From a student who took classes online for 4 years.
Almost as rapid as the spread of the Novel Coronavirus came the abrupt mass migration of practically every facet of modern-day life to online platforms. As universities, schools, and workplaces across the world shut down, the transition to online modalities and telecommuting suddenly became a reality. A real-time mass experiment of online learning is currently taking place globally. There is no control experiment. There are no measures in place. There is no hypothesis or expected outcome. Nothing is certain and anything and everything is possible. So, for now, how do we make the most of the situation and continue to learn effectively?
I recently graduated from Minerva Schools at KGI, a global university where all learning takes place remotely. I’ve taken “online” classes for the past four years on my school’s virtual platform, Forum, and have found a variety of methods to help me stay focused, motivated, and willing to partake in distance learning. I also recently completed my senior Capstone project, which focuses on digital sociology, digital communities, and the Internet’s ability to change societal structures. I decided to write this “how-to” article to share some tips on how to navigate effective distance learning, based on my own experience as well as my thesis research. I’ve found existing articles to be too general — yes, putting on real pants is important — but here are some other specific tools and tips to alleviate common frustrations with online learning.
A bit of thoughtful preparation can go a long way…
If you prefer to engage material visually or in a tactile manner, taking classes online might throw you off. Here are some ways to effectively take notes during online classes.
Optimize your Google Docs for note-taking.
Step 1: Create a Google Drive with different folders, one folder for each class.
Step 2: Create a template for note-taking. Include easily editable details such as unit, class topic, etc. Creating a note-taking template before class will help you maintain focus during class rather than spending energy formatting your document.
Step 3: Make a copy of the template, one copy for each class you are taking.
Step 4: When class begins, split your screen and have the note-taking document pulled up to the side. Here is how to split your screen on Mac and PC computers.
Step 5: Take notes and come back to edit and reread them later!
Step 6: The next time you have that same class, reread your notes from the previous class a few minutes before the next class begins. It’s good to have a reminder of previously learned content. I find it helpful to use the same document for the entire course and compile my notes in reverse chronological order. This way, when I open the document to take notes for class, I can refresh my memory on what was taught a few days prior, which helps to prepare me to enter class. Building this practice into your routine will also encourage you to wake up more than two minutes before the class starts.
In my experience, the most demotivating and frustrating part of online classes has been keeping track of all my open tabs and a multitude of windows. Here are some tools to help declutter your workspace.
It’s natural to not be able to concentrate 100% of the time—I have lost count how many times my eyes have wandered away from my screen to some distant land beyond the digital sphere. But there are ways you can improve your focus by limiting surrounding distractions.
While current global disruptions have forced us to make massive adjustments to the way we learn and there are many things we cannot control, my hope is that these tips will allow students to take some control over their studies. In a world where so much is unknown, one by one, small and manageable adjustments like these can go a very long way.
Minerva Schools at KGI is a global and innovative 4-year undergraduate program based out of San Francisco. Minerva combines four years of world travel (to San Francisco, Seoul, Hyderabad, Berlin, Buenos Aires, London, and Taipei) and an international student body from over 60 countries, with rigorous, interdisciplinary study using the science of learning.
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