Top 10 tips to stay successful and sane while learning online – The Daily Tar Heel - Freelance Rack

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Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Top 10 tips to stay successful and sane while learning online – The Daily Tar Heel

Don’t just survive, thrive in your online classes

Paul Wolff helps UNC develop online classes and teaches a few himself. Keep reading for a run-down of his top 10 tips for staying successful, connected, and centered during this ongoing emergency situation:

  1. Establish a routine
  2. Communicate with your instructor
  3. Participate in communicative class activities
  4. Organize study groups
  5. Enforce self-control
  6. Calendar your work
  7. Be patient
  8. Reach out to others
  9. Know your resources
  10. Take care of yourself

Students can also go to the UNC Care Hub at to get more information on how they can keep thriving off campus, including:

  • A comprehensive guide from the Carolina Office of Online Learning that goes more in-depth on how to adapt remote education to your learning style. 
  • Information on academic and financial resources for impacted students.
  • An FAQ section with answers to your most pressing questions.
  • Wellness guides to help you stay centered and reduce stress. 
  • And much more!

Now that classes at UNC are online through the summer, it’s time to move from surviving to thriving in this new setting.

If you’re taking advantage of the all-online UNC Summer School course catalogue to knock out a few prerequisites, folks in the UNC community who are no stranger to online learning a few tips to share to master this transition and come out of this summer with strong grades and a good learning experience, too.

“There’s a big difference between our current emergency situation and how online is normally,” said Paul Wolff, instructional design manager for the Carolina Office of Online Learning (COOL). “But there’s still a lot students can do to make this easier.” 

Wolff has extensive experience on all sides of online learning, from completing his Ed.D online to teaching and designing online courses himself. We compiled his 10 best tips for students to succeed in online learning. 

#1: Establish a routine

A coherent daily structure is one of the main losses of moving to online class, said Wolff. While students are working from home, establishing a routine can help keep the mind engaged and retaining information – not missing class and assignments is just another benefit. 

Wolff recommends focusing on a consistent routine. This means waking up at the same time, getting dressed (even if it’s for the couch) and setting aside a few hours every day to study. When to study will depend on individual situations and family needs, but communicating with others in the house that this time is non-negotiable will go a long way. 

#2: Communicate with your instructor

Going to office hours is just as important in online classes as it was on campus. Many professors are holding online office hours, so make sure to attend those when possible. And even if online office hours aren’t readily available, there’s no harm in reaching out. 

“Anything you can do to communicate with your instructor or just ask,” Wolff said. “They can’t help you if they don’t know.”

#3: Participate in communicative class activities

This is one area where some could see online as an improvement. 

With in-class discussions transitioning over to forum posts, Wolff encourages students to participate and engage with their classmates. 

For some students, especially for those who may have hesitated before to contribute in an in-person conversation, asynchronous discussions can be easier and lead to more fulfilling dialogues. Putting thought into forum posts and replying to classmates can help students retain information while connecting with peers. 

#4: Organize study groups

In his own online classes, Wolff says students tend to be more successful when they actively engage with their peers, either in class or in study groups. 

Online study groups don’t need for everyone’s schedule to line up to work; they can be asynchronous through programs like Google Docs. Even if it’s just a group sharing the same notes and going to each other for questions, everyone benefits from understanding the material better, having a system of accountability and getting some much needed human connection.  

Just because we’re all stuck at home now doesn’t mean that late night study sessions have to stop either. Memories can be made, and materials memorized, through Zoom or group FaceTime. 

#5: Enforce self-control

It’s not groundbreaking to say staying focused when surrounded by screens is no easy task. However, the very technology that can gnaw away at our concentration can also be used to enforce self-control practices. 

Wolff recommends using self-control apps on your phone and laptop to restrict the amount of screentime available during the day. 

This could mean setting a hard limit of hours a day for certain apps, or preventing access to anything besides what you need for work during those study hours you had set aside earlier. 

#6: Calendar your work

When it comes to actually getting work done on-time, Wolff pointed to calendaring as an efficient method.  

“It makes you see very clearly what you need to do to get your work done,” said Wolff.

He recommends not just calendaring in class times and due dates, but blocking off time for working on specific projects. With online calendars it’s also possible to enable notifications to make sure you never miss a deadline and remember what work is left to complete. 

#7: Be patient

If it was easy to adjust to online learning in an emergency situation, this article wouldn’t exist. Finding the right routine and set of practices is a very personal endeavor and won’t come all at once. Wolff stresses patience and encourages students to be open to challenges as they arise. 

“If what you’re trying isn’t working, just try a different approach,” Wolff said. “Eventually something will fit.”

#8: Reach out to others

While this situation might feel like it’s just you against the world, the reality is that we really are in this together. 

“There are so many faculty and staff working on this problem who want to see our students succeed,” said Wolff. So reach out, to instructors, advisors, faculty, friends, classmates, anyone who comes to mind. Comparing routines and study systems can help you figure what to do. 

Either way, now is a critical time to be checking in on each other, offering help when we can, and requesting help when we need it. 

#9: Know your resources

Besides what we can learn from each other, UNC has its own online resources to help students navigate this new environment, said Wolff. In fact, COOL has already compiled its own list of tips for successful online learning. Wolff recommends students check it out for more information and tips on how to adapt online learning to their specific learning style. 

#10: Take care of yourself

With an ongoing global crisis piling new stressors on to an already intense situation every single day, self-care might sound like a lost cause. However, no matter how successful you are in class, quality of life will suffer when mental health is neglected. 

“One of the most important things we can all do right now is approach this new situation with flexibility and compassion and kindness for each other and ourselves,” said Wolff.

Students should be sure to visit the Care Hub and read up on how they can make mental health a priority while learning online. 

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