Making the Most of Online Learning

In a world where learning is mostly online, how do we foster conditions for actually learning? Here are my quick tips to help you adapt – and even thrive.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a novel set of challenges in all areas of our lives. We are being forced to adapt quickly to the ever-changing circumstances. In the world of education, that fast adaptation takes the form of online learning. Virtual classes may not be ideal for students or parents, but education takes precedence even in these trying times. Like it or not, our world is growing increasingly digital, and online education is a key part of that transition. Tina Kruse, professor of educational psychology at Macalester College, suggests:

“The first step to doing well this semester is to reconsider how you perceive where teaching and learning can happen. Stop resisting the change and embrace the possibilities of the new process. This mindset is an excellent start toward success.”

Although it may be difficult to pay attention and learn effectively through a screen, there are a few key steps students and parents can take to get the most out of an online classroom.

Treat virtual learning like a regular school day

Because joining an online classroom is as easy as opening a laptop, students may be inclined to roll out of bed (or not) and head to their computers. That sounds like a great way to fall fast asleep in the middle of a Zoom lecture. Instead, students should treat online learning as if they were getting ready for a normal school day; set an alarm, eat a hearty breakfast, take a shower and get dressed. Parents can encourage their students by sticking to a morning routine, as well. Just like their children, many parents are working from home right now. Getting ready to do online work as if they were going into a physical office is a great way for parents to show their children the value of properly preparing to enter an online classroom.

Sunny, a junior at NYU, gave us insight into her pre-Zoom routine.

“I like to get up early and go for a run before showering and making a healthy breakfast,” she said. “I find that building in time to move and nourish my body helps me focus more effectively in school. I feel more capable of making the most of my classes, even if they are online.”

Communicate with teachers

Online learning can make fading into the background too easy, but it’s important to sit at the front of the classroom, even if that classroom is virtual. Teachers and professors will still look for student engagement in a virtual setting, so students should listen and participate actively.

“Even though my class was online, my professor still implemented participation points as part of my grade,” said Jackson, a senior student-athlete attending college in California. “I actually found that speaking up in class and regularly emailing my professor made online learning seem a lot less isolating and much more involved.”

Besides making a positive impression on teachers, active engagement in class can do wonders in enhancing students’ experiences. Online communication can be difficult and confusing, so participating in class can help students better understand the expectations and assignments of the class, as well as make the online experience overall more enjoyable.

Put phones away

This is a tip that should be shared between students and parents. Phones can be a huge distraction, so, depending on the student, parents may want to create a space for their child’s phone to go before he or she heads to class.

When students are in physical classrooms, teachers can see what they’re doing at all times. Online learning is a much different story. Students should turn off their phones, leave them in a different place or simply resist the urge to look at them. This goes back to treating virtual learning as if it was a real school—nothing should be done in a virtual classroom that wouldn’t be done in a real one. Keeping phones out of a virtual classroom can be hard for students, so it might help to make the phone into a type of reward.

“I leave my phone in a different room and then go look at it when I’m taking a break, or after class,” said Emma, a former Niwot High School student. “I feel even more driven to get my work done knowing that, once I do, I can scroll through social media or relax by texting my friends.”

The takeaway

Online learning isn’t ideal for anyone—students, parents or teachers, but, it’s the reality of our current circumstances. It doesn’t have to be a struggle, though. By treating virtual classrooms like physical ones, engaging actively with teachers and avoiding distractions, students can learn to thrive in an online environment.

Key tips for surviving learning-at-home:

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