Tips for Distance Learning

  • March 27th, 2020

As UA students prepare to resume the spring semester next week, some will face a new set of challenges by taking courses online for the first time.

A student looking at her laptop computer“While many faculty are furiously working to switch to remote teaching, students have to make significant changes as well,” said Dr. Claire Howell Major, professor of higher education. “College students may not have taken many, if any, courses offered online and may be anxious about what the changes may bring.”

Major teaches technology in higher education and has several tips for students who might not be too familiar with distance learning.

Make a plan. Time management is one of the most important skills for being successful in an online environment. While digital tools are great, oftentimes an old school calendar, notebook or planner are the best approaches. Calendar all deadlines ahead of time, including due dates, discussion posts, quizzes, assignments or exams. From your calendar, create a schedule that works for you and stick to it.

Locate and learn your tools. Your instructor will share information about how you will access your course content. It may be through video conferencing tools, learning management systems or something else entirely. But it’ll be a good idea to make sure you know the tools and have access to them.

Be understanding of your professor and your peers. Instructors are working to go online quickly, and peers are also trying to get up to speed. Everyone is trying their best in a difficult situation. Things will go better for all of us if we are kind and understanding of each other as human beings.

If you need accommodations, ask for them. Changing from an on-site to an online environment doesn’t mean you don’t still need accommodations if you were already receiving them — in fact, it may mean you need them now more than ever. Be in touch with UA’s Office of Disability Services to make sure your needs are met.

Stay attentive and take notes. While many students take notes during on-site courses, fewer do so online. The act of notetaking itself is a learning tool. By rephrasing what you read or hear in your own words, you are deepening your understanding.

Stay connected with others. Learning online can make you feel less connected with others, even if you do have opportunities. Remember that we are physically distancing. But you can connect with other learners online, both through the formal communication channels in the course that the teachers share with you and through back channels, such as Twitter or Facebook.

After studying, try explaining what you’ve learned. Often, putting what you’ve learned into words can either help you see what you truly know and don’t know, or alternately can help you deepen your understanding through the simple act of communicating it to someone else.

Take care of yourself. By all means, this includes observing physical distancing and washing your hands. But try to maintain and even improve your social connections. Keep in touch with friends and family. Make time to do things you enjoy. Prioritize sleeping and eating well — research has shown us that doing these things will also improve your learning!

Be in touch with faculty. We are here for you, and we want to help.

The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.