How students can maximise their online learning experience

26 February 2021
Posted by Dr. Carin Peller-Semmens

COVID-19 has changed the way people are engaging with and receiving education. Online learning is not new but, given this is now the primary channel for teaching, how can you encourage students get the most out of their learning experience?

Through our work helping universities around the world put programmes online, we have discovered a lot about what it takes not only to be an effective teacher using digital technologies but also how to be a successful student online. Some of this advice is familiar, but becomes even more important in an online environment.

This is what we have found.

Remember your love of learning

Never lose sight of what energises you about a topic or field of study because that passion is what powers engaged learning. This is as present in online learning as in traditional face-to-face classes. Reconnecting with why education matters to you personally will not only motivate you throughout the duration of your studies, but will provide an optimistic slant when revision, writing, and research is strenuous.

Access to technology

It sounds obvious but online learning is dependent on having access to the right technology. If you do not have your own computer, software, or have issues with internet connection, get in touch with your academic advisor or course leader and your student support team. Many schemes have been established around the world and these faculty and staff members will be best placed to assist and inform you of what support is available in your area.

Create a schedule

When students were on campus and living nearby, library time, classroom or lecture theatre time, events and socialising, and studying at home would have been largely planned out. Do the same thing now that classes have moved online. Schedule when assignments and papers are due, set aside ample reading and class preparation time, and schedule revision and research time at the start of the semester. 

Take notes and practice collaborative learning

Taking out pen and paper and summarising what you are hearing in live lectures or what you are reading helps to embed knowledge. Another useful thing to do is test yourself along the way; once a week, ask yourself to write a paragraph detailing the key points for each course session.

Collaborative learning is also extremely beneficial. To mimic the paired or group study sessions you previously would have, try setting up a call with classmates to discuss coursework and readings. Each member of the call could take turns explaining a topic or starting a discussion. Another option is to host a library study session with friends. Set up a video call where you and your friends keep the video on while studying or you can check in periodically with one another to offer encouragement.

Keep multitasking to a minimum

Try as much as possible not to check social media or the news while attending live lectures or when you’ve allocated time to get your coursework and assignments done. It can be tempting to quickly check newsfeeds, but this is a sure-fire way to find time has flown by when self-studying or to discover that the class lecture has moved to a different topic while you’ve been scrolling.

For those who find tech applications to keep focused useful, there are numerous options to help manage those proactive procrastination temptations.  A few popular productivity apps are:

  • Freedom, which can block distractions from websites and apps across devices; RescueTime, which tracks time spent on various websites and, as a premium feature, allows designated websites to function but blocks distracting ones;
  • Forest, which incentivises productivity by having a tree planted during a chosen work period and terminating a session kills the plant;
  • and Self Control, an app for Mac users that lets you block access to websites for a selected period of time to avoid distractions and, crucially, stymies web surfing while that timer is set, even if the computer is restarted or the app is deleted.

Talk in class

Participating in class is an important part of the learning process. Engaging with your professor and classmates helps to clarify material, expand your own knowledge and understanding, share and debate points of view, and make connections.

Raise your hand while on live classes or use either the reactions or chat functions on your platform or video call to let your professor or course moderator know that you want to contribute or join in a discussion.

Also use discussion forums. This provides an opportunity to talk during live classes and while you’re working on the asynchronous elements of the online course.

Stay active

So much of our lives is happening in front of a screen, making it more important than ever to remember to spend time away from the computer. Try and incorporate some exercise into your daily routine to keep your body strong and resilient. If you can, get outside to exercise and clear your head.

Ask for help

Reach out to your academic or pastoral advisor and your university or college’s student support teams if you need guidance and help. Online platforms have in-built support to help you navigate and use the technology, and any bugs or glitches should be flagged with the course coordinator or faculty, so they can inform the platform’s second line of support.‍

Teaching online is not only a question of broadcasting but if interaction. While academics adjust to the challenges of online education and acquire new skills in the process, we shouldn’t forget to help students also adjust. As Katherine Merseth from the Harvard Graduate School of Education puts it, just as the teacher must be present, the learner must agree to participate. “If you don’t develop a meaningful relationship with your students, the learning will be diminished.”

By Dr. Carin Peller-Semmens, Academic Engagement Associate at Insendi, part of Study Group.

Study Group is the leading provider in international pathway programmes.

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