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10 Tips for Taking Online Classes

Taking online classes is a mixed bag; while you don’t have to deal with getting ready and making the trek to class, you also need to make more of an effort to remain focused. If you don’t maintain strong discipline, you could easily find yourself behind in class. To ensure that doesn’t happen, here are some tips for taking online classes.

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1. Create your own schedule and stick to it

When taking online classes, you won’t have any officially designated schedule aside from the time that you spend in class. The vast majority of your work, however, takes place outside of class. While it’s important for any student, online or in-person, to make a schedule, it’s especially important for online classes.

Remember, you won’t have the naturally-occurring divisions in your day of getting up, going to class, leaving, and maybe heading to your school’s library or study space. You can decide where to spend your day. It’s a good idea to complement this autonomy with some self-imposed regulation. Decide how many hours to spend studying for each class, where to do it, and what to bring.

At the beginning of your week, you can sit down and map out the time you’ll need for each class and decide where to do it. This way, as the week approaches, you won’t have to worry about budgeting your time or deciding where to study. All you’ll have to focus on is your work.

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Remember to be flexible

Every effective schedule has some built-in flexibility. Remember that things change, and perhaps an assignment can take much longer, or much shorter a time, than you expected it to. In this case, remember that you can adapt your schedule to your situation. Don’t view it as a strict set of rules for your week, but rather a map to guide yourself through.

2. Create and maintain an effective study space

Having an effective study space is important for any student, but especially so for an online student. Not only do you write your papers and study your material in this room, but you take your classes and interact with your virtual peers in this room. Make sure that the flow of the room helps maintain your focus and does not encourage distraction. Ensure that the background of your webcam is professional and there isn’t anything you don’t want your whole class seeing. And most importantly, keep it clean!

Keeping it clean can be one of the most difficult factors to maintain, especially if you are not a naturally orderly person. But it’s a good idea to clean off your workspace before you begin working every day. You’ll feel better through the whole day and find it easier to get work done. A 2019 Harvard Business Report study found that workers who cleaned their workspace were “better able to focus and process information, and their productivity increased.”

3. Find accountability partners

Students in online classes may feel less connected to their classmates and academic community than those in in-person classes. But the good news is, you can find a supportive academic community from within your class or from outside of it! Sitting down across from a friend or family member who is also getting work done can help the both of you remain focused. You can start by clearly stating your goals to one another and working on them simultaneously. Each person can help hold the other accountable to ensure you both remain focused.

This can also be done in a virtual context. Services such as Focusmate match you with virtual accountability partners. If your friends or family are not around at the moment, or if you find that the system works better for you with strangers, Focusmate is a great option, and they offer several free sessions per week.

4. Treat an online course as though you were in the classroom

Although the context is different, an online course uses the same curriculum as an in-person course would. That means, you should devote the same amount of attention and effort to online classes. Just because you are learning the material in a different form, doesn’t make it any less important. Remain attentive and, if you wouldn’t check your phone in the middle of an in-person class, don’t check it in the middle of an online one.

5. Use participation goals

Online participation can look a bit different from in-person participation. Some shy students may find online participation easier to approach, while others may be more intimidated. But even though the format is different, the importance of asking questions and engaging with the material is equally great. If you have questions or comments, make sure to ask them. Become comfortable with your teacher’s system for soliciting questions online. They may utilize the “Raise hand” feature on Zoom or designate specific times between topics for questions. 

To get yourself into the habit, try setting a “participation goal” to make at least three comments per class for the first five classes. Even if you have to force them, it’ll get you into the habit of asking questions and ensure that you speak up when you need to in the future.

6. Reach out to your classmates

Making friends in online classes looks a little different than in in-person classes. You may not have those 5 minutes before class starts to make small-talk, but there are still ways to meet people. Rest assured, there are other students in your class who want to meet people and get support for any concepts in the course they might not understand. You can send out an email about forming a virtual study group, especially before a big test or paper. Having a support network in class is more important than ever during online classes.

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7. Go for walks!

Without the time that you spend walking between your courses, study spaces, the library, and the cafeteria, being in online school can result in a lot of time sitting down. It’s crucial that you break this time up with some physical activity. You’ll feel a lot better and find it easier to focus if you make some time to decompress. Go for walks, exercise, and take time just to do nothing. No-one can stare at a screen for 12 hours a day without losing their concentration.

8. Ask your professor for help when you need it

Remember that your professor is there as a resource for you. When you’ve never met in-person, it may be a bit more intimidating to take advantage of their help outside of class. But you’ve got their email, and you should use it when you have questions. Some professors hold virtual office hours, which you can sign up for and attend to get the extra help you need. Don’t let the online aspect of your schooling hold you back from getting the help you need.

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9. Print things out when you need to

As you receive all your class materials via virtual files, you may be tempted to read them all on your computer. For some students, this is an effective strategy. Features such as searchability and copy-paste functions give online reading its own benefits. But for some students, this just isn’t the case.

Doing your reading on a computer screen can lead to distractions and eye strain, among other factors. It’s also harder to take notes and interact with a text. Overall, for some students, there is no substitute for reading on a piece of paper. If you find that reading on a computer is difficult for you, try printing your reading for the day and see if it helps.

10. Consider “distraction-blocker” software

Doing your schoolwork on the same computer you use to browse social media, watch movies, and play games can be distracting. As a result, sometimes it’s good to force yourself to focus a bit more. Productivity software such as BlockSite can help you abstain from wasting time with recreational activities when you need to be working. 

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Main takeaways

As an online student, you are afforded more freedom as to where you take your classes and what schedule you keep. But with this added freedom comes responsibility. You need to maintain discipline in order to prevent yourself from falling behind. Make sure to come up with a solid schedule for yourself, and budget in time for yourself. One more time, here is a summary of our tips for online classes:

  1. Create your own schedule and stick to it
  2. Create and maintain an effective study space
  3. Find accountability partners
  4. Treat online courses as if you were in the classroom
  5. Use participation goals
  6. Reach out to your classmates
  7. Go for walks and exercise
  8. Ask your professor for help
  9. Print reading out when you need to
  10. Consider distraction-blocker software

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