Tips for Tigers from a seasoned online learner

By: Samuel Smith, Columnist 

Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own 

The spring semester begins on Jan. 25, 2021. Just like the fall 2020 semester, you will likely be studying online. Online classes can be daunting – it throws your routine off, you’re not getting the face-to-face interaction you normally get and there’s the risk of technical difficulties keeping you out of class. Having a semester online under my belt, here are some tips and tricks I can offer from experience:

Contact your professors often

This feels obvious, and you may have done this before online learning. I highly recommend keeping in contact with your professors regularly. You can do this two ways: emailing them or going to office hours. Professors are still holding office hours via Zoom or WebEx, and it’s a good way to chat with your professors, especially if they’re doing asynchronous lectures. I actually find it easier to go to office hours when things are virtual because it means I don’t have to spend time walking to buildings and trying to find offices.

However, if you need to talk to your professor, but they aren’t having office hours when you go, then emailing them is a great way to get questions answered.  I’m not going to lie, sometimes emailing can feel frustrating – a conversation that would normally take five minutes after class now takes all-day because you’re waiting for replies. On the other hand, emailing can be especially helpful because you can have what they said on record in case you forget.

Listen to music while studying. 

I’m the oldest of three boys, and all three of us are doing online school right now. That means my house can be bustling. I’m extremely lucky to have my own space where I can study and watch lectures, but my house isn’t exactly a quiet one. So, I listen to music when I study. Noise-canceling headphones were a lifesaver last semester, but regular earbuds and headphones can help drown out most of the noise as well. 

I don’t recommend listening to anything with lyrics, as the lyrics can distract from what you’re trying to study. I’ll usually listen to lo-fi (jazz or hip-hop), jazz or classical music. Those genres are just enough to take away from the noises in my house, but not so much they distract me from my work. On YouTube, there are plenty of live radios that play music 24/7 and Spotify has hundreds of playlists specifically tailored for studying or working.

Stay organized. 

It’s really easy to say, “I’m at home, I can spread out!” However, this is how you lose things. Early on in the fall semester, I lost one of my English books. I could’ve sworn I knew exactly where I put it, but it was missing, so I had to buy a new one. Instead, make sure you have one or two spots you know you’ll always keep your books and supplies. I got little carts with clear drawers where I put all of my supplies. I also kept a tote bag by my desk with the supplies I used daily. This usually meant the book we were currently reading for English, textbooks, my pencil case and my agenda. It also made it easy if I wanted to study someplace other than my desk – I could put my laptop in the tote, pick it up, and I’d have everything I needed.

Study in different locations. 

When we’re on campus it’s easy to study in different places every day, but it is more difficult at home. However, you can try to change up your routine a little by studying in different places, such as in your house, backyard or walking to the park to study. If your local library is open you can also go there, and the library will have free resources to help. I find studying in different places helps me retain information better. At first, I was studying in the same spot every day. I got bored of that and started studying in different places. I found my grades went up once I started switching up my locations.

Break your studying into more manageable pieces. 

It’s really tempting to say, “I’m at home, I don’t need to commute to campus and I don’t need to travel to classes, so I’m going to sit here all day.” Don’t do that! Have you heard the phrase, “Work smarter, not harder?” The same applies to studying. There are two ways to break studying down – by time, or by chunks. A good way to study is to figure out how long you can study before you get frustrated. Then, you study for that amount of time or less and take a break afterward. For me, I’ll study in thirty-minute increments, then I’ll take a fifteen-minute break.

Another way you can break up studying is by breaking assignments down into smaller, more manageable pieces. For example, if your homework is to read 15 pages from a book or article, you can break the reading down into one or two sections, then take a small break after each session. On your breaks, you can go for a walk around the block, grab a snack or drink, work on crafting or check up on friends. I personally try to avoid social media on my breaks because I’ll forget to check the time and my 15-minute break will suddenly become a one-hour break.

Studying and learning at home can be challenging. It’s a new environment, with new stressors, and your old ways of managing classes may need to shift. However, some small shifts in taking advantage of resources, organization and how you manage your time can go a long way in making online classes an easier experience.

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