Whether you're temporarily learning online due to COVID-19 or you've decided to attend an online school full-time, you'll quickly find out that virtual school is very different from in-person. However, with some structure and the right mindset, online learning can be an ideal environment for students.
Successful Online Learning
What does successful learning look like online? Grades have always been a measure of success, but they don't always tell the whole story. In the time of the coronavirus, many school districts are re-imagining how they evaluate students, so it's safe to say that everyone -- students, teachers, parents, universities -- is rethinking assessment.
So, successful learning can simply mean understanding and retaining course material. It can mean students are prepared for the next class, or it can mean that they're ready to put their knowledge into action in the real world.
When you focus on completing your work and understanding the things you need to know, you'll see success in virtual learning. But how do you focus on those right now? Let's take a look at some of the ways you can set yourself up for success.
Keys to Success
Now that we've defined success, let's talk about some of the areas you'll want to work on in order to achieve your goals. Online learning requires a different approach, as the structure, environment, and communication you might be accustomed to being built in is suddenly different. Different doesn't mean bad, though!
Your home now houses your classroom, so it's important to define the space you'll use for learning. Students who excel in virtual learning environments have a clear area that they use each day to complete their assignments. For some, that might mean a separate room with a desk. For others, it might be the kitchen bar or dining room table. The important thing is that it is designated for school -- lounging in your room and working on a laptop in bed might sound nice, but it rarely works to keep students focused.
Set your learning center up with whatever you need to get in the zone. You might have a notebook and pen, a timer, or a lamp. You may have a certain chair at the kitchen table that you use exclusively for learning. Anything and everything you can do to delineate where you go to learn will help you get in the right headspace.
There are two must-haves for online learning: a computer and internet connection. ICON offers free laptops for students, which is a great option for students who need it. As for internet connection, if you don't have it at home, find a place that you can visit daily to get online.
Though you only need those two things, there are lots of other technology-based tools that you might find useful. Here are a few ideas:
- Time management apps to help you organize and stay on track
- Distraction blocking apps to reduce the chance of getting sidetracked by social media
- Project management/productivity apps or software for visual organization of assignments
- A printer, if you work better with paper and pencil
- Free online learning platforms for extra help or practice
- eReader or eReader app
Most of the tech-based resources that may be helpful are apps to assist you in specific areas. Not everyone needs many (or any at all), but for those who are struggling with certain tasks -- like time management or keeping track of assignments -- it's definitely worth looking into
Some of the resources we discussed above are great for helping students budget and manage time. Another key part of time and online learning is making sure you're working on a schedule. Virtual academies are amazing for students who have non-traditional days -- perhaps working full time or caring for family members. You don't have to work within the traditional school day clock, but you still need to work every school day. You can swap out a Tuesday for Saturday, for example, but five days a week you'll need to have a stretch of time to work on your courses.
With online learning, you're still expected to complete coursework within the semester, but you do have the option to work ahead. If you're planning to work ahead, it can be useful to plan out when you'll do your work so you can stay on your timetable. If you're not working ahead, be sure to have clear deadlines so you don't fall behind.
In the traditional classroom, students have the opportunity to ask questions as needed, or stay after class for extra help. In the virtual classroom, most learning is done asynchronously, so it's extra important to learn how to get in touch with your teachers. Instructors will have an email address and often set "office hours" that they'll respond to students within. Be sure you know how to get in contact with your teachers and ask questions as they arise.
Because of this new way of communicating, it's a good time to learn some email etiquette. Not only will this help your communication with your teacher, it's a must-have skill for the world outside of school.
Common Challenges (and Solutions)
Everyone learns differently, and some students encounter more challenges than others. For most common challenges, though, there are solutions. Here's a look at some of the issues you may run into (and how to address them).
I am stuck on an assignment
When you run into questions or find yourself stumped or confused by an assignment, there are a few things you can do. First, take a break and come back to it later. Fresh eyes and a clear head make a big difference. Second, if you're still stuck, email your teacher for help. Be clear about your issue and what kind of help you need.
I can't concentrate
If you struggle with focusing on your online work, revisit our tips above and make sure you have a dedicated learning space, minimal distractions, and some deadlines (your own or from your teacher). Sometimes it helps to take a break and then come back to your work. Other times it can be very helpful to have an accountability buddy -- someone who knows what you're supposed to be doing and when. Talking about what you need to do and having someone hold you accountable can make a big difference.
I have technical issues
Sometimes students need to learn new technology in order to complete online assignments. If your technology is new and unfamiliar, take the time to get to know it. Find online resources like videos or forums to learn a bit about what you're using. If the issue is more than your inexperience with it, contact your school to see what to do next.
Additional Resources for Online Learning: