I really appreciate what online opportunities have done for access to education; online learning has benefitted so many people. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people.

I’ve tried and tried, but I can’t make online learning work for me in a meaningful way. And for the most part, I’ve successfully avoided it. That is, until returning to work after maternity leave.

Since I wasn’t ready to leave my baby overnight but still wanted to engage in some professional development opportunities, I had to turn to online options.

Enter the webinar—I had kind of forgotten they were a thing. Over the last six months, I’ve had at least one webinar on my calendar every week. College Solution, Inside Higher Ed, EWA, Converge Consulting, mStoner, Holy Cross Alumni Career Development, I’ve run the gamut with webinar hosts and I’d say the only thing that they all had in common was a connection to education.

Now, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I had runaway success with them. I got distracted by lots of things—important emails, cat needing lunch, baby waking up from nap, me dropping my own lunch all over the couch. I ran into tech issues (or the webinar hosts did). Some of the webinars were just not a great fit.

But I surprised myself, because some of them were pretty interesting (while others were…not) and I feel like I learned something. I still struggle to pay attention and focus, but I think I’ve gotten better this summer. And, if something doesn’t seem like a good fit, I find that I’m often in the same predicament I have with books: Once I start it, I have to finish it. No matter how painful or dull, I power through until “The End” because maybe there’s something that’s worth it. So far, I’ve not found that to be the case with webinars…

If you’re not a successful online learner, here are some tips I have for being a better webinar attendee.

Actually read the description. I’ll admit, sometimes I look at a title of something and think, sure! That works. But really, it wasn’t a good fit in the first place and I’m stuck pinching my arm to stay focused. A seemingly great webinar could be a bad fit because it was too advanced for me and I needed a more basic tutorial first (ahem, Google Analytics).

Check out who’s talking. I look at the webinar organizer, host, and panelists (if available) because there are some people that can typically better capture my attention. Additionally, knowing the speakers and the host can help identify if I’m a good target audience.

Snooze notifications. For some of the webinars, I actually shut down Twitter, email, Slack, chat, basically everything except the webinar because I knew I would be lured by the siren call of connection and social media. Notifications are just a distraction waiting to happen mid-webinar.

Take notes. I break out the pen and pad of paper and furiously scribble down everything that I feel is relevant or important. I pretend like the webinar organizers didn’t say at least five times that the slides and the recording would be emailed after the webinar (because honestly, who is really going to go back and look at them?). I retain information better when I write it down, so this forces me to engage.

I still don’t think that online learning is the best fit for me, but in the absence of other options, webinars have really helped me continue my professional development.