In a widespread effort to limit the impact of COVID-19, higher education institutions across the United States have decided to close down their campuses and move classes entirely online. So, if you’re a college student, chances are you’ve been asked to study remotely. And perhaps it’s your first time.
Transitioning from in-person to online classes undoubtedly presents some unique challenges, particularly if you’re someone who struggles to stay organized and motivated.
But once you’re able to adjust and develop the proper skills for online learning, you may find there are also advantages, as it enables you to learn on your own time and schedule. In some cases, taking all of your classes online may even grant you the time to pursue other interests, learn something new, pick up a part-time job or catch up on some lost ZZZs.
In that light, we at The University Network reached out to a couple of online education experts and created a guide to help you overcome the challenges and unlock your online learning potential.
1. Take it seriously
If you’ve never taken an online class before, it’s easy to shrug them off with an assumption that they’ll be simpler and less demanding than a traditional, in-person class. That’s a dangerous approach, though, and could result in a grade that you may not be so proud of at the end of the semester.
By nature, in-person classes pressure you to stay up-to-date on readings and assignments. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to keep up during in-class discussion or ace that occasional pop quiz. Online classes, on the other hand, are often less time-sensitive, and therefore give the illusion of being less demanding.
So, while taking an online class, you need to maintain the self-discipline to complete all of your readings, assignments and assessments. Simply put, remember that online classes are college classes too.
2. Don’t work from the couch
As an online student, it can be really tempting to roll straight out of bed and onto the couch to do your daily assignment, reading or assessment. But, this isn’t a sustainable way of learning. For the sake of your mental health, productivity and GPA, get out of bed, take a shower and find a proper desk, hopefully in a secluded area, to work from.
“Find a remote space where you can take time,” urges Kerlene King, a 10-year veteran of the University of Central Florida’s digital learning team and current leader of its team of learning management system administrators.
As appealing as it may sound at first to work in your pajamas, you may not want to mix your chill zone with your work zone. A few weeks into the term, they may start to blend together, causing you to take your work less seriously and to have trouble unwinding at the end of the day.
3. Set a schedule and stick to it
On occasion, professors may organize specific times for live lectures via Skype, Zoom or a similar online video conference tool. However, for the most part, you’ll have the luxury of deciding when you want to take your online classes.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a morning person or a night owl, but you must set a schedule and stick to it.
“Making a schedule is really important,” says Beth Barrie, director of the office of online education at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
“When you’re going to class on campus, you may have to be at class from 1:00 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. So, make a schedule for yourself and say, ‘I’m going to class at these times,’ ” she adds. “Because it’s online, you have a lot of flexibility about when those times will be. But, you need to write them down and set that time aside. Plan your day around it.”
Notably, some days you’ll have more work than others. So, you’ll have to think ahead. Check out your course syllabus and make a note of important dates and deadlines for exams, quizzes and papers. Remember, in online classes, you won’t have your professor or classmates to warn you ahead of time. So, you’ll have to stay up-to-date on your own. Otherwise, you may find yourself cramming.
4. Minimize distractions
At home, there’s no shortage of distractions. And some things, like your cat jumping on your keyboard or your roommate who can’t stay off the phone, are close to unavoidable. But if you want to keep your grades up, you’ll have to take your at-home workspace seriously and minimize all the distractions that you can.
That means staying off Facebook, Netflix and YouTube. And set aside your phone.
“You’re not really supposed to be looking at your phone during class so put your phone on mute, set it aside, and act as if you’re actually in class,” says Barrie.
And if setting aside your phone for hours at a time is too big of a test, “you can set a timer,” Barrie advises. “Say ‘I can do this for 30 minutes and then I’m going to reward myself with a break. I’m going to check my phone for five minutes and then I’m going to get back at it for 20 minutes.’ ”
5. Be an active participant
Whether you’re aware of it or not, much of what you already know you learned through peer-to-peer interaction and discussion. While this is a natural component of in-person classes, it can feel forced and less meaningful if conducted on an online class discussion board.
But if you want to get the most out of your education, you must take class discussions seriously, even if they’re online.
“Treat that discussion board as a conversation,” says Barrie. “In a lot of classes, the discussion board ends up being a lot of one-way declarations, because people might be in a hurry and they’re trying to check that assignment off of their to-do list. They say their opinion and maybe they reply to a few others. But you should read through what other people have said and refer back to them. If your (peer) has said something, say, ‘I like what you said, that helps me build my understanding of this. ’ ”
If you’re an 18- to 22-year-old, chances are, you know more about effectively communicating online than any generation before you. You do it all the time via texting and social media messaging. Bring that same intensity, thought and engagement to your online class discussion boards.
“Try to be engaged. Try to respond as much as you can,” says King. “We find that students who are engaged tend to do a lot better in online courses. So, continue to post comments and questions to peers and to the professor.”
6. Set goals
Just like with an in-person class, you need to set goals for yourself at the start of the term and actively check in with yourself to make sure you’re working to accomplish those goals.
What do you want from the class? If you’re a journalism major taking an editing class, have your editing skills actually improved? Or, are you just going through the motions, looking up style rules online and moving on with your day?
In online classes, you’re often the only one holding yourself accountable. And if you’re unable to do this, consider asking a peer to be your study partner or tell your roommate to check in with you from time to time to make sure you’re accomplishing the goals you set out to achieve.
7. Stay optimistic
The truth is, online classes aren’t for everyone. And amid the COVID-19 outbreak, students are being forced to take online classes rather than opting into them.
But to stay sane and motivated throughout your time studying remotely, you have to remain optimistic and consider the benefits over the negatives.
Remember, online classes let you learn at your own pace. So, possibly for the first time in your life, your time going over a subject isn’t dictated by the professor or the time allotted for the class.
And perhaps most importantly, online classes grant you flexibility.
“If you’re working or if you have assignments due in other courses, you don’t have to meet up with someone,” says King. “You don’t have to go to a specific location to take that class. You can power that flexibility.”
Again, having a flexible schedule allows you to pursue other interests or learn something new. Perhaps you’re interested in boosting your resume by earning a certificate in computer programming, or maybe, you’d like to sharpen your photography skills. No matter what it is, setting your own schedule is an exciting thing, and you should take advantage of the opportunity.
8. Stay organized
It’s notably more challenging to stay on top of your studies and assignments in online classes than it is in in-person classes. Without professors constantly reminding you of upcoming due dates, it’s infinitely easier to miss a reading quiz or forget to submit a paper, for example.
So, more so than usual, you have to stay organized when taking an online class. Plan out everything at the beginning of the semester, write it down in a schedule book or calendar and continue to check back and make adjustments throughout the semester.
Online classes come with a unique set of challenges, making them easier for some students than others.
If you’re worried about your unexpected transition from in-person to online classes and how it will affect your GPA, just remember, you’ll be able to overcome it. It just may require a bit more self-discipline, motivation and organization.