o a lot of things have happened this year (broad understatement) and it’s easy to feel as though just about everything has been turned on its head, and while almost everyone has been caught up in the chaos that began with the Covid epidemic, perhaps one of the most affected groups has been us students. The disruption to learning caused by the epidemic was, and is, HUGE- especially considering that many of us highschool and university students are at a point where our academic performances could very well determine the trajectory of our lives. With the academic year starting up in about 3 days (the summer seems to have pulled its speeding-up-time trick again) and a lot of schools offering full time or partial online learning, a whole bunch of us are going to be starting our new school term in a very different manner to previous years. As a highschool student myself, I can empathize with how starting school online can feel like less of a fresh start to a new school year and more like an extension of the past couple months, and I definitely know how easy it is to slack off with online learning. So here’s a little guide on how to adopt a fresh and effective approach to online classes, and make the best out of them!

1. Routine 

Schools are organized into a set of timed lessons and breaks that ensure a productive use of our day, but online learning has taken a lot of that structure away and left us with loads more time on our hands- time that we are responsible for organizing, with no one to hold us accountable but ourselves. When a lot of schools first went online somewhere around March, the first thing that teachers started telling us was ‘stick to a routine’. However, that, as a lot of us know, is easier said than done. And if when we do start off with a good, productive routine, it’s often hard to sustain it for (in my case at least) more than 2 weeks (ish). The trick to it, is setting yourself a routine that isn’t too rigid and ambitious, or too loose and unstructured- basically figuring out the goldilocks of routines. It’s okay if you don’t get it straight away, I’ve found a couple of trial and error attempts can help work out the things which work best for you. Having a standard morning and night routine is also very effective, especially if your morning routine marks an obvious deviation from your lazy holiday mornings and can put your head in WAY more productive mindset to start off the day!

2. Time Management

Keep in mind also that you don’t necessarily have to stick to the exact same timings as you did in school if you don’t feel that it’s working for you. Make a schedule for yourself and set yourself study blocks based on your personal preferences- say, if you work best in the morning, wake up a bit earlier than usual and get your work in before school zoom lessons officially start. If your school is one that sets you tasks for the day and leaves you to do them, make sure you block out times for each assignment and get them all done before the school day ends. One GREAT way to be productive with your time, especially if you find that there are too many distractions at home, is to clear out a study space for yourself (preferably one that’s not your bed because we both know how easy it is to fall asleep during a particularly boring lecture). However, as important as it is to be productive and efficient with work, it’s equally important to make sure you don’t overwork yourself. With the line between ‘school’ and ‘home’ being blurred, it’s easy to end up spending the whole day on school assignments and burning yourself out in a couple of weeks. Be strict with your timings for school and homework, but also set yourself a comfortable amount of time for your own leisure!

3. Honesty + Self Motivation

So when my teachers hold online lessons, us students aren’t required to turn on our cameras (something I am immensely grateful for since I have experienced days where I overslept and stumbled into 8 a.m. zoom lessons looking like a character out of a post-apocalyptic zombie movie) but this also makes it really easy to not pay attention to the lessons and just scroll through my phone instead. With lessons being online it’s also pretty easy to skip them or claim internet problems, and don’t get me started on online testing and the numerous loopholes that have opened up there. The point is, those are just some ways in which not being monitored the way you are in class can open up the temptation to slack off. What you have to keep in mind is that it is you who is ultimately losing in the situation if you don’t do the required prep for your class, turn up, or submit work. If you want to make the most out of online learning, it’ll require being honest with yourself and others and doing what you are supposed to. And I get that this is HARD to begin with, so it’s sometimes best to deliberately cut out distractions. I found turning out my camera during lessons makes sure that I didn’t slack off during them, but even if you don’t want to do that you can make sure that you keep your phone in another room, or use the Forest app. If you ever find yourself lacking the motivation to put in that effort for an online class, maybe consider listening to a quick productivity podcast or watching a motivational video before you start your day. I personally find that watching a ‘productive study’ video by some of my favourite study-tubers like UnJaded Jade or Ruby Granger boosts my mental motivation back up. Of course, you can cut yourself some slack, all of us do have bad days, its just making sure we keep the frequency of those days low.

4. Effective Communication

Now this is something that I first found to be one of the biggest obstacles, particularly with discussion based subjects like english and history. The change from being in an actual classroom to an online one can be hard to get used to for some people, especially because conversational cues often have to be exaggerated over online classes to get points across. It’s also a whole lot easier to just stay silent. But even if it is a bit weird at first, making sure that you put in an effort to actually participate means that after a while the process starts feeling more comfortable and less awkward. Additionally, as online learning has also taken away the ability to stay behind class for an extra 5 minutes to maybe talk to the teacher to clear up some doubts, and as a personal overthinker of emails (I kid you not I can spend 20 minutes just rereading and overthinking a 5 sentence email) it can be difficult to communicate your problems and queries effectively. Some people are natural at it, others can find it easier to stay quiet and push doubts aside. But really, at the end of the term when your tests are coming up, not having cleared up those initial questions and developed your points through discussion can come back to bite you. So EVEN if it means stepping outside your comfort zone, make an effort to keep open a line of dialogue between yourself and your teachers, and make sure you let them know if you are struggling with anything. And don’t worry about being a bother to them, I’m sure they’ll be happy to know that you are taking an interest in learning their subject!

Wow, some of those points got REAL chunky, but I do hope they were still helpful! I, personally have been struggling to keep optimistic about online learning so writing this article has really helped put things in a better perspective, and I hope they did the same for you! It can be really easy to grumble about all the downsides of online learning and the unfairness of it all, and as cheesy (and slightly hypocritical, since I’ve been pretty pessimistic about this too) as this is going to sound, sometimes it’s just about forcefully stopping yourself when you start spiralling down a line of negativity and thinking about the advantages. Yes, online learning poses whole bunch of problems and changes that previous students didn’t have to deal with, but it also means that we don’t have to wake up as early to catch a ride to school, and the subtraction of transportation hours (especially if you’re like me and you live pretty far from your school) adds extra time to your day, which can mean more leisure time but also the time for that extra uni research or the opportunity to start your own blog. The increase in independent study and need for self motivation is a tough change but it’s also great prep for what life’s going to be like at university. As much as it’s cut back on opportunities, e-learning has also introduced a lot of new ones, and it’s just a matter of searching for them and finding the silver linings!

Written by: Rachel Dayis

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