If you’ve recently transitioned from traditional college classes to online, then you already know: remote learning is not the same as in-person learning. Discussions, engagement with your instructors, and group projects all seem to pose new challenges.
But these important aspects of your learning experience won’t disappear - they’ll just take a different form. And once you’re comfortable engaging and interacting online, you’ll be able to enjoy the many benefits of remote learning that you could never achieve with a physical campus.
The Thinkful community includes nearly 600 educators and mentors and over 1,100 students who all interact 100% online. Over the years, we’ve discovered some techniques that help students learn effectively in a remote environment. Here are some tips to speed up the adjustment period, so you can continue focusing on the important stuff: your actual studies.
Plan out where you’ll be throughout the day.
You’ve already thought about whether you work best in a quiet space or a lively coffee shop. But keep in mind that during courses, you’ll want to be somewhere quiet. Theresa Freet, Director of Technical Education Delivery, points out that “it's hard to collaborate if you're somewhere noisy and can't un-mute to ask questions.” Consider using headphones with a built in microphone to reduce background noise.
Schedule time to study outside of class.
Reserve time in your calendar to study and complete projects - and hold yourself accountable during those times.
“Treat your study time like class time so you can build a habit of doing it.” - Andrew Dao, Educator at Thinkful
Continue doing the things that keep you healthy and happy.
Learning in a remote environment gives you the opportunity to take mid-day walks, make healthy lunches, and take yoga classes. Lexi Bucci, Talent Acquisition Manager, points out that “remote learning gives you the capability to produce quality work and the flexibility to go to a [workout] class.” So keep doing activities outside of your studies, even without your usual schedule of extracurriculars.
Learn to manage your own time.
With the added flexibility that remote learning provides, you’ll be in a position to manage your own time and priorities. It’s a skill that will serve you throughout your career. Lead instructor Tauhida Parveen finds that in a remote environment, her students are “learning to be disciplined, be accountable for all the work and how to manage time and activities.”
Include some personality in your messages.
You’ll rely heavily on online chat features, and won’t be able to communicate with facial expressions. So when messaging classmates, try to type the way you’d normally talk rather than treating it like a formal email.
“Exaggerate your tone. It might seem unprofessional to add a smiley, but adding those small details can really help the person you’re communicating with decipher what you’re saying without projecting their own feelings onto the message,” says Bri Pizana, a Thinkful Technical Expert.
Make time to celebrate successes.
You won’t have as many impromptu gatherings before and after class, so make time to connect and share successes virtually. Set up a chat thread or a weekly meeting to talk about what you learned in the last week. Lauren Jacobson, Associate Director of Academic Success, advises that even in a remote environment, “celebrate your wins with friends, your mentor, and colleagues.”
Tips for Instructors: engage the whole class, online.
Just as students need to find a new way to learn, instructors should also adjust their teaching style to promote interaction and collaboration. Many of the habits that work well in-person will fall flat when online; and there are some methods specific to online teaching that you may not have considered.
Here’s some of the best advice for instructors that we’ve collected from our education team.
- Invite discussion. You may find that you have to take extra steps to get the conversations going. Tauhida advises that remote instructors should “be proactive in reaching out to students; draw them into discussions.”
- Promote different forms of communication. If students are hesitant to voice questions or feedback on video, remind them to comment in the sidebar (every widely-used video platform has an integrated chat feature for a reason!). Pause occasionally to check for chat messages, and read each comment before responding to it to keep the whole class on the same page.
- Check for understanding more than you normally would. Since you won’t be able to see body language, Theresa advises that instructors “do 3x the number of comprehension checks” that they typically would in-person.
- Use shared agenda documents to communicate the lesson plan. Having one document to reference will help keep everyone on track and organized. In a remote environment, this document will take on new meaning and importance.
“Agenda docs are great to keep you organized. Include goals, tasks and questions.” - Bri Pizana, Technical Expert at Thinkful
Accept the challenges. Enjoy the benefits.
Adjusting to a remote learning environment takes time - especially when the change is unexpected and interrupts your curriculum. Fortunately, those challenges are short-term.
With some conscious adjustments, instructors and students can both learn to navigate this new territory. You will still learn new concepts, work together, and problem-solve as a class. And there are some pretty substantial bonuses: students have the freedom to learn in an environment that works for them, and save time getting to classrooms.
Hang in there. Accept the brief frustrations, and welcome the benefits. We know that both educators and students will continue to learn, grow and adapt.