Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid of Online Learning: 8 Study Tips for Making Remote Classes Effective

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Student Lifehacks
college student engaged in online learning

Are you prepared for online learning at college? Whether you enjoy it or not, it is our new reality, and every student should know how to make the best out of it. E-learning is not about a “virtual instructor in front of a virtual whiteboard delivering virtual bullet points,” as Aaron Barth has ironically put it.

On the contrary, it is an entirely different studying environment with its advantages and disadvantages, and some of the traditional teaching and learning methods simply don’t work there. With the following tips, you will be able to enhance your online learning experience! 

The last months have all been about remote learning. Although it has allowed us to continue the learning process, not everything around it was successful. In the coming academic year, most of the colleges will go fully online or will employ a blended model as a temporary solution. There is diminishing hope for inviting freshmen and other students on campus. Still, it’s hard to predict; for online updates and statistics, check the College Crisis Initiative

This swift change has been especially hard on international students, loan-takers, or those not having a “home” to return to. Although many students have felt that online courses are inferior in quality to usual face-to-face interactions, tuition fees are not reduced, and some students opted to delay their enrollment. Moreover, such a transfer to remote teaching is hard on professors and TAs. All things said, if you’ve decided to cope with the situation and remain an active student, this advice on online learning will help you control the situation and enhance your experiences in the coming semester.

Know Your E-learning: Synchronous, Asynchronous, and Blended Classes

Actually, there are several types of remote classes: synchronous, asynchronous, and blended. In synchronous e-learning, a professor is holding a seminar live, while all students are present at the same time in a virtual classroom. As you can guess, asynchronous online classes leave room for students to decide when and where to study the materials and engage in virtual discussions. Blended learning combines these two types with traditional on-site courses.

The secret is that you will not get an excellent remote course if you just transfer the best traditional classroom experiences online. Ideally, remote learning employs a different set of tools (and not a “virtual instructor in front of a virtual whiteboard delivering virtual bullet points”). Therefore, your engagement with learning and the course content are completely different and might feel awkward and ineffective in the beginning. 

Together with this initial discomfort, isolation, lack of practical experience, no campus life, and mental health issues are among the most typical negative effects of colleges going online. However, these are mostly the sad outcomes of the pandemic and not of online learning per se. If you struggle mentally, you should always contact a college counselor or share these issues with your friends. In the list below, we tackle the most common concerns that have risen with the switch to online learning and tips on how to fight them.

Tips for Making Remote Learning Successful

a college student participating in a remote learning class
Designed by marymarkevich / Freepik

1. E-learning is effective vs. “I think remote teaching is worse than real-life classes”

The secret is that remote learning can be extremely powerful, and you just need to find a key to making it effective. The rule of thumb is that you should not treat it as something inferior to “real” classes. Successful learning is mostly about having a growth mindset, so make sure you believe that you can harness the material. Check Carol Dweck’s Mindset for a more in-depth discussion of acquiring the right mindset for learning.

It has also been proven that retention rates are higher in an online course than in a traditional classroom. If a course is well-designed and you follow the rules of the game, you will be more engaged in taking tests, writing reflections, and collaborative work. As you know, these forms of interactive-spaced repetitions are more efficacious than lecturing. 

2. Get to know your intrinsic motivation vs. “I don’t know why I am taking these classes”

In an on-campus environment, you sometimes don’t have time to reflect on why you are doing this or that thing—you just go with the flow. With remote learning, all you have to rely on is your perseverance, motivation, and time-management skills. Of course, you can always turn to Angela Duckworth’s Grit to boost your spirits. 

Writing down your goals and putting them somewhere in front of your eyes is a useful tool for building up your motivation. List several aims of why you are pursuing a degree in general and why you are taking this particular course. Is it because you firmly believe that a college degree is essential, or you are already set that you want to set your career as a lawyer, or you are eager to continue with a PhD in linguistics, or this instructor has the valuable experience you want to know more about? Looking at these bullet points will help you get back on track whenever you feel down or demotivated. Pin them next to your study space or put them on your laptop.

3. Smart scheduling is everything vs. “I don’t know when my next class is, and I don’t have time for it anyway”

Asynchronous courses leave you in charge of your own schedule. Although it seems like blissful freedom (since you can listen to a lecture and do assignments whenever you want within given deadlines), your success depends on a set schedule. When you get the list of courses for the term, make a rough weekly and monthly schedule with all the deadlines and a daily routine, divided into time slots for each subject. Stick to this schedule, but be prepared to adjust—some classes might be more challenging than they seemed or vice versa. 

Keeping a calendar together with excellent time management helps you be on time with all the deadlines, keep track of your progress, and achieve a predictable learning routine. Some apps and tools help you manage your time and course materials—check this list of reliable apps for students and think of which ones you need the most. Of course, smart scheduling requires a lot of time management skills and the ability to concentrate from your side. But upgrading these essential soft skills while in college does not seem like a bad idea!

4. Organize your study space vs. “I prefer to study right from my bed, why it even matters”

When living on campus, you’ve probably had a few favorite spots for studying: a quiet desk at the library, your room, and a coffee shop. Now you’re again facing the problem of creating a suitable space for learning. Although it might seem an advantage that you can just watch a lecture from your couch, many of us are finding it a drawback: our homes might not be suitable for giving enough privacy. 

You should still try to negotiate your studying timetable with other household members and reserve a space that belongs to you and your studies only (try to resist the temptation of the couch or your bed). Make this “college space” your own: set up your laptop with all the necessary programs, buy or rent textbooks, choose your note-taking method, and mark a spot where you’ll put a bottle of water or a tea mug. This study zone is where you will take part in online classes, listen to lectures, do your assignments, and work with textbooks. Take your time off somewhere else!

If space allows, choose a backup option: sometimes, we have the urge to change the usual learning environment. Maybe a kitchen table or a windowsill? If you have a problem with stable internet access and digital tools necessary for e-learning, contact your college immediately. Most certainly, they can provide rapid assistance with these technical issues.

setting up a study space for online learning
Designed by freepic.diller / Freepik

5. Adjust your concentration vs. “I can’t pay attention to the seminar” or “I am bored”

It will be tough to concentrate on participating in an online workshop or writing a reflection, especially when you have so many temptations (should I get a snack? or clean dust from that upper shelf? or sort out mail from yesterday?). And yes, learning is not always easy-peasy; it actually has to be difficult! And when something is challenging, it’s easier to say, “I am bored” or “This online course is bad” and watch Netflix instead of engaging with the material, asking your TAs for help, or reaching out to the instructor. Review your motivations for taking this specific course, make an effort, and stick to it!

To secure your digital space from distractions, start using tools to block social media if you tend to spend time on Reddit instead of participating in a discussion… To enhance your concentration, use the Pomodoro technique, which will help you to pay attention to one task at a time. 

6. Create learning communities and study groups vs. “Is everybody struggling with this material or just me?”

Learning is a social process—you remember and process information better through interaction with your peers, asking questions, explaining something to them, or discussing an issue altogether. In e-learning, some teaching methods require students to form smaller groups to address particular problems. 

However, not all instructors employ this technique, so if it doesn’t happen in your class — take the initiative! Invite your classmates to form a study group: you can meet regularly via Zoom to discuss homework, check comprehension of recent materials, and help each other revise information. It might sound too nerdy, but trust me, you’ll appreciate how effective study groups are, not to tell about the emotional support you will get!

7. Don’t neglect all those tiny assignments vs. “There is too much useless writing to do”

Take time to write those reflections, discussion posts, and responses. Your instructors might not explain the underlying principle of those little tasks. These tools are made not only to give material for grading but to let you practice retrieving new information and making connections with things you already know! These assignments are there for your own sake, so do spend time on them, especially if the course subject matters to you.

Moreover, these written reflections are a more relaxed and just way to contribute to a discussion. In a classroom, shy students (and I am definitely one of those) get overruled by more confident classmates. In the end, shy participants rarely have time to share their opinions or ask questions. In a digital space, everyone can engage in a discussion, which, in the end, ensures better comprehension and memorization.

8. Virtual communication is still communication vs. “How can I set up promising relationships with my instructors?”

Don’t be shy to explore virtual office hours, online networking sessions, and ask your instructors directly about career opportunities. Don’t think that you will get less attention compared to a real classroom. On the contrary, online communication gives everyone equal access to an instructor and other infrastructure of your college. 

In the same way, you should discuss with your professors all the struggles you are facing and give them positive feedback! Since you don’t need to interact with an instructor immediately after a class, this spaced communication gives you time to formulate your questions much better.

The first rule of successful online learning is not to have negative expectations. Your instructors have spent their summer adjusting teaching methods, learning new technologies, and creating new courses with enhanced digital designs. In any case, this fall will be different from whatever patchwork you’ve experienced in the spring. Although current remote learning is a crisis solution, getting to know your way around studying online is a skill you will need even after graduation.

To tell you a secret, most of our learning after college will be online (for example, take short qualification courses, online language learning, etc.). And these tips from BooksRun will help you account for this learning experience and, hopefully, enjoy it as well! 

Iliana K