Below are some tips from Northeastern University to help students navigate an online or remote learning environment:
1. Treat an online course like a “real” course.
When it comes to online classes, you need to have the discipline to sit down and say, “I am going to work on this,” as well as the dedication to actually follow through. Though you can be flexible as to when you choose to complete your work during the week, you can’t put it off indefinitely.
One of the easiest ways to ensure follow through is to remember that you are paying to take this course, just as you would for a traditional, in-person class. You must “show up” if you’re going to get real value out of your class. Treat your online classes the same way you would a face-to-face class—or, better yet, a job—and you’ll be off to the right start.
2. Hold yourself accountable.
Set goals at the beginning of the semester, and check in with yourself weekly. It’s up to you to make sure you’ve allotted enough time to complete the work so you’re not starting an assignment the day before it’s due.
If you’re having trouble holding yourself responsible, pair up with a fellow classmate, or enlist the help of a family member or friend to check in as an accountability partner. By being organized, proactive, and self-aware, you can get the most from your online class even when life outside of school becomes chaotic.
3. Practice time management.
The flexibility to create your own schedule is often one of the biggest appeals of taking online classes. But that freedom can also be detrimental if you do not have solid time management skills. Without them, you might easily to find yourself cramming before classes or handing in subpar assignments.
Though how you manage your time will depend on your schedule, learning style, and personality, here are some universally valuable tips to help you practice and improve your time management skills:
- Before the semester begins, invest in a good planner and practice using it. You may also want to explore some calendar apps. Planners are important when taking face-to-face classes. They may be even more important in an unstructured, online learning environment. Because there are different types of planners that allow for inputting different kinds of information, you may want to practice with a few different planners to find the one that works best for you.
- Look at the syllabus at the start of the semester and make note of major assignments. Mark them on a calendar you check regularly so you know what workload is coming in the weeks ahead. Don’t forget to factor in prior commitments that may interfere with your regular study schedule, such as student organization activities or vacations, so you can give yourself enough extra time to complete assignments.
- Create a weekly schedule that you follow, designating certain hours each week to reading, watching lectures, completing assignments, studying, and participating in forums. Commit to making your online coursework part of your weekly routine, and set reminders for yourself to complete these tasks.
- When working on your assignments, try time-blocking, allotting yourself a certain amount of time for each task before moving on to the next one and setting a timer to keep you accountable.
- Check in periodically throughout the term, and look at how you’re spending your time. Ask yourself: How much time am I dedicating to course reading and assignments? Am I regularly underestimating the time it’s taking me to get things done, forcing me to cram the nights before the exams? A little self-reflection and adjustment can go a long way.
4. Plan ahead.
Your hectic schedule, combined with daily distractions, can easily get in the way of finishing tasks. The best online students know how to set aside time to focus. This includes having a consistent time and workspace, tuning out those distractions, and avoiding surfing the internet.
Despite the flexibility in being an online student, it’s important to have frequent engagement with your studies throughout the week. Provide plenty of time to space out your required readings, assignments, and online discussions.
Consider purchasing a planner or calendar you can use to plan your daily and weekly assignments, highlighting:
- Assignments due, including drafts and final submissions.
- Activities related to your program, such as study group meetups or on-campus networking events.
- Virtual or in-person office hours with professors and advisors.
5. Create a regular study space and stay organized.
Set up a dedicated learning environment for studying. By completing your work there repeatedly, you’ll begin to establish a routine. Whether your workspace is your dorm room, your kitchen table, a library, or the corner booth in a local coffee shop, it’s important to determine what type of environment will work best for you. Experiment to discover which type of setting boosts your productivity. Wherever you choose, make sure there’s high-speed internet access so you’re not trying to take an online course over a lagging connection.
Setting up a regular workspace or office will also help you to stay organized. Knowing exactly where important dates, files, forms, syllabi, books, and assignments live will help keep you on track towards hitting your goals. When setting up your study space, make sure you:
- Have a high-speed internet connection.
- Have the required books, materials, and software for the course.
- Have headphones for listening to lectures or discussions (especially important in shared spaces).
6. Eliminate distractions.
From Netflix to social media to dishes piling up in the sink, you’ll be faced with many distractions that can easily derail your studies. The best online students know how to lessen these distractions and set aside time to focus.
Exactly how much of a challenge these distractions will prove to be will depend on your own unique personality and situation. Some might find that they can tune out a noisy home by listening to music. Others might choose to work from a local coffee shop or library to eliminate their urge to multitask at home. Ultimately, you will need to find a strategy that works best for you.
If you’re struggling to stay focused, then consider this technique to help with optimizing your time to focus on your online studies:
- Turn your cell phone off to avoid losing focus every time a text message or notification pops up.
- Set a timer for 25 minutes and work uninterrupted for the scheduled period.
- Take a five-minute break to grab a coffee, check emails, or do something else.
- Once you’ve completed four work sessions, treat yourself to a longer, 15-minute break.
If you’re still struggling with procrastination, download a website blocker, such as Freedom, KeepMeOut, or Switcheroo to minimize online browsing and let you follow through on your daily tasks. With these tools, you can block all websites or redirect your favorite sites to your school’s homepage.
7. Don’t multitask.
Avoid multitasking—which can actually decrease your productivity. Focus on one assignment at a time and zero in on the specific task at hand, whether that’s studying for an exam, reading a textbook, emailing a professor, or participating in an online forum. Arrange your tasks in order of importance, and pay attention to the three or four crucial tasks that require the most effort.
If you need help staying focused, then consider creating lists using a project management tool, such as Trello or Smartsheet, to help organize tasks. If you prefer a traditional to-do list, then look at digital notebooks like Todoist, Wunderlist, or Evernote. Lastly, concentrate on what needs to get done in the present.
8. Figure out how you learn best.
Once you’ve established where you’ll learn, think about when and how you accomplish your best work. If you’re a morning person, make time to study first thing. More of a night owl? Set aside an hour or two after dinner to cozy up to your computer. If the kids require your morning and evening attention, try to carve out a study session mid-day while they’re at school. Brew your usual cup of coffee, put on your go-to playlist, and do whatever you need to get into the zone and down to business.
Not everyone learns the same way, so think about what types of information help you best grasp new concepts and employ relevant study strategies. If you’re a visual learner, for example, print out the course PowerPoint presentations. Learn best by listening? Make sure to build time into your schedule to play and replay all audio- and video-based course content.
9. Actively participate.
Participate in the course’s online forum to help you better understand course materials and engage with fellow classmates. This might involve commenting on a classmate’s paper on a discussion board or posting a question about a project you’re working on. Read what other students and your professor are saying, and if you have a question, ask for clarification.
Make sure you are checking in as often as you can, too. The flexibility of online learning means that if you have 30 minutes before dinner plans, you could squeeze in a discussion response around your schedule. Set a goal to check in on the class discussion threads every day.
And if you do feel yourself falling behind, speak up. Don’t wait until an assignment is almost due to ask questions or report issues. Email your professor and be proactive in asking for help.
10. Create a network.
Online classes may sometimes make you feel like you are learning on your own, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Most online courses are built around the concept of collaboration, with professors and instructors actively encouraging that students work together to complete assignments and discuss lessons.
Build relationships with other students by introducing yourself and engaging in online discussion boards. Your peers can be a valuable resource when preparing for exams or asking for feedback on assignments. Don’t be afraid to turn to them to create a virtual study group. Chances are good that they will appreciate it just as much as you will.
11. Create a balance.
It’s important to find a balance between coursework and your other obligations, especially if you’re juggling school and work. To help create an effective balance and avoid burning out, be sure to prioritize your time in a way that allows you to focus on school, work, and your personal life when you need to. Creating a predictable schedule can help you get into a routine that works for your lifestyle and allows you to dedicate your full attention to each aspect of your life at a given time.
12. Get a good night’s sleep.
Sleep is essential to rest your body and keep your mind fresh for the next day. Try to get seven to eight hours of rest a night. Pulling all-nighters is less productive than studying consistently. Include sleep in your schedule, and you can reap huge rewards.
13. Reward yourself
It’s important to reward yourself after a job well done in order to avoid burnout. Otherwise, it will be difficult to concentrate on even the simplest tasks.
You deserve to reward yourself by celebrating your accomplishments and treating yourself to something you truly enjoy, whether that’s watching your favorite show on Netflix or going out to a nice dinner and a movie. If you’ve been working on an assignment for several months in a row, then take a week off when you’re finished.