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How to study with online classes - tips from an Open University student

It’s back to school season, but for a lot of us there’s one very big difference - our classes will be online. Due to the pandemic-that-shall-not-be-named, schools and universities have decided it will be safer for students to study from home and attend online lectures. That’s all well and good, but for students who have never studied online before it can be pretty daunting. But fear not! Your friendly Open University student is here to give you all the advice I’ve gathered over the last 2 years of distance learning to make the transition a little easier. Let’s get into the 8 tips to help you study online this academic year.

  1. Understand your course

  2. Get organised

  3. Set your goals

  4. Stick to a timetable

  5. Speak to your teachers

  6. Connect with other students

  7. Reflect and improve

  8. Take care of yourself

Understand your course

If you’re given some sort of course introduction/overview sheet or booklet, read it. Know what you’ll be covering in the module, what the assignments are and when they’re due, what materials you will need and when your online classes are. Things have been uncertain enough lately without your course being a complete surprise to you too. This will really help with the next tip and will mean that nothing comes as a shock as you’re progressing through the year, because you took the time to understand it from the get go.

Get organised

Following on from the previous piece of advice, get yourself organised. You know what materials you need because you followed the previous step (go you!) so make sure they’re on hand when you need them and kept in a safe place when you’re not using them. If you’re using notebooks, loose leaf paper or digital notes, get those set up and ready before you study. Get a planner and write in all your deadlines for essays and tests, and when you have online lessons. Even though you won’t be taking it to school, put all the stationery you need into a pencil case so it’s all in one place and you won’t have to spend ages looking for the right pens when your online lecture is starting. Doing this all at the start will save you a whole load of stress and last minute panicking because you know where all your stuff is and what exactly you need to be doing and by when. 

Set your goals

Now, this will look a little different for everyone. What I like to do is set daily study goals and grade goals. So everyday I aim to study 2-3 hours for each module (it can vary slightly depending on how much content there is to cover each week) and then for every assignment and my overall grade I set a minimum score I want to aim for. Having daily goals means you’re staying consistent and accountable, and grade goals gives something bigger for you to work towards to keep you motivated and push you to work a little harder. You could also set yourself goals like “read the extra recommended reading for each week” or “actively participate in one class a day” (this is a good one for us introverts). It really depends on you and what you want to achieve, so take some time to think about what it is you want to get out of your studies. It helps to write your goals out in the front of your notebook or stick it inside the front of your folder so you can easily see them when you need a little boost.

Stick to a timetable

If you have online classes for every session this will be pretty easy, but if you’re expected to self study for part of the course it will really help to have a consistent schedule in place. Distance learning can offer a lot of flexibility but having a set timetable can give you structure and keep you consistent with your studying. Of course studying at home will come with it’s own problems and distractions so don’t get too down on yourself if you don’t stick to your schedule 100%, but it’s a good thing to have something to aim for. Whether you’re a morning person or night owl, assign some time in your day to study so you don’t fall behind with the course material. It’s better to do a bit everyday rather than trying to cram it all in on a Sunday evening.

Speak to your teachers

This can be intimidating at first, especially if the teacher is new to you and you’re meeting them for the first time through the screen, but sending a “hello” email at the start of term will help you build a relationship and make it a lot easier to ask for help if you need it down the line. Do not be afraid to ask them for help. That is literally their job. They are there to help you, so if you’re having trouble understanding the material or struggling with deadlines, reach out to them. They can help explain things and offer advice (and maybe even extensions if needed) so don’t hesitate to get in contact with them.

Connect with other students

You could start a group chat or something similar for the other students in your class to keep connected and help each other out. Not only will this be good for when you do get back in the classroom as you’ll already have made friends, but if you need some help you can ask your classmates for some input. This can help you understand the material better and give you a new perspective, which can broaden your knowledge and understanding of the content. Studying from home can get lonely sometimes, so having that support network can help you get through the term/year of online study. You’re all in the same boat, so reach out and make some connections.

Reflect and improve

Getting into the groove of studying from home may take some trial and error, and that’s ok. Take some time each week or at the end of each day to reflect on what’s working well for you and what you need to improve on. It may be something simple like needing to break your study sessions down into smaller chunks, or getting up 15 minutes earlier, or you may need to make larger changes like moving studying from the morning to the afternoon or evening. It all depends on you, and having more flexibility means you can adjust things to make it work best for you. Don’t be ashamed to admit if things aren’t working, sticking to ineffective methods will only cause more harm in the long run. Mix things up if you need to, and as long as you’re being consistent and managing to cover all the course content feel free to experiment a bit. If you’re too tired to study in the mornings, try studying at different times of day. If it’s too distracting to study at home, see if there’s somewhere else you can go for a couple of hours a day to get some work done (of course while following social distancing and any other rules in place where you are to keep yourself and others safe).  

Take care of yourself

Going back to school can be nerve wracking at the best of times, but having to deal with so much change and uncertainty definitely doesn’t help. If you’re feeling worried or anxious, talk to someone about it. Don’t try to suffer in silence because that's not doing yourself any favours. Even if you’re not particularly worried about school, if you have any concerns don’t keep them to yourself. Even if you just need to vent, speak to someone you trust to get it out of your system. If you need a break from studying, that’s totally ok. Give yourself days off to relax and binge Netflix, it shouldn’t be study study study 24/7. Allow yourself enough time to work through the weeks content and assignments so you’re not rushing last minute and causing yourself more stress. Take it easy and take a break when you need to. 

There we have it. 8 tips to help you study with online classes. Hopefully these will help you totally ace this year and you’ll be back in the classroom soon! Let me know in the comments if you’re switching to online study this year and any tips you’d like to share.

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I am a master's degree student whose classes have been online and recently they decided that they would go back to face to face. In a way, I am glad to know this since my own studying materials depend on it but since it was a awfully weird year I got to be in a new class (yay) and the fact that I don't have my friends anymore (thesis time), it's getting harder for me to imagine going back. My study method is by helping others and as much as I want, right now I don't have that study partner besides me, I don't know what to do 😢 I think your post is super complete and I could…

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