What can you do to get the most out of learning online?

Well, we’re all pretty used to this by now. Online learning looks set to continue for a few weeks at least, and while there is still lots of uncertainty, especially for those in exam years, it’s definitely worth thinking about how you approach online learning, and seeing if you can make a few changes to make the experience a better one. Some students respond to it really well, and others find it much harder than being in a physical classroom. Here are a few tips, both for live lessons and independent study, which we hope will you get the most out of a virtual school day.

Ask questions
There is a risk of becoming a ‘digital bystander’ online. The discussion goes on, you don’t feel quite up for getting involved, and there isn’t much need to because someone else in the class is answering everything. Perhaps surprisingly, research suggests that there isn’t necessary a fall-off in content covered due to moving study online. But imagine what your teacher’s feeling. He/she’s asking questions, waiting eight seconds for the microphone to be turned on, and then usually having to repeat themself! It’s a pretty unnatural scenario. So get on the front foot. Asking questions and pushing yourself to engage actively in discussion will not only help your understanding, but your teacher will appreciate it too! And as we all know, good relationships lead to good scholarship…

We all know those people with a thousand documents in an online folder. A Shakespeare essay from last year, notes on mitosis from last Tuesday, a PDF on the Cold War. All valuable, all useful when it comes to revision. But chaos. Give everything a clear title and organise it properly. Even looking over a list of documents, OneNote pages, or Google Drive uploads is a sort of revision, as it will remind you of what you’ve covered.

Don’t worry too much about how your work looks: your teacher isn’t going to expect it to be as neat as it would be in a workbook. Focus instead on getting the work done. So, organise your folders, your notes, but don’t worry too much about making those notes look pretty.

The bright side of the screen
Here’s a chance to improve your digital literacy, an opportunity that you could really benefit from. Can you touch type? Can you use Excel? Make presentations? Take advantage of this move online by trying not to look at the keyboard when you type, and have a go at using the Office suite, or the Google products. No-one expects you to become an expert overnight, but these skills are going to be of huge benefit to you, both at university, and almost certainly in your career.

The dark side of the screen
You don’t need us to tell you about the dangers of screen time. Throbbing headaches, worsening vision… You may have already experienced this. Try to spend some of the lesson looking away from the screen. If you’ve got your exercise books with you, make sure that you write in them at least every other lesson. If they haven’t instructed you to do so already, ask your teacher if you can do the homework by hand. (Although, and this might sound obvious, but teachers really don’t like it when you send a picture of your work and there are shadows across it, or it’s at a weird angle, or the resolution is rubbish. If you are going to take a picture of your work and upload it, make sure the light is good and the picture is clear.)

Healthy body, healthy mind
Make sure that every twenty minutes, you spend a minute looking at something at least twenty feet away. This will help your eyes refocus. And remember the words of that great philosopher, Joseph Pilates: ‘You are only as young as your spine is flexible.’ Our emotions and physical health are deeply entwined, and our muscles absorb stress which we accumulate over the day. A few minutes of deep, slow stretching will have immediate benefits for your wellbeing.

Clean up
That pile of satsuma skins or half-crushed Coke cans is, frankly, depressing. So is an unmade bed. No-one works optimally in such conditions. Cleanliness is next to Godliness, and five minutes’ tidying each morning is worth its weight in laundry. Do it yourself rather than relying on your parents, and as an added benefit you will increase natural harmony at home.

Split your work up
When it comes to independent study, save the stuff that requires less of you — watching a video, reading over notes — for later in the day, or the post-lunch lull. Whether you’re working on material for the first time, or revising it, try to do the bulk of the written work early in the morning. And if you say you’re a night owl as a way of justifying sitting in front of a screen until 2am, think again: very few people are, and those who are often have lower cerebral function late at night, just like most people. Get up with the lark!