How to make online learning work for you

Header image for Interrobang article CREDIT: DYLAN CHARETTE
College and university students are faced with a whole new set of challenges in the online classroom.

New year, new Zoom lecture.

Online learning this year presents different challenges than in-person classes did in the past. You may feel overwhelmed by the new lecture formats, increased independence and lack of social interaction. Conversely, you may welcome the idea of not having to take the morning bus for your 8:30 a.m. class or perhaps you enjoy avoiding small talk in the lecture hall with that one friend you haven’t seen since Orientation Week.

Adjusting to online learning involves not only embracing the benefits, but also recognizing and overcoming its downsides. Here are a few things you can do to tackle them.

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Autonomy and independence

You now have the opportunity to make your own academic schedule and plan any other activities or responsibilities around it, which was previously unheard of. And while making your own schedule allows you take charge of your education, it also imposes more responsibility. There is no lecturer or teaching assistant to ensure you keep up with the material, nor are there regular class meetings to keep you oriented with the subject matter.

Setting a strict schedule for yourself and allocating time for breaks will hopefully ease the stress while adjusting. Another tip is to treat your online classes like a job. For example, set a schedule for yourself to do schoolwork from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and you can only binge watch your favourite Netflix series, make your favourite meal or even take a nap after that amount of time.

Making new friends

One of the biggest challenges this year is social interactions –– or lack thereof. Gone are the days of meeting a new friend in a lecture and acting as each other’s lifeline for the entire semester. With the transition to online learning, students may have the opportunity to converse in Zoom classrooms, facilitated by a professor. But, a lot of classes are adopting asynchronous lectures without regular Zoom meetings. Students may never know who else is taking their class.

While overcoming this challenge may be difficult, it is certainly possible. A good place to start is searching for study groups on the Facebook group “Must Knows for courses at UWO,” a popular group for sharing information at Western. Other ways such as joining course-specific Facebook groups or conversing in group assignments can help facilitate academic friendship as well.

Forging academic relationships

Gone are the days when you could simply ask your professor a question after class. Without physically seeing your professors and TAs, receiving applicable feedback on your work can be challenging and may require setting up Zoom meetings outside of regular hours.

Unfortunately, there is no set solution to this downside, but it does not mean that your relationship with your instructor is forfeited simply because a course is online. There are virtual office hours where you can chat with your professors and TAs about academic and non-academic topics. Even if face-to-face interaction is intimidating, there is still the option of email. While not the same as physically speaking with your instructors, these ways help ensure that the communication is never lost.

House distractions

Without having to pick an outfit, wait for the bus, walk to your lecture hall or find a seat in a packed class, there is so much more time to allocate to less mundane tasks. Unfortunately, with this increase in leisure time, distractions are almost inevitable. These distractions are worse if you live with roommates and may be amplified even further if you have pets.

Designating a specific spot in your house for “studying only” and communicating with your roommates the times you wish to study there should alleviate some of those distractions. Other tips include leaving your phone outside your studying area, only eating when hungry and avoiding studying in the living room or common area.

Mental health considerations

Not only is the conversion to online learning stressful and abrupt, it is also occurring in the middle of an unprecedented global pandemic.

It is okay not to be okay.

Taking care of your mental health is much more important than any course and failing to do so can impair online learning. Whether you are stressing about an assignment deadline, a heavy course load or a personal issue, it is important to seek support from your roommates, friends and family. There are many resources on campus to visit for support and counselling. One thing to keep in mind is that it is always okay to take a mental health day, you can always finish your work once you feel like yourself again.

For better or for worse, online learning is here to stay, however it is not as daunting as it appears — it only requires a small amount of adjusting.