• Dr. Mario

Graduation Killers—Avoid These 3 Online Learning Mistakes

Updated: Oct 26, 2020

Online learners don’t get all the social advantages associated with taking fact-to-face classes. Learning online can feel isolating due to the lack connection with fellow students. In face-to-face courses, students benefit from discussing the typical struggles of being in school, taking a particular class, or venting about an instructor.

What’s more challenging for online students is that they can get caught up in all the negative thought patterns swirling around in their brains, and that can keep them from putting forth their best efforts. These negative thought patterns are what I refer to as thought errors, and they wreak havoc on student success.

Thought errors are a style of thinking that present a negative bias towards ourselves and distort our sense of reality. Referred to as cognitive distortions in the psychological community, psychologists believed that these thought patterns are harmful to one’s mental well-being. sThis is especially true for students who fall into the trap of cognitive distortions as their sense of reality influences their ability to stay motivated in online learning.

What are thought errors, and why is it important for online students to know how to recognize them? In this blog post, I’m going to explain 3 common types of thought errors and why they are so harmful to students. I’ll also share some examples I’ve observed from teaching online about how thought errors hold students back from finishing their online classes and graduating on time.

Spoiler Alert: You’re probably going to recognize that you make some of these mistakes, so don’t panic. It’s a Tame Your Brain thing, and we all do it.

3 Common Thought Errors

Now that you know what thought errors are, let’s take a look a 3 common types of thought errors students experience in online learning.


This thinking style reminds me of a saying my students used when they thought they thought one of their classmates was dominating a class discussion. Students would say something like, “She’s doing too much,” or “He’s so extra!” At first, I had no idea what they meant because I’m getting old, and I’m not up to speed on these generational expressions. 🤣 🤣 🤣

My students' statements get to the heart of catastrophizing – it’s when you overreact to a situation. Catastrophizing happens when you go full speed ahead to the worst possible conclusion after experiencing a setback. Let’s consider the Gino’s case.

Gino fails his first test in a class, and immediately thinks: “I failed the first quiz. There’s no way I’m going to pass this class.” In Gino’s case, he jumps right off the deep end and accepts the idea he has no chance of passing the course solely based on the results of one quiz.

Gino might be “doing too much” when he decides to drop the course. However, the reality is that he has more chances to improve his grade in the class. Calm down, Gino. Life isn’t over yet; it’s going to be okay

Emotional Reasoning

We’ve all had an experience where our emotions got the best of us. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve had my fair share of allowing my feelings to take over my brain and create all kinds of drama in my world. Looking back on some of the situations, I wished that I could have tamed my brain to make better decisions. But, as they say, hindsight is 20/20 vision.

Emotional reasoning shows up when you allow your emotions to define your reality. Students who fall prey to emotional reasoning refuse to accept any evidence that contradicts their feelings. In other words, if a student feels a certain way about a situation, then it must be true. Let’s look at another example.

Cierra is preparing for a quiz that’s coming due. She’s spent hours studying the course material and talking to her classmates to get prepared. The night before the exam, Cierra repeatedly thinks, “I feel nervous. I must not have studied everything I need to know to get an A on the test.” Slow down, Cierra. You’re moving too fast.

Here, the reality is that you can study from sunup to sundown, for hours on end, and still not know all of the answers to the questions on a test. However, that doesn’t mean you’re not prepared.

In Cierra’s case, there’s a better chance that she’ll earn a passing grade on the test or assignment because she’s probably learned more than she ever would know about the material. My advice to Cierra: Stay calm. Your brain is just playing with your emotions. You got this!

Mind Reading

At this point, you might be thinking, “I can see how I’ve been making some of these thought errors in the past.” How do I know what you’re thinking? Because I’ve been teaching online students for so long that I know how to read reads their minds! Just kidding. If I could read minds, I rich beyond my wildest dreams. 💲 💲 💲

Mind reading, the third thought error, involves making assumptions about what other people think about you. I believe this type of thought error is most destructive to online students because it can slowly eat away at their self-esteem by creating an alternate reality that traps them in the false self-narrative.

Folks, the truth is that you can’t read other’s people’s minds. Now, brace yourself. I’m going to tell you something that’s going to make your head explode. Ready? What other people think of you is none of your business. It has nothing to do with you.

People have their own Think-Feel-Act Model (TFAM) to deal with. Knowing this a beautiful thing. But the truth of the matter is that people aren’t thinking about you as much as you might think. Let’s look at Gabriella’s situation.

Gabriella reached out to her professor by phone to ask her a few questions for the next exam. When test day rolls around, and Gabriella realized that she didn’t answer the questions she spoke to her professor about correctly. She thinks to herself, “I didn’t get the answer to this question right even after I talked to the professor. Professor Jones must think I’m an idiot.”

Hold the phone, Gabriella! These thoughts don’t serve you well. How do you know (for sure) what Professor Jones thinks about you? Her thought pattern could spiral out of control to the point that Gabriella might decide not to reach out to her professor for help again. Her future actions could be based on a faulty assumption of what her professor thinks about her.

Don’t worry Gabriella, Professor Jones has tons of students and I assure you that she’s probably thinking about what she could have done better to help you answer that question you missed.

Final Thoughts

Okay, so we’ve covered a few examples that show us how thought errors threaten student success. So, let’s bring it all together. First, thought errors feed stress and anxiety to the point of overwhelm.

Over the years, I’ve coached many students on the brink of withdrawing from my classes. In most of these cases, those students that were stressed out saw dropping the class as their only option.

However, they didn’t even accept the idea that other opportunities existed to pass the course. For these students, I noticed that thought errors clouded their judgment to the extent that it paralyzed them from acting.

Now that you know more about thought errors and how they can derail online learning, how do you break the cycle? The answer is simple, but it takes time and practice. If you’ve been following the blog, then you know changing your thoughts errors beings with awareness.

As a student, you must bring your attention to thought errors holding you back in your learning. That’s the first step in taming your brain so you can overcome your thought errors and get your work done!

What's Next?

Are you enjoying the insights I’m sharing about how to tame your brain so you can get to graduation on time? If you want more, follow me on Facebook, where I share weekly videos and information about how to be the boss of your online classes.

You won’t find this content anywhere else because I created it for busy students just like you. So, don’t miss out! Click on this link and follow me on Facebook.

I can’t wait for you to become a part of the learning community we’re building there. Okay, that’s all for now. I’ll see you next time during my Office Hours!

Photo by Julia Joppien on Unsplash

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