The rapid technological development of the 21st century has transformed nearly every aspect of society, including our educational infrastructure. No longer beholden to the limits of in-person instruction, modern academia has expanded its classrooms into the virtual domain. While the introduction of remote learning accounts for an unprecedented level of accessibility, this benefit is not free of obstacles. Without the physical and temporal boundaries enforced by the traditional class environment, students face a myriad of challenges in the realms of time management, online communication, and the digital attention economy—to name a few. Becoming a successful online student therefore requires an unprecedented level of motivation and accountability, and the following ten tips will enable you to maximize your potential.
1. Create a Grounding Workspace
While the traditional classroom is physically separated from your home environment, it can be a challenge to maintain that separation in the context of remote learning. It may be tempting to take classes from the comfort of your bed, for example, but remember that your productivity is intimately tied to the way your workspace makes you feel. Working in the same place you sleep is therefore not conducive to effective study habits. Instead, cultivate a workspace that promotes clear thinking and focus. High-speed internet access, good lighting, and lack of clutter are a few factors that will enable you to put your best foot forward. Whether it be at your desk, kitchen table, or in your favorite local coffee shop, find out what makes you feel most productive and stick to it.
2. Manage Your Time Effectively
Online learning provides an unprecedented level of scheduling flexibility. Without the structure of traditional schooling, it is critical that you create and maintain a study schedule to keep yourself on the right track. At the beginning of the semester, you would be well advised to transfer all of the due dates written in your syllabus into your personal calendar. As the semester progresses, maintain a weekly schedule to keep track of smaller assignments and responsibilities as they arise. If you have trouble managing your study habits, it can also be useful to practice time blocking, which simply requires that you designate a certain amount of time to each task on your to-do list and use a timer to hold yourself accountable.
3. Actively Participate
Just because you aren’t physically in front of your teachers doesn’t mean they won’t notice if you fail to participate. Establishing your presence in the virtual classroom will not only make a good impression on your professors and peers, but it will also enable you to gain a deeper understanding of the course material. A few ways to boost participation include attending all of your classes consistently, making regular use of office hours, taking active notes during class, engaging in meaningful dialogue with your peers, and posting regularly in class discussion forums.
4. Keep Your Digital Files Organized & Safe
The last thing you want before a big exam is to waste time struggling to find your study material. This is especially difficult if your files aren’t clearly labeled. To save yourself from a nightmare scenario, create a clear organizational system at the beginning of the semester. Whether it be on your hard drive or an online storage platform like Google Docs or Dropbox, ensure that you are able to locate important materials (study guides, notes, previous quizzes, or assignments) with ease. Your future self will surely thank you. Keeping safe online is also an unexciting but important thing to remember. Don’t share your passwords and restrict access to files to members of your group (vs. making them public).
5. Develop Online Communication Skills
Effective online communication requires a slightly different skill-set than in-person communication. Anyone with experience navigating social media knows that there’s a lot more room for misunderstanding without the aid of physical cues. To avoid being perceived as disrespectful, absent, or inarticulate, it is important to assess your virtual communication style to ensure that your intentions are being clearly translated. Do your best to avoid typos and grammatical mistakes, ensure that the tone of your writing is respectful (reading your words aloud is a helpful tool if you’re not sure), avoid using “text lingo”, and be open to other people’s feedback.
6. Minimize Distractions
If you own a smart-phone, you’re probably aware of the ways it has harmed your attention span. The insatiable compulsion to check instagram or facebook, for example, makes it extremely difficult to give an assignment your undivided attention. During scheduled study-time, consider turning off your phone or placing it in another room. If you still can’t resist the temptation, there are multiple website blockers (Cold Turkey and Freedom, to name a few) you can use to hold yourself accountable.
7. Reach out to your Professors
One of the most overlooked resources in both virtual and in-person classes is—you guessed it—your professors. Because many students feel intimidated or unworthy of one-on-one attention, they often miss the opportunity to establish lasting relationships with their teachers. These relationships are immensely helpful not only when you have questions about class material, but also when you need career advice, letters of recommendation, or more generally, the support of a mentor. Although it might feel daunting to develop a strong connection with a teacher online, it is certainly possible. At the beginning of the semester, try introducing yourself over email and don’t hesitate to reach out any time you have additional questions.
8. Practice Mindfulness
Anxiety is a challenge many students face not only in the classroom, but in their personal lives as well. Being hindered by stress makes it extremely difficult to be fully present with the task at hand, whether it be a homework assignment or a recreational activity with friends. Especially for online students, counteracting the negative psychological effects of all that screen-time is very important. With this in mind, practicing mindfulness in your day-to-day life can do wonders for both your sense of well-being and your productivity. Regular meditation practices, nutritious meals, sufficient rest, and daily exercise will nurture both your body and mind, enabling you to be fully present in the classroom and in life more generally.
9. Connect with your Peers
The fact that your class is virtual doesn’t mean you must sacrifice the communal aspects of learning. Your classmates are a valuable resource, not to mention potential new friends! Get to know your them by actively participating in class discussions, joining study groups, and posting regularly on discussion boards. Discussing assignments with your peers is a surefire way to improve your grasp of the material, and will most likely make the process more fun than it would be were you to study alone.
10. Get Comfortable with the Platform
Although most students below a certain age are quite proficient when it comes to technology, it is important to remember that people from many walks of life enroll in online classes. Moreover, even the younger generations must familiarize themselves with the particular platforms their classes use. Some professors prefer certain platforms over others, so chances are you will be navigating a variety of different virtual spaces. At the beginning of the semester, take the time to explore the software(s) you are expected to use. Ensure that you know how to access the syllabus, discussion board, and assignment submission hub to avoid the stress of searching for them at the last minute.