Studying online, once the exception has now become the rule for the vast majority of students. The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we live our daily lives, not least how we study. Distance learning used to be an option for studying, the Open University has been around for decades, and was another option for studying a degree. Currently, it has become the norm as universities have suspended their face to face classes and moved to online teaching. This is a new concept for many students. How can both language students and university students alike get the best out of online learning. Here are 10 tips.
1. Create a dedicated study space
Where possible, set up a study area or separate room. Have everything you need to hand, laptop, paper, books, journal articles, pens and water to drink. Make sure the water is in a closed bottle. You don’t want any spillages on your notes or laptops! This is not good at all. You also need to set up your laptop so that you have all materials for the class open and easily accessible, your notes, homework, journal articles etc We need to know where our files are on our laptop. I struggle with this, sometimes I can’t find documents I need as I have multiple storage clouds so get organised before the class starts. That way you can focus on the lesson content not scrabbling around searching for files and documents.
2. Familiarise yourself with the platform the class will be using
There are a number of VLE that universities use, familiarise yourself with the one your institution is using. Many language schools use Zoom or Microsoft Teams so practice with friends and classmates using them before classes start. I recently joined a course on Edmodo and I wasn’t familiar with this platform, at first I felt a bit confused and nervous and maybe a little silly. Turns out that most of my classmates were in the same boat. Here’s a tip, don’t assume that people know more than you and don’t compare yourself to others in terms of digital literacy. Be honest, say I don’t have much experience with this platform, can you help me, please? Your teacher and classmates can help you and probably somebody else in the class is struggling too and they will be so pleased that you asked.
3. Take care of your physical and mental well-being
OK, so you have a designated study area, that’s great. However, you need to check the set up, paying particular attention to your desk and chair. Make sure you have a comfortable chair with good back support. As you are going to spend many hours sat on it it may be worth investing in an office chair. If you aren’t sitting comfortably then your concentration will wane and you will lose your focus. You don’t want to have back problems later on in life either. Think about your posture and avoid hunching over your laptop or slouching in your chair. Make sure your legs fit under your desk too while seated. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and take regular screen breaks between classes. Get up and walk around or stretch.
Amid all the online studying, it’s important to make some time for relaxation. Why not arrange a virtual happy hour/brunch session with other students, on a weekly/monthly basis? It could be a while until you next see them in person. It’s a good opportunity to provide support to each other during your time as students.
Make sure you keep in touch with your loved ones and friends too. As well as regular calls you could organise a family quiz, game night or watch party. It’s a way of feeling more connected with people albeit virtually.
All study and no play makes Jack a boring student. Don’t forget to make time for hobbies and down time. Join some of the societies at your uni. They will be organising virtual activities and events at the moment so you will be all set to join in with their face to face activities when they start again and you will have met some of the people virtually so won’t feel as shy when you meet them for real.
4. Actively participate in your course
Switch your camera on in lectures and classes to show that you are participating and keen to learn. If there’s a problem with your camera or Internet let your teacher know. Make sure you have dressed appropriately for the session, don’t roll up in your pyjamas! You won’t be in the zone. Sticking to a routine is good so get up as you would normally and get dressed ready to face the world and study and learn.
Outside of class engage with your course. Use the discussion boards, contribute as much as you can. In class ask questions and use the chat facility. Make a study group with classmates and study and collaborate together. Group work is an important aspect of 21st century university study and something that prospective employers value highly.
Contribute in tutorials and lead discussions when asked. It can be daunting at first but this is part of academic study in the UK and a great learning experience. Don’t let it pass you by.
5. Manage your time effectively
Master time management and watch your stress levels subside. Choose whatever method suits you best, wall planners/calendars, electronic calendars, a diary, a study planner or an app. The choice is yours. Be sure to factor in some down time and be flexible sometimes life throws us some things that we hadn’t planned. We need some space in our schedule for things like that. Effective time management will mean that you meet deadlines and keep on top of your work. Your organisation means that you will have time to devote to your hobbies and interests. Remember to factor in study breaks to your plan.
6. Ask for help when you need it
This can be easier said than done. We we are all individuals and learn in different ways. Firstly, ask your class mates and peers. Secondly, learn from the feedback you are given from your tutors and act upon it. Thirdly, approach your tutor by email or having a quick word in a tutorial. Language schools and universities provide a lot of support and it may be something not necessarily academic that is affecting your ability to study to your full potential so you should speak to someone.
7. Be kind
It may sound obvious but people can sometimes act differently online than they would in a face to face situation. Online communication is different as it can be difficult to read others’ body language, facial expressions and tone of voice. This may lead to misunderstandings which cannot be resolved after class in the cafeteria over a cup of tea as the class is on online. Also different people are at different stages of their digital evolvement. Don’t get frustrated, be kind. Be kind to yourself and others. This moment in the world is unprecedented for us all. We need to be kind and support each other.
Spare a thought for your tutors. They have been thrust into this online learning world too. They are humans too there is a person behind the screen. This is new for them too so be kind and patient with them as they are having to adjust to this new situation as well.
8. Limit distractions
My main distraction is looking out of the window and staring into space. Before I know it half an hour has elapsed and no studying has been done. Your distraction maybe social media. A good idea would be to log out of your accounts or silent notifications thus avoiding the temptation of checking your feed. Your reward after a hard day’s study would be to log in and reconnect with all your friends. This could be part of your down time.
9. Take full advantage of all the online resources available to you
One of the amazing things about being a student is having access to your institution’s library. Obviously we cannot access physical books at the moment but the modern student has access to ebooks, online journals an other digital resources. The library will also have lots of other resources available about essay writing referencing and criticality. Before choosing a language school check what online resources it has available to supplement your studies and how you can access them.
10. Keep motivated
Set goals and break down tasks into manageable chunks. Focus on what you can do not what you can’t do. Focus on what you have achieved not what you haven’t. Give yourself rewards for things that you have achieved. This could be as simple as some chocolate or if you make progress on your assignment then you can watch an episode of your favourite series. A study buddy who checks up on you and who you work with is a great motivator and this is usually reciprocal. You motivate them and they motivate you.
Good luck everyone and happy studying. You can do it!