as too much screen time is a big culprit for disrupting sleep which will have a detrimental impact on your capacity to learn and overall well-being.
App stores are crammed with solutions that support study skills and well-being. It can be a minefield to find a trustworthy and suitable solution to your needs. This mostly free, curated selection comes from reputable sources which are hopefully long-lasting. So, you will not be left high and dry if you find you like one and spend ages setting it up. Find these and other free assistive tools and apps in our library guide.
- Noise generation apps such as Coffitivity and Noisli can block out annoying and distracting sounds which prevent you from focusing on your work. The latter is highly customisable letting you create a tailored sound environment.
- Content blockers mute distractions that allow you to focus on the task at hand. Forest (paid) uses a gamification approach where you are planting virtual trees and being rewarded for staying focused. They also plant an actual tree for every app bought. The gamification elements could be distracting if your attention is limited. You can opt for built-in tools like focus assist modes on your device. Cold Turkey allows blocking specific content in case you need some web pages for your research.
- The Pomodoro Technique helps you stay on task by breaking up your workday into 25-minute intervals separated by five-minute breaks. Pomodoro is Italian for tomato as it is named after the tomato-shaped timer. The Marinara Timer is more fluid by allowing you to customise your intervals and break periods.
- Office Lens offers a way to capture information from materials you cannot take away like a whiteboard and reference books. It will straighten them up and you can annotate them and export them to other apps. The Actions mode supports Optical Character Recognition (OCR) which allows you to pull the text out of the photo. You can refer to our Office Lens and Adobe Scan guidance if you need to convert your handwritten notes to complete your assignments and submit them on Moodle.
- OneNote is more than a notebook. The record audio option from the insert tab now offers a skip option making it more suitable for longer recordings. You can embed online videos and make notes as you watch them. From the Draw tab, you can write or draw simple shapes with a digital pen and convert them into editable digital form with the ink to text option, ink to shape and ink to math options.
- Google Keep is a post-it notes style organiser. It has checklists to which you can add collaborators. It also offers OCR for images and audio which works better for shorter recordings as it can’t be skipped but will have a transcript. It offers time-based and location reminders. So, you can prompt yourself to drop your books off when walking past the library!
- Alarmy is dubbed the world’s most annoying alarm because you set yourself a mission to turn the alarm off to wake up completely.
- Microsoft To do: has a smart daily planner created from your to-do lists and synchronised tasks from your Teams/SharePoint Planner.
- Habit Bull (free for three habits which is enough to try to hack) helps to build positive habits. It is highly customisable and allows you to set your own goals and milestones. It will send you reminders and tracks your progress.
There is a dependency on extrinsic rewards with techniques such as reminders and streaks to consider with these solutions as they may not result in long-lasting effects if you abandon the app (Renfree et al., 2016).
It is important to note that these digital tools do not replace traditional treatment, support channels and human connections but they can be useful interventions and may be of benefit in managing mental health symptoms (Wang et al., 2018)
- Self-help for Anxiety Management (SAM), developed by the University of West England has an inconspicuous look and feel to allow for discreet use. It packs a lot of content monitoring and managing your mental health.
- Mindshift CBT (made in Canada) is another evidence-based app that uses Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). It offers different zones e.g., check-ins, feeling tracker, and goal setting to reorient your thinking and make lasting positive changes.
- Catch it from the Universities of Liverpool and Manchester, which also uses a CBT approach to help users understand their moods by journaling.
Please share any other habit changing and life-altering apps that you are a fan of. One that has helped me to form a mediation habit is Medito. I’m on my way to a 100-day streak! It has guided mediation packs including academic life, compassion, great thinkers and SOS.
Remember nothing beats a good night’s sleep for boosting your brainpower and learning potential, and keeping you healthy and emotionally regulated (Walker, 2019).
- Demo, A.T. 2017, “Hacking agency: Apps, autism, and neurodiversity”, The Quarterly Journal of speech, vol. 103, no. 3, pp. 277-300. https://doi.org/10.1080/00335630.2017.1321135
- Renfree, I., Harrison, D., Marshall, P., Stawarz, K. & Cox, A. 2016, “Don’t Kick the Habit: The Role of Dependency in Habit Formation Apps”. In Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI EA ’16). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 2932–2939. https://doi.org/10.1145/2851581.2892495
- Stojanovic, M., Grund, A. & Fries, S. 2020, “App-Based Habit Building Reduces Motivational Impairments During Studying – An Event Sampling Study”, Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 11, pp. 167-167. https://doaj.org/article/19ec21ecb00f4aaa8aa8dd9892e614a3
- Wang, D.S. Varma, M. Prosperi, A systematic review of the effectiveness of mobile apps for monitoring and management of mental health symptoms or disorders, Journal of Psychiatric Research, 107 (2018), pp. 73-78. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychires.2018.10.006
- Walker, M. 2019, Sleep for Enhancing Learning, Creativity, and Immunity. In found Ep. 45 Found My Fitness with Dr. Rhonda Patrick available on Podcast Notes
Image attribution: Mindfull | PlusLexia.com