"...Can you hear me? Can you see me? If you can hear me, say something... I don't hear anyone. Is anyone there?"

Is this a séance or an online class? Could be both.

Sometimes online classes can feel like there's nobody on the other side.

How can you learn in such an unfamiliar environment? Where do you go for help? How can you stay focused? Do you have to wear pants?

Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

As online classes become more popular, students need to adapt their learning strategies. In this Byte, we'll explore how students can become more effective online learners.

1. Create A Learning Space

Traditionally, we leave our house to go to school. This creates a physical separation between our home and schoollife.

Create a space like that in your own home.

Learning from your bed can be tough: that's where you sleep. Lounging on the couch is dangerously close to your Netflix position.

Photo by Bench Accounting on Unsplash Photo by Bench Accounting on Unsplash

Instead, create a space for school to happen. It could be a laptop on the kitchen table. It could be a desk. It doesn't matter where it is, as long as in your head, it's the place that work happens.

When you leave that space, work stops. When you enter that space, it's time to work.

2. Create A Schedule

Like a traditional time table, set aside chunks of time that you can devote to certain classes.

Normally you might think to yourself,

"I'll go to campus to attend this lecture, then I'll work on my project for 3 hours until my next class."

This schedule for the day helps you stay focused and on track. Create something similar for yourself at home.

  • It could be a schedule set the day before, or one for the week.

It doesn't matter as long as you can follow it.

Photo by Emma Matthews Digital Content Production on Unsplash Photo by Emma Matthews Digital Content Production on Unsplash

To make your schedule successful:

  • Build in realistic breaks. A 5 minute break every 20 minutes or a 15 minute break every hour is realistic. A 3 hour break every 8 hours is not.

  • Make a best guess as to how long tasks will take to complete. Factor that into your schedule.

  • Have a long term plan. Are two big assignments due on the same day? Start working on them earlier. Keep deadlines in mind when building your schedule.


You've got 2 massive assignments due in the same week. How do you deal with it?

3. Take Action To Limit Your Distractions

Are you easily distracted? You might need to take drastic measures to stop yourself from spiralling down an Instagram hole when you should be researching "Advances in Municipal Waste Treatments from 1900 - 1920."

Try these:

  • Turn off your phone.

  • Set a timer for your breaks.

  • Set a timer for your scheduled work sessions. Don't look at the timer until it rings.

  • Ignore small chores. You only want to do laundry because you are procrastinating.

  • Uninstall any computer games that you can't resist playing.

  • Create a secondary internet browser profile without your favorite bookmarks or social media login information so they are less accessible.

  • Listen to calming music with headphone if you're in a loud environment.

4. How To Learn The Material

A live lecture through video conferencing can be boring. And you can't control how the instructor teaches.

A PowerPoint sent out to learn on your own time can be unengaging.

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Whatever the format, your goal is to learn the material.

  • Take notes. You might never look at them again, but it will keep you engaged.

  • Put away your phone. It's not going to help.

  • Come up with questions. You might never ask them, but it will keep your mind on the material.

  • If you can, repeat what the instructor has said to yourself. It will solidify the information in your mind.

  • Quiz yourself. Recalling information helps solidify it.

  • Teach the material to someone (a friend, family member).

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You're watching a video of a recorded lecture and are struggling to focus. What could you do?

5. Be Persistent

Online learning is a skill. It takes time to develop. It will be challenging in the beginning, but if you keep at it, you'll get better.

  • Start small. A three hour cram session in your first week is not likely to be successful. Try studying in smaller chunks.

  • Find other resources. Check YouTube and Wikipedia if you're struggling to understand a concept.

  • If something isn't working, make some changes. It might be your schedule, your space, or the resources you are using.

  • Set up a task-reward system. If you complete a task, reward yourself.

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  • Set small goals. Breaking up large tasks into smaller parts is a great way to progress through things.

  • Make it a habit. Doing a little bit of work every day is better than a lot of work on some days.

6. Ask For Help

Whether it's through e-mail, tutorials, or office hours, there's always a way to get help from your instructor. Don't hesitate to reach out to them.

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Check for any academic supports and resources your school provides. Some schools offer laptops to those who don't have one. You might find peer tutors, writing help, counselling, or time management help.

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Identify your needs and ask for help. There's no shame in that.

Take Action

Are you ready to become a more successful online learner?

  • Start by creating your space and a schedule you can follow.

  • Limit distractions when you're 'at school.'

  • Your goal is to learn the material - feel free to use other resources and strategies that work for you.

  • Be persistent. Online learning is a skill, it takes time to develop.

  • Ask for help if you need it. Remember that you are not alone.

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You have to find a system that works for you. If you can form a habit, and work every day, you'll find everything more manageable.


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