If you’re new to the idea of taking classes online, it can take a bit of adjustment to get up to speed. To help you out, we take a look at some tips to help you succeed with online learning.
For many students, the start of the new academic year looks very different. Whether you’re going to university for the first time or returning to continue your studies, the COVID-19 pandemic means there are many changes afoot. So, with many courses and classes taking place virtually, how do you succeed with online learning?
As well as exploring some of the current debate around online learning, we’ll also look at some tips and tricks on how to maximise your effectiveness. For many learners, the skills and knowledge are already there. As we’ll see, it’s just a case of knowing how to apply them.
Are we ready for online learning?
The coronavirus pandemic has meant that we’ve all had to change and adapt our lives to some degree. In many cases, it’s also accelerated some of the trends that we were already seeing. One such change is the move towards online learning. But are students ready for a fully or mostly online experience?
A recent article from The Guardian reported that experts fear this year’s new students have ‘lost the discipline of learning.’ Their reasoning is that the months of lockdown without exams to prepare for could mean they struggle to adapt to learning independently at university.
Similarly, research from the UK’s National Union of Students (NUS) suggests that one in five students don’t have access to online learning. Specific groups were hit hardest, and as many as one in three students said their online learning experience was of poor quality.
Although this all sounds quite downbeat, there are several factors that give hope. For example, recent statistics show that 46% of individuals aged 16-24 in Great Britain already use online learning materials. What’s more, many universities across the country have experience providing online learning opportunities and support and encouragement for students.
The current generation of learners are known as ‘digital natives’, having grown up in the age of the internet. Hopefully, this experience with technology, coupled with the structure provided by higher learning institutions, will allow students of all kinds to succeed with online learning.
How to succeed with online learning
Although there are uncertainties about how this year will pan out, there are several steps you can take to make sure your online classes, lectures, and courses are as effective as possible. Again, much of the knowledge and many of the skills are things you apply to your learning already. However, it’s worth knowing how and when to use these.
To succeed with online learning, there are four main areas you might want to consider. Paying some attention to each of these can help you learn as efficiently as possible:
Your learning routine is one of the cornerstones of your online studies. If you keep up positive habits, you’ll soon see the results. Although it’s tempting to get complacent when your classes are on the internet (whether live or recorded), it’s vital you stay focused. Here are some ways you can do so:
Treat it as you would in person
One of the best ways to succeed with online learning is to treat the experience as you would with an in-person class. This means approaching your studies in the same way you would if you had to attend campus. Hold yourself to the same standards, making sure you’re organised, on time, and ready to learn.
As enticing as the prospect of studying from your bed or playing video games during lectures sounds, it’s not conducive to learning. You wouldn’t do it during your regular studies, so avoid doing so when you’re learning online.
Part of treating your online learning as you would with an in-person experience is to keep disciplined. Although your home or halls of residence don’t look like campus, you still need to have the same self-discipline when it comes to independent learning. Your class and study schedule should match that outlined in your courses, and you also need to dedicate time to your own studies outside of that.
Set aside time and space in your day to study, and stick to your timetable once you have it. Try and account for the time spent at your desk, as well as that for things like lunch, short breaks, and the end of your day. Writing your schedule down can help, as it might force you to stay on track with your learning.
Write up your notes
Whether your lectures or seminars are pre-recorded or broadcast live, you should aim to make time to write up your notes. It might be tempting to think of the online resources as pre-made study notes. However, making your own notes encourages you to engage with the material and put it into your own words.
For live video, try and pay attention to what’s going on at the moment rather than writing notes straight away. Hopefully, you’ll be able to revisit the video later. If your class is pre-recorded, you can pause and take notes as you go.
Learning is a two-way process. Although turning up to online lectures or reviewing the material is important, so is getting involved with the discussion. Ask questions where appropriate, and don’t be afraid to seek help with the material if you need it.
You may also find that there are things like discussion groups, forums, or message boards where you can post questions. Try and contribute to these where you can, whether it’s reading what others have written or asking questions yourself. At the end of the day, you’re there to learn, so if you don’t understand something, you’ve a right to ask for clarification!
Once your class, lecture, or seminar is over, don’t just forget about it and move on. As well as writing up your notes, spend some time to think about the subject you covered and any questions that were asked. Make sure that you’ve grasped the details before you conclude your learning.
Keep in touch with your tutors as well. They may ask for feedback on their materials and videos, for example. Don’t forget that this is probably a new way of doing things for them too. They want you to succeed with your online learning, so honest feedback on how effective their presentation is can go a long way in helping you both.
One of the key assets that can help with your online learning experience is your soft skills. These are the character traits, behaviours, and attitudes that help you deal with challenges. There are all kinds of these that can help you succeed with online learning, and many are those you use in regular classes:
There is always the danger of procrastination when you’re studying remotely. Depending on several factors, your courses may or may not be taught in real-time. Either way, your study timetable might not be particularly well-defined. As such, it’s up to you to manage your own time and make sure you meet deadlines.
A good place to start is by reviewing the syllabus for each of your courses. You can then identify when your key dates are, such as due assignments and exams. Add these to your diary or planner, so they don’t take you by surprise. Daily to-do lists can also help you keep on track, as well as give you the satisfaction of ticking off your achievements.
We’ve already outlined how important your learning routine is. As well as organising your time, you need to plan how you’re going to complete your work, where you’re going to study, and what type of environment is best for you.
There are all kinds of ways you can organise your efforts. A study diary, filing system, and to-do lists are all useful. Similarly, you’ll want to make sure that you have everything you need for a productive work environment, which we cover in more detail further down.
As one of the digital generation, you’re probably pretty familiar with a lot of the technology you’ll be using. Yet to succeed with online learning, you need to know about how to apply some of the essential digital skills to your studies.
It’s worthwhile knowing how to harness the digital tools and online resources provided by your university. Equally, understanding how to develop relationships and build a support network is essential.
When you’re learning online, strong communication and collaboration skills are vital. The skills needed are different from those required in the classroom, meaning it’s worthwhile thinking about them. As well as discussing and sharing your work with tutors, you’ll also need to work with others on projects.
Understanding where your strengths and weaknesses are in this regard is essential. By working on these skills, you can ensure that you understand course content and that your needs and questions are understood by others.
Given how uncertain the world seems right now, it’s no wonder some people are struggling to stay engaged with their day-to-day life. However, if you’re to succeed with online learning, you need to stay motivated.
Your routine and time management skills will play a part in your overall motivation. You might also want to take a goal-orientated approach. Set up your overall aim for each course/module, and break that down into smaller chunks. From here, you can reward yourself for meeting your mini-goals, whether on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.
If most of your study time is going to be done outside of the lecture hall, laboratory, or seminar room, you need to pay special attention to your working environment. Here are some tips on creating an effective study space:
Choose somewhere quiet
When you’re sitting down to study, you want to make sure you have a quiet area to sit in. For live classes, you’ll want to make sure you can confidently contribute without the risk of background noise bleeding through on your microphone. Similarly, a quiet spot allows you to focus on your learning materials, giving you time for studying and reflecting.
Keep it neat and tidy
There are several studies that link a cluttered environment with a difficulty to focus. The reasoning is that, when there are lots of different objects for your brain to take in, it can’t process situations as fast. This reasoning is also why we can feel unfocused and scatter-brained when we’re surrounded by clutter.
A tidy workspace also helps with your organisation and routine. You know where things are, so you can easily find your notes, materials, stationary etc.
Make sure it’s comfortable
You’re likely going to spend a fair amount of time sat studying online, at least for the time being. Therefore, you want to ensure that your space is set up to keep you focused and comfortable. Again, avoid things like your bed and sofa here. Try and get a desk and chair with sufficient back support. You want your posture to be upright, with your arms and thighs roughly parallel to the floor.
Pay attention to things like the temperature and lighting too. Natural light is best, and choose a temperature that keeps you productive without feeling drowsy or freezing cold.
One of the problems that people new to studying or working from home often find is that there are a lot of distractions. Your computer may have games installed, while your TV, phone, and tablet are probably within arm’s reach. If you want to succeed with online learning, you need to remove these distractions.
Try turning your phone off or leaving it in another room. Add designated TV or gaming time as part of your timetable. And use things like website blockers to remove apps or websites that you find yourself procrastinating on.
Test your equipment
No matter how much of your learning is based online, you’ll still need to make sure your technology is prepared for it. Download the required software and apps, gather login details for the service you need, and test your webcam, microphone, and internet connection.
With online learning, there are always going to be technical difficulties here and there. However, by preparing and testing your setup ahead of time, you can minimise them and their impact.
Self-care is an essential part of your studies. Given the current circumstances, it’s more important than ever. Taking care of your physical and mental wellbeing can help you stay productive and prevent you from burning out.
Be kind to yourself
Studying online can sometimes be a little taxing. If you’re spending all day sitting at your computer, you might start feeling a little sore and overwhelmed. To avoid this happening, some self-care can go a long way. Remember to stretch frequently and get away from your desk. Reward yourself with a cup of tea or a biscuit every so often. Ultimately, don’t beat yourself up if you’re having a hard time. Know that there is help and support out there if you need it.
Whether you’re spending time researching a project or grinding through the study notes from lectures, give yourself some time to take a break. Many studies agree that the most people can maintain concentration for in one go is around 50-90 minutes. Anything more than that will likely leave you feeling frustrated and tired.
With this knowledge in mind, plan your breaks accordingly. Plan both short and long breaks throughout your day of study. These can be the perfect times for a treat, such as a hot drink or a quick scroll through social media. Check out the Pomodoro technique for breaking your day into manageable chunks.
Mindfulness is the practice of being fully aware of yourself and your surroundings. It’s about putting aside distractions for a brief moment to get in touch with how we’re feeling in the present moment. This technique can help to reduce stress, increase wellbeing, and boost your mental health, creativity, and memory. For someone who is studying, these are all essential.
Get enough sleep
We all know how important sleep is to our ability to function, yet few of us get enough of it. When you’re trying to succeed with online learning, a regular sleep routine can work wonders. It helps reduce stress and boost productivity, allowing you focus on your day of work.
When you’re studying from home, the temptation is to nap during the day, which can be a huge mistake. Instead, try and set a regular bedtime and make sure you’re tired when you get into bed. Avoid caffeine late in the day, minimise your screen time before bed, and make sure to get plenty of exercise.
It’s not the easiest time for socialising and meeting new people, but it’s not impossible. Many online courses, whether through a university or otherwise, have options to chat with your peers. Whether it’s posting questions on forums or answering your fellow students’ queries, getting the conversation started is useful. You could also create a virtual study group with people on your course.
There are also plenty of ways you can stay in touch with friends and family elsewhere, via phone, message, and video chat. Don’t let yourself feel isolated, and make sure to reach out for support if you need it.