It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced all of us to make substantial changes to our daily lives. Businesses have, where possible, moved to remote work; K-12 schools have by necessity embraced distance learning; and many college students who had formerly been enrolled in on-campus courses now find themselves in unanticipated online learning.
While online learning carries many positive benefits that make it the preferred choice for millions of students, it doesn’t come without its challenges—especially for students who are more familiar with in-person courses.
Below are seven tips from Jonathan Small, associate vice president of online learning at Regis College, that you can use to successfully adjust your study habits during the transition to fully online learning.
Tips for Taking Online Classes
1. Look ahead to understand your assignment due dates.
Typically, students who take online courses interact with the subject matter and their assignments through a learning management system (LMS). Online classes at Regis, for example, take place through Moodle; other popular tools include Blackboard and Canvas.
Whichever LMS your courses utilize, it’s crucial that you spend time familiarizing yourself with the interface and with your specific assignments. Look ahead at your scheduled assignments, and take particular note of your due dates so that you can better craft a realistic plan for completing all of your work.
“In an online class, things typically run in a modular format, where you might not have the normal structure of a face to face class,” says Small. “You often don’t have that physical reminder of being in the classroom that work is due. There’s a lot going on in an online class, and students need to organize their time.”
2. Set time to study and work in batches.
At Regis, as at other universities, many students pursue their education alongside other responsibilities and obligations. Work, childcare, family obligations, internships and the like all compete for your time and attention, making it critical that you create a schedule that allows you to meet all of those challenges.
“Chunking tasks, as I like to call it, gives students a way to feel accomplished,” says Small. “You feel like you’re progressing. Additionally, scheduling time specifically dedicated to studying will help you build and stay on a routine.”
3. Communicate regularly for group projects.
College courses often include group projects and assignments designed to be completed alongside others in your class. This fact is just as true for online courses as it is for in-person courses. But whereas in-person courses facilitate group projects by bringing groups together face-to-face, online learners must take particular care to ensure that they are communicating effectively, says Small.
Whether it is via Zoom, email, phone call, instant message, shared documents, or another form of communication altogether, groups must prioritize communication if they are to avoid confusion.
“Find a system that works for everyone in the group, and follow up frequently,” says Small.
4. Divide up group work early.
Along those lines, it’s also important for groups to divide up different tasks in an appropriate way so that everyone is responsible for their fair share, and so that everyone understands exactly what they’re responsible for completing.
“Make sure that when you’re doing group projects, you look far ahead so that you can divide the work up and coordinate your efforts,” says Small. “That way, if something isn’t due for a few weeks, everyone can use their available time to chip away at their tasks when they are able to.”
5. Touch base with your professor often.
Just as it’s important for you to communicate with your groupmates and your classmates, it’s important that you also communicate with your professor or instructor. Make the effort to touch base with your professor, whether you have questions about an assignment or just want to let them know where you’re struggling.
“One of the keys to success is talking to your instructor,” says Small. “Don’t struggle with questions or concerns on your own; the professor is there to help you. A five minute phone call with your instructor can save you days of stress. You’ll feel better, you’ll get clarification, and you’ll be more successful.”
Don’t think that you can only communicate when something is going wrong, though. Letting your professor know when something has gone right—whether it’s a lesson that you took particular value out of, or appreciation for a groupmate – can go far in helping you build a relationship with your instructor.
6. Participate as much as possible.
Whether you’re taking courses online or in-person, participation is crucial to success. In addition to showing your professor that you’re engaged, active participation shows that you’re learning, and that you’re willing to put in the effort that’s required to be successful. While education is often perceived by some as a passive process, participation turns it into an active process.
Simply put, the more you participate as a student, the more you’ll get out of your experience, says Small.
7. Be flexible.
Online learning requires flexibility, for yourself as well as others in your course—including your professors.
“Remember that your instructors had to make the switch to remote teaching in as little as a weekend’s time, the same amount of time that it took for you to transition into online learning,” says Small.
“Nobody planned this. By simply demonstrating empathy, being active in your course material, talking to your classmates and instructor, it’s possible to recreate the community that you had on campus and make this transition as smooth as possible.”
Putting In The Work
While online learning may not have been your first choice, embracing the advice outlined above can help you get the most out of your courses. Above all, maintaining clear and open lines of communication with your instructors and classmates, and staying engaged in the course material will go far in ensuring success during this challenging time.