How To Ease Students’​ Abrupt Move Online — 3 Tips From Experience

Communities worldwide are taking extraordinary efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. As part of the response, universities and compulsory schools are rapidly transitioning entire student populations online. It is fortunate and incredible that technology enables the transition, but students who are not familiar with online learning may be unprepared.

Having completed an undergrad in engineering predominately online and then master’s degrees from both US and British institutions in a blended format, I have experienced the benefits and challenges of distance learning and can attest that it is not easy.

It is hard, but the difficulty is expected since we are rarely good at things on our first try. Although students will not have the luxury of time to ease into the new format, there are practices that can ease the transition. From my experience, I have three recommend practices for students new to distance learning environments. The simple routine of logging in every day, engaging with others, and building team relationships has made my studies more successful and rewarding.

Log in every day. In-person classes are on a schedule and meet multiple times a week for 10 to 16 weeks. That much information can’t be learned in one weekend. Logging in every day will give you time to process and internalize information at a steady pace. It will also give you an opportunity to check due dates and make sure that you are on track. No one will be giving you daily reminders of assignments or following up on your progress, so you must do it yourself, and once a week will not be enough.

Engage with others. Participating in discussion and asking questions is a part of almost every in-person class and there is good reason to keep it up in the online setting. Foremost is the idea of engaging the content in multiple ways and with that to learn from others. If this is not convincing enough, participating and helping others will increase your visibility and the likelihood that others may help you when in need. Finally, if still unconvinced, many courses give points for participation. It may only be 10% of the course grade, but it is silly to leave points on the table, especially if you are already logging in every day and only need to type a few sentences in a discussion forum.

Build team relationships. Teamwork is a component in nearly every curriculum because we all must function on teams in the real world. I have found that teams that have a sense of accountability to one another tend to produce better, and timelier, deliverables. In our daily lives relationships build accountability. Relationships make us care about the success of others and others care about our success. My best teams were able to meet in person before, or early in the project, to build accountability. When that is not practical video conferencing or phone calls help. You and your teammates need to realize that you are each human and deserve to be treated as such. It takes more than a single meeting to establish a relationship, but engaged participation works well over time.

I hope there is a silver lining to this time of turmoil. If it is only that students develop skills in distance learning, I see hope. Developing these skills will support a lifetime of learning as more programs add distance options all the way up to the PhD level. People will be able to find and attend the best programs for them regardless of continent or country, and regardless of commitments to employers and families. The future is bright if we take this moment to develop skills that will enhance lifelong learning.

Bonus tip. If the lectures are prerecorded, or you missed the live one and are watching the recording, watch it at an accelerated speed. Depending on the speaker’s cadence and the depth of the content, you may be able to speed it to 1.5 to 2.5-times normal. Not only will you be able to cover more material in less time, you may notice that when your information pace is right, you can focus longer without your mind drifting.

Article originally published on Medium, March 24, 2020.

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