Feel more confident about learning online

Gareth Hughes

Gareth Hughes is the Clinical Lead for Student Space and is a psychotherapist, researcher and writer on student wellbeing, including the book Be Well, Learn Well

Practical tips to help you make the most of online lectures and tutorials.

While we don’t know exactly how classes will take place this year, it’s likely that all students will need to engage with some level of online learning.

As most students now know, learning online can feel very different to learning in the classroom. You don’t have the physical presence of your lecturer and classmates to engage you, and the need to be in a physical classroom at a set time.

Lots of students have found online learning more difficult. And you might have concerns about your ability to stay motivated, to absorb the material and achieve.

However, just because you may feel this way doesn’t mean you can’t be successful. Whatever your previous experience of online learning was, you can make your learning more effective. Online learning is a skill, and like all skills, you can improve it over time.

Twelve tips for online learning

1. Try to take a screen break before class

Engaging with lectures and classes on a screen is more tiring than doing it in person. You will concentrate and learn better if you come to your online class fresh. If possible, try to move away from your screen before class – just a few minutes will help.

2. Treat online classes like campus classes

Discipline and structure helps you to learn, online or not. Make each class time an appointment and protect it as much as you can. You may be able to learn better if you dress and prepare yourself as if going into university. Make sure you are logged in before class starts and have everything you need to hand.

3. Dedicate a space to studying

This can be difficult if you live, sleep and study in the same room. Try dividing up your room into types of activity. This can help you focus when you are studying, relax when you are winding down and sleep when you go to bed.

4. Eliminate distractions

Switch off your phone during class. Research has shown that having your phone on can reduce your concentration, even if you don’t look at it.

Take the same approach with other devices: lock yourself out of social media and any other distracting sites until class is over.

5. Take notes

Research has shown that taking notes in class improves your learning and recall. Rewriting your notes after class will embed your learning even more securely in your memory. Note down anything you don’t understand so you can revisit it later.

Eoin shares his tips for online learning, including how taking notes helped with recall and concentration.

6. Participate

If you watch the lecture or class passively, it can be easy to switch off or get distracted. Take part in exercises and discussions. If possible, ask questions, or think about ways you can link what you’re learning to knowledge you already have.

7. Re-watch strategically

One of the benefits of online classes is that you can watch lectures again. But you may not need to re-watch the whole class again. Prioritise the parts you didn’t understand as clearly and focus on those.

Even the exercise of identifying which parts would be most useful to re-watch will help to clarify your understanding. If you are watching the lecture online, just note the time of the things that you want to revisit.

8. Apply quickly

The more we work with new knowledge and understanding the more we secure it in our memory. See if you can think of ways to use what you have learnt in each class. Small exercises or short pieces of writing can help.

9. Discuss with your classmates

Your programme may have an online discussion forum where you can talk about your course content with classmates. Take up these opportunities if you can, as these discussions will deepen your learning. If these opportunities aren’t organised, you may want to arrange a meeting yourself.

10. Find balance

Finding balance is crucial to our wellbeing and our learning. Taking breaks and having fun will help you to recharge so you can learn more in your next class.

11. Recognise your growth

Pay attention to how much you learn and how much more effective you become at learning online. Noticing the improvement in your skills and abilities will increase your confidence, freeing up your energy to learn more and perform better.

12. Ask for help

Your university will provide a wide range of help and support, including your tutors, study skills advisors and Student Services. Don’t be afraid to ask them for help: they want you to be successful and they know students need help and support.