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Hassaan Ahmed

Writer, serial procrastinator. Wild-haired, tired-eyed purveyor of words like purveyor. Academic-in-training, Master of Communication at Deakin. @ancienthydra

How to Adjust to Online Learning during COVID-19

It can be a difficult adjustment to suddenly switch to a fully digital and online learning experience, especially if you’re used to a classroom and campus environment.

By all scientific estimates, the development, testing and global rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine and the subsequent return to ‘normality’ is some ways away. It’s a scary but sobering reality check, one where we have to live responsibly and adjust to online learning for our university studies, in a way where we take care of our own health and that of our local community.

Pandemic lockdowns and quarantines mean that large swathes of the population have been homebound for months. In fact, many people have begun referring to the current state of work from home and online learning as the ‘new normal’.

Having experienced a semester of online learning for my Master of Communication, I thought I’d reflect on my experiences and put any online learning rumours to rest.

In the process, I’ll also be able to give students who are beginning their courses online in the coming weeks a guide on what they can expect, what they need to look out for and how to transition smoothly to online studies.

Attend your online classes

“But Hassaan…” I hear you complain, “we barely ever made it to class IRL, how do you expect us to do it online?” I hear you folks, but online classes bring you an excellent feature: the ability to access lectures at your convenience. It makes a certain amount of sense to go through your lessons when you’re relaxed on the couch and perhaps snacking on some fries.

However, with physical study spaces closed, it’s even easier to switch off and fall behind. And since a lot of us won’t be able to manage the finals’ week cram sessions, last-minute library group study sessions or any other physical way to learn and engage with the subject, it’s even more important to keep yourself disciplined.

So, even though you can access your lecture recordings, it’s still important that you show up and participate in your live tutorials and classes – just like you would in a face-to-face campus environment.

Being there live for the online class gives you the space to ask questions of your instructor and peers, engage in lively discussion and best of all, breakdown the sense of social isolation so many of us are plagued with since the pandemic started.

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Learn to check your email and study portals daily

This one’s something most of us already got used to during the days of on-campus study but it bears repeating.

With the absence of physical lectures and group study, you may find yourself out of the loop on certain elements of your study. What I found to be immensely helpful was that whenever I sat down to study, I would have a quick look at my school email and subject portals before I got down to the actual studying.

With so many digital tools available, your teachers may have set up a Slack or Discord channel, or even a Twitter hashtag or Canvas group, as the go-to location for the class to interact and engage with the subject and each other.

If you’re uncomfortable with setting up mobile notifications for all those apps (and believe me, I understand the need to not have your phone buzzing every few seconds) then I highly recommend adding these tasks to your study ritual.

Set up a study space

Everyone has their own preference when it comes to studying – some prefer the bustle of a café, others the quiet murmurs of libraries while others need the comfort of their own couch. For me, I studied best in the library or at home, noise was my kryptonite. Therefore, the transition to study at home wasn’t that difficult for me.

However, I immediately ran into trouble when I looked from my study desk to my bed and thought, what if? I tried studying in bed with the laptop but it had an immediate negative effect on my performance. I’d fall asleep studying, or I’d get lazy and switch to Netflix – it just didn’t work for me.

My recommendation: set up a dedicated study space where you do nothing else but study. It could be a cosy and cushioned corner in your room or at a desk, whatever you prefer. Just not a bed. Not only will it affect your productivity, but a lot of research shows that such actions disrupt the quality of your sleep as well, by making the brain forget that the bed is meant just for sleeping.

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Routine, routine, routine

“But Hassaaaaaaaaaaan!” I hear you, fellow students and prospective students. I really do. Sticking to a routine is one of my own weaknesses, which is why I can speak to its efficacy with some authority.

The transition to online study can be a hard adjustment for people who struggle with routine. The temptation of knowing I could tune in to a recording of the lecture made it so easy to procrastinate and then compounded by the lack of face-to-face activities, it all immediately had me slacking off.

A few weeks in I put my foot down and reinstated a routine in my life again. I went for morning walks, planned dedicated times for study, food and rest (and of course with special time allocated to Netflix!). Within days, I found myself back on my feet, caught up with my lectures and generally performing to my full potential, which was a far cry from the chaos of the initial weeks of the semester.

Technology will fail at some point – plan around it

The biggest takeaway I’ve had from a semester of daily online study is that your technology will fail you at some point. Whether it’s the internet connection, your computer or the infrastructure powering your university’s online teaching system, you will experience issues, often at the worst time (after all, there is such a thing as Murphy’s Law).

Since you can’t control when your technology will go wrong, what you can do it plan around them so you have the ability to cope. Don’t leave your assignments to submit online minutes before the closing date where a random internet outage may have you in serious trouble. Either give yourself more time to account for it or have a mobile data backup in place.

Having a backup computer or laptop is not possible for most of us, of course, so a better way to plan for trouble there is to make sure you’re using a cloud storage platform to automatically sync and save your assignments and any other important data. Google Drive and Microsoft’s OneDrive are two excellent (and free!) options you can use. Dropbox is another. Pick the one you like the most and backup. your. data. I can’t stress this enough.

The transition to online study or a blended mode of study is here to stay, at least as the new normal for the foreseeable future. I don’t think that’s completely a bad thing, honestly. Online study presented greater comfort and flexibility for me, both in how I could plan my studies and my personal life, and in the relaxed manner I approached studying – hello pyjamas and snacks!

So long as you don’t look at it as an alien and new ‘thing’, you may soon realise that online studying has a lot of benefits, and the fringe benefits are the kind you could never have dreamed off with on-campus lectures!

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