How to make studying online work for you

How to study online

The coronavirus health crisis is posing a challenge for all sectors, including education. With the suspension of face-to-face classes, studying remotely is one of the greatest challenges in recent times. Are universities and their students prepared for this change? What tools and resources do they have? Above all, how can students organise themselves to study from home effectively? We spoke with three students, a university professor and an e-learning expert to find out.


It is unlikely that higher level educational institutions in the UK will be resuming face-to-face classes anytime soon, which affects more than 2.4million university students. Their education now depends on a digital environment that many, both teachers and students alike, had to adjust to in a matter of days.

A challenge for university students

There may be a psychological impact on third-level students who have entered this exceptional situation with no time to prepare for it. This can affect academic performance and lead to difficulty concentrating, increased procrastination, anxiety due to uncertainty and a lack of motivation.

To reduce any negative impact, it is essential to set goals and pose this stage of learning as a challenge. For those who are used to face-to-face learning—where the weight of classes falls on the teachers—distance learning represents a change at many levels. One of the most important differences is that it makes students responsible for their own learning process.

Online learning allows you to develop niche interests, plan short and medium-term objectives, identify weak points and polish skills. It may be hard at first, but this process lays foundations that will help you when you embark on your professional career, so consider this an investment in your future.

Sergi Doménech, a professor at the University of València, encourages students to “bear in mind that they are training and understand this situation as a professional challenge”. The history of art professor recommends the following: Plan your time, read, identify any doubts, try to solve problems autonomously and, when something is unclear or to confirm conclusions, then ask the teacher for help.”

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Distance learning: a range of possibilities

Doubts arose from its hasty implementation, but compulsory distance learning offers the opportunity to expand and strengthen online educational channels.

Online classes

These are the most popular type of classes. Students say that they are extremely useful to stay on top of a subject, fully understand the agenda and immediately resolve any issues. “It may seem silly, but being able to see the teachers in real time, having the opportunity to interact with them and ask questions knowing that they can solve them instantly, makes me feel more secure with my learning,” said Sara, 24, who is in the final year of her data science degree.

This connection is genuine: real-time communication avoids distractions and helps you feel integrated in the learning process. There are several platforms that offer online education support such as Moodle, Blackboard, Collaborate, Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

Discussion forums

Another resource popular with teachers, which requires extra effort and commitment from students, involves uploading the agenda to a virtual classroom where it can be read and debated in assigned discussion forums. This strategy can facilitate syllabus monitoring and peer feedback, which is an essential part of the learning process. “Thanks to the forum, we are working on many components within the subject and at the same time improving other skills, such as communication, adaptability and the use of IT,” said Juanma, a first-year student in landscaping and rural environment.

Recorded classes

Instead of opting for live video conferencing, some teachers prefer recorded classes. The advantage is that students can watch them at any time. They can also be more enjoyable than an online class because they allow the use of audiovisual resources. Daniel Fernández, learning experience manager at Netmind, says it is important for this type of class to contain “a lot of creativity”. For this e-learning expert, the trick is to use the narrative and “to propose not only exercises, but also challenges, projects and team activities”. In this sense, a recorded class can become an excellent teaching resource.

Nuria agrees. The 27-year-old, who is studying a masters in communication, said, “We have a teacher who has sent us a couple of recorded and edited classes with cuts to movies, music … They are, by far, the ones that interest me the most.”

Organisation: the key to success

One of the biggest benefits of online learning is flexibility, but the lack of schedule and guidance can lead to a loss of focus. When regular classes stop, this affects school routine and makes the use of planning tools essential. There are several applications available to help:

  • Google Keep. This allows you to organise personal information by filing notes and to assign tags to find tasks more easily, organise lists, send reminders and even scan text by taking a photo.
  • Evernote. As well as keeping important lists, logging tasks and backing up emails, this app lets you share “notebooks” with others, which makes it ideal for group work.
  • Trello. This collaborative tool manages projects or tasks. You can also use it as a weekly planner, with lists for each day of the week.
  • Todoist. Use this cross-platform task manager straight from the web browser. It will help you organise and prioritise tasks in a simple way.

According to e-learning expert Fernández, “It is important to learn how to use them correctly, but it is more important to learn to organise and take responsibility for your own learning process.” For your study schedule to be truly effective, you need to find ways to structure and optimise your time, stay focused and learn to minimise distractions.

Home study tips

Evaluate possible course changes

It’s no easy task to transform educational material designed for a face-to-face class to a valid format for distance learning, especially due to the short notice given before lockdown. This is likely to lead to changes in syllabus, curriculum and study resources. According to Professor Doménech, “Teachers have had to adapt and transform some criteria within the limited margin granted by teaching guides.” These changes have more to do with limited guidelines. “More importance has been given to coursework, but the evaluation percentage remains the same as before the pandemic started,” he said. Our advice? Clarify with teachers how each subject will develop and be evaluated from now on to make sure you are properly organised.

Prioritise subjects and assignments that carry more weight in the marking system

Given that it is impossible for students to sit exams, many universities and their tutors have chosen to modify marking systems in the following ways:

  • Replacing final exams for assignments such as projects and essays.
  • Requesting questionnaires at the end of each course module where you show that you have learned and assimilated its content.
  • Choosing to do final exams online.

In any case, once you are clear about the marking system, you should adapt your study routine and organise your calendar accordingly.

Plan your calendar according to the new schedule

Your teachers may also have had to change their schedules in addition to altering the format and structure of classes. For this reason, the first thing to do is request an updated calendar and use this information to:

  • Plan the time you will dedicate each day to classes and complementary activities such as reading notes or watching videos or lectures.
  • Mark important dates on your calendar so you don’t forget submission deadlines.

“My masters course had several masterclasses, seminars with external teaching staff and visits that now, for obvious reasons, have had to be postponed or cancelled,” said Nuria. That is why it is essential to organise a new calendar that highlights “remote classes, deadlines for assignments and exam dates”.

Establish a routine

Routines can be a lifeline in times of uncertainty or stress. Despite the flexibility that online teaching can provide, if you do not design a task schedule, you might end up losing sight of your goal as your jobs accumulate and you feel overwhelmed. To effectively deal with this change, remember:

  • Plan time for work, but also for leisure activities.
  • Don’t isolate yourself; for example, keep in contact with other students through the forums.
  • Practice relaxation techniques.

It’s a good idea to set a schedule similar to the one you had when you went to class. For Juanma, getting up early has been hit and miss. “In the first days of lockdown I went to bed late after watching a TV series. I woke up with my mood so low that I felt exhausted. I decided to go to bed at the same time as I did when I was going to class and try to give my daily routine the maximum possible normality.” This is, without a doubt, crucial during this period. You can also create your own study timetable. It can be a schedule only with study hours or one that includes all your daily activities to optimise your time as much as possible.

And finally…

Although taking remote classes may seem complicated, with all these tools at your fingertips it’s easy to plan a short and long-term study routine. You must plan schedules, create a calendar and make the most of this period. Don’t be discouraged; instead look at it as an opportunity to learn how to manage your time and advance your learning process.

Translated by Sunita Maharaj-Landaeta

Photo: WTTJ

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