This is new to a lot of students, but in many ways, online learning is similar to learning in person: you need to dedicate a significant amount of your time, attend your classes on a regular basis, concentrate while studying, and stay committed.
When you're studying online you should:
- Get your device ready and working
- Be on time
- Wear appropriate clothing
- Be microphone aware
- Remember, this a “real” course; treat it like one
- Decide on a dedicated study space
- Save and backup your work regularly - be willing to become tech-savvy (or be able to call upon someone who is)
- Avoid distraction
- Keep to a schedule
- Ask for help when you need it
- Take study breaks
- Stay connected
- Participate in any class activities
- Think before you type or talk
- Keep going
Get your device ready and working
Whenever you are taking part in online learning, it's vital that you have your device ready beforehand. Having to sort out technical issues as the events starts will be wasting everyone's time. Follow these steps to have you up and running:
- Read and understand the instructions you were given to join the session.
- You may have to download specific software to be able to access your online learning. Give yourself plenty of time beforehand so you can make sure the software works. Don't do this 5 minutes before the event is set to start! If you are using a phone or a tablet, you might need to go to the app store to get the software
- Are you able to test the joining instructions? If you can, do this so that you know that you can see and hear everything ok before you start.
- At the very least you will need to be able to hear your tutor, so make sure the device you are using has speakers or that you can attach headphones. Check these are enabled and that you have not muted them
- Think about investing in good quality headphones. If you're sharing a space, you might need headphones to hear what is being said, and conversely, those you are sharing space with may not want to hear what is being said to you
- If you're using a laptop, tablet or phone, make use it's fully charged before you start and keep an eye on battery levels.
- If you use an online calendar, add the online learning session as an event and include the joining link. This will make life easier for you when the time comes to join, as you won't need to go looking for the link.
Be on time
Related to the above, be ready to start at the given time. You'd turn up on time for a face-to-face class, so do the same for the online class.
Wear appropriate clothing
You wouldn't turn up for a face-to-face class in your pyjamas, so don't be tempted to do that for an online class. Sleepwear might give the impression that you;re not taking this seriously. Wear the same gear you would for a face-to-face class.
Be microphone aware
Keep your microphone on mute. Your classmates and teachers will be able to hear noises in your background such as chewing, sneezing, and tapping your pen or pencil, so muting your microphone will avoid sharing distracting noises
Remember, this a real course: treat it like one
Plain and simple: treat your online classes the same way you would a face-to-face class. Avoid side conversations and multitasking and pay attention. Save meals and snacks for between your classes; eating in class would be the height of bad manners and being in a virtual classroom is no different, plus if you have forgotten to mute your microphone, everyone gets to see and hear that you're eating.
Decide on a dedicated study space
Find a space where you're comfortable studying. Ideally this place should be quiet, organised, distraction-free, and available for use at any time. Where you work is an important concern when you're studying online. The space that you choose should help you to maintain a good study routine. Adjust as necessary until you're happy
Save and backup your work regularly
Technology glitches happen all the time. When many people are working or studying from home, there may be issues with Internet connectivity. To avoid bad things from happening, ensure that you save your work repeatedly, and backup regularly using Google Drive or another cloud storage service. Ensure you can access your work from your smartphone or tablet, if needed. Make a backup of your online course material and assignments in case you lose connectivity. Don't let the Internet eat your homework.
If your word-processing software has an AutoSave function, make sure it's turned on.
This is a very good time to think about improving your IT skills, or to make sure that you have access to a friend or family member who has such skills.
Ask your friends and family to respect your study time and not distract you. Use clear signals e.g., headphones, pens & paper, post-its and closed doors, to let them know when you’re working and not to be disturbed. To help avoid distraction and interruption, think about turning off your phone and /or logging out of your social media accounts when studying. You might think about using a website blocker. Here's a list of a few blockers - some are free and some aren't
Keep to a schedule
Procrastination can be a particular challenge for online learners - there's so many distractions around the house! Try to stay organised, so that you don't fall behind. If you are having difficulties, contact your instructor and let them know, so that they can try to help you create a consistent study routine. Create a study routine that works for you. Don't be afraid to adjust it and tweak it until you feel comfortable in the routine. Do not keep to a routine that you're not at ease with; it will distract from your study effectiveness.
Ask for help when you need it
if you need help, contact your teacher or course organiser. You might be working from home, but you are not alone! If you don’t ask for help when necessary, you could end up falling behind.
The move to online learning is for learners and teachers. By asking your teachers to help, you:
- let the teachers know how you are getting on with the course
- will help the teachers get an idea of the overall effectiveness of the online course and might give them ideas for improvement.
If you don’t ask for help when you need it, nobody will know that anything is wrong.
If there's a forum, chat room or any other way of communicating online then use it. Your classmates may have similar questions or difficulties and either the answer to your question might have been posted there already or asking your question online might help your classmates.
Just be aware that you might not receive an immediate answer - be understanding of your teacher or classmates who may not be online at the same time as you are
It's essential that you take breaks on a regular basis as your effectiveness will decrease if you don't. Integrate some personal time into your study routine, and you will be able to work more effectively. Think about a 10-15 minute break for every 45 minutes studying. Set an alarm if need be. When you take a break, it's a good idea to make sure that you get away from your study space; a change of scenery will help. Mild physical activity, like a walk around the block (or the garden perhaps), will help you maintain balance, renew your energy levels, and help go back to study feeling refreshed.
If you have to stay at home, you’ll miss out on your usual face-to-face interactions, so try to arrange video calls with friends, family and classmates. Even simply text or email them, but do try to make an effort to stay connected with the outside world. You don;t need to discuss study or current events, small talk can be a big help.
Online learning shouldn't mean learning in isolation. If there are online communication channels available, then use them. If there are online meetings or discussions, then take part in them. If you have tips to get the most out of online studying, then share them. Perhaps your classmates and teachers have good advice to share - if you don't participate, you'll never know.
Think before you type or talk
In an online environment, it can be difficult to pick up on facial expression, body language and other non-verbal communications. Think before you speak in order to avoid misunderstandings or hurt feelings. If you're engaging in online chat, it's also difficult to gauge the tone of conversation; what might be apparent in face-to-face conversation can be lost in chat boxes, so definitely avoid sarcasm
It's easy to say, "stay positive!" It's another thing to actually do it. These are interesting times, but they're not permanent. Normality will be restored. Until then, it is important to stay busy, and getting stuck into your learning is one way of doing this. Being part of a group of learners and participating will help break any isolation you might feel. Good luck!
Image source Twitter: Bridget Dolan QC https://twitter.com/DrBridgetDolan/status/1242429148351643648