6 Tips for Virtual Learning Success
How to stay on track when online.
In a world turned upside down, adaptation has become the name of the game.
Learning virtually is unquestionably different but with some advance preparation, a solid routine and – you guessed it – adaptation, success is a mouse-click away. A pair of NAIT virtual learning experts share their top tips for staying on track when online.
1. Know what’s expected from the outset
The biggest difference between learning in a classroom and online is independence, says Linden Couteret, a learning adviser at NAIT. Assignment deadlines might be the same, but students have more freedom to keep up with their coursework than they’d have in a regular classroom.
Couteret says students can help themselves by understanding what’s expected of them from the outset. In many cases that information will be shared by the instructor through the course syllabus. But that shouldn’t stop you from asking questions like:
- How much interaction is required between student and instructor or student and student?
- How many hours a week will this course require?
- When are assignments due?
- How are you being assessed?
2. Make sure you have the right tools
It might seem obvious, but access to technology is imperative in a virtual learning environment. According to Jodi Manz-Henezi, chair of NAIT’s Disaster and Emergency Management program – which was delivered 100% virtually before the pandemic – that means having access to a laptop, desktop or something with a large screen that’s not going to result in eye or neck strain.
Manz-Henezi also recommends using the tools available to NAIT students, such as Office 365, Moodle, or WebEx, depending on the course.
If you don’t have access to a computer at home, students can use the NAITSA Computer Commons (W203).
3. Make a schedule that works for you
Some students find it difficult to get started in a virtual environment, Couteret says. Making a schedule – and sticking to it – will help avoid behaviours such as procrastination. Make a plan that works for your habits or work and life obligations. If you’re a morning person, study while you’re fresh and the sun is shining. If you’re running after kids all day, hive off time in the evening for work.
It’s also important to take breaks. People can optimally maintain focus for 30 to 40 minutes at a time, Couteret says. Try and take 15 minutes every hour to step away to drink water, eat, go for a walk.
There’s research that shows some students in an online environment find it difficult to stop studying or take the breaks they normally would on campus, she says.
4. Make connections with instructors and peers
Even though your instructor is still present and available, the lack of direct face time (as opposed to FaceTime, Teams, WebEx, Zoom or email!) can feel isolating, Couteret says.
To overcome that feeling of isolation, Couteret recommends building a community with peers just as you would on campus. “It looks different than meeting the students who are just sitting next to you, but it can still happen.”
In some cases those connections can develop during class using tools like Moodle forums, but virtual study groups are another option, whether on Microsoft Teams or through social media.
5. Ask for help — and about your options
Just like the onus is on students to create a study schedule, it’s important to ask for help when needed.
Don’t be shy about asking your instructor about options regarding course material, Couteret says. If your instructor uses a lot of video in the course and you prefer text, ask them about alternatives, including any transcripts or supplementary material on Moodle, she says.
6. Remember, you’re not alone
In all her years of virtual teaching, Manz-Henezi says maintaining engagement is one of the biggest challenges for some students in a virtual classroom because it “can get a bit lonely.”
Some programs, like hers, rely on group projects to keep students motivated. That way the onus isn’t just on the individual or the instructor but a peer group to say, “Hey, we’ve got work to do,” Manz-Henezi says.
Instructors often use course analytics in platforms like Moodle to identify if a student hasn’t been active online or spent much time in a learning module. If that happens, don’t be surprised if an instructor or chair reaches out with an email, call or chat to see if you’re OK.
Be sure to follow these tips for virtual learning success!
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