Tips for Virtual Learning

Get your tech ready

Illustration of different ways to connect with people

Locate the tools you need to access your courses remotely. Familiarize yourself with Canvas and Blackboard Collaborate, and make sure you can access these resources on your laptop, tablet, or desktop computer.

Stay organized

You may notice a lot of changes to your courses (and then changes to the changes!) over the coming days and weeks of the semester. Here are some organizational tips to consider and to put into action with the Course change tracker template.

Consider ways the course may have changed

  • How might in-person parts of the course change and how do you access them?
  • Is it at a specific time or can you access it anytime? Will you need to take into account time zones?

Revisit your upcoming assignments

  • Are there new due dates?
  • Is the submission of your assignments changing?
  • Are any quizzes or exams being offered virtually?

Make a plan for how to get help

  • What kinds of questions do you have?
  • Is your course offering virtual office hours? When and on what platform?
  • Is there an online forum for asking questions?

Avoid multitasking

If you’re doing more work on your own and your time is less structured, you might be more tempted to multi-task. Many people think they can do multiple things at once. But switching between tasks tires out the brain, erodes retention, and makes tasks take longer.

  • Focus on one thing at a time (see The Magic of Monotasking).
  • Take regular breaks between tasks.
  • Try the “pomodoro method” and use a timer to help you focus for 25- or 50-minute periods and then reward yourself with 5- or 10-minute breaks.

Laptop with arrows pointing in multiple directions

Make the most of remote courses

  • Stick to your course’s schedule as much as you can. Staying on a schedule will help you have a feeling of normalcy and prevent you from falling behind.
  • Find out how to ask questions about lectures or readings. Is there a chat feature that the instructor will monitor? Is there a Canvas Discussion or Piazza forum?
  • Take notes as if you were there in person; write summaries to process what you hear or read. Creating your own study materials (rather than re-reading or re-watching right before an exam) and revisiting material in regular, spaced-out chunks will improve your retention.
  • Consume recordings at normal speed. Consume recordings at normal speed. Research shows that increased playback speed of even 1.5x can lower retention and result in lower scores.

Set a schedule

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Setting a schedule for yourself can help provide structure and keep you motivated, as well as protect your time for learning.

Try creating your own using the template below:

Daily schedule template

Trade old strategies for new ones

Look for ways to adapt your usual habits or form new ones. For example:

  • Ask yourself what environment helps you learn. Maybe it’s studying in a chair, rather than on your bed (or vice versa). Maybe it’s moving to a new spot when you change tasks, or following the sun if you have access to windows.
  • If you always study in groups, try a virtual or even phone-based study session.
  • Talk about the schedule you’ve set. Especially if you live with loved ones who are unfamiliar with the rhythms of college, creating and sticking to clear “on” and “off” times can help you all adjust.
  • If things are feeling really hard, set a timer for just 5 or 10 minutes. Short bursts of work will help you feel a sense of progress.

Work with a group online

  • Make an explicit agreement to check on each other and ask for backup: If someone has been unresponsive, ask them directly if they’re still able to participate in the project. If you aren’t getting responses within a day or two, let your instructor know. Know it isn’t being petty, it’s your team’s responsibility.
  • Meet regularly, especially if you usually touch base during class or lab. Consider a quick text on your group chat about progress every couple of days. Ideally, have real conversations over a video or chat tool (e.g., Google Hangouts).
  • Set a purpose for meetings and use a shared notes doc. Meetings might feel different, even if your team was really good at working informally in the past. Try to set the purpose of your meeting in advance. Take notes in a shared doc so you can all contribute and follow along.

Illustration of laptop with people web conferencing

Stay connected to people

Illustration of two people together

In this time of physical distancing, taking structured, intentional time to connect is crucial. Here are a few ideas:

  • Schedule calls and/or face-to-face time (if you live with others). Talking with loved ones is often helpful when you’re stressed or nervous. Scheduling this time to connect can also help you be responsive to the needs of others while protecting your study time.
  • Use video or chat tools to connect with classmates to talk through a tough problem
  • Attend virtual office hours or organize virtual study groups.
  • Make use of remote campus resources for academic and career advising and assistance with writing. Even if you haven’t always felt that you needed (for example), another set of eyes on a paper draft or cover letter, scheduling time to talk with people who care deeply about your success can be especially valuable.

Remember, this will pass

If Covid-19 has disrupted your travel plans or childcare, ended a lab experiment or performance you were excited about, or for any reason feels like it came at the worst possible time, remember: this is temporary. You’ll find your way when it settles down. Until then, take a deep breath, do your best, get some rest, and wash your hands.

Credit: Adapted from a resource by the University of Michigan Center of Academic Innovation, “Adjusting your study habits during COVID” (PDF). The original source is subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. ©2020, Regents of the University of Michigan.