5 Tips for Learning Online
5 Tips for Learning Online

A cozy couch. A stack of books at your side. A cup of coffee in hand and the freedom to learn and increase your skills from the comfort of your own home. Let’s face it: remote learning has its perks.

But how do you log in and connect to your class? What if your technology doesn’t work? Or you’re struggling with a concept and need some 1:1 time to ask questions to your instructor? And how do you keep up with all your assignments? If you haven’t spent time in a virtual classroom, the process can sound a little daunting.

But don’t panic. Whether you’re joining one of our online asynchronous programs or taking advantage of another remote learning opportunity, these five tips for learning online will ease any pre-class jitters and keep you on track for a rewarding educational experience.

1. Have the Necessary Equipment

An important step in attending a remote class is having the right equipment. Depending on the program, you may need a current operating system and specific software. For instance, if you’re interested in earning a Certificate in C++ Programming, you’ll need a computer that supports C++11 standard.

If your class has real-time meetings online, you’ll want a quality webcam and, if you don’t want to rely on your computer’s audio capabilities, a headset with a good microphone to be your best self on camera. Be sure to get to know the technical requirements before you enroll in an online course. That way you can buy or borrow the tools you need.

For most classes, the key thing you’ll need is a reliable, high-speed internet connection. After all, you don’t want intermittent or slow internet to prevent or delay you from submitting assignments or connecting with your class.

2. Get Familiar With Online Tools and Software

Don’t wait until the first day of class to log in to your learning management system, such as Canvas. Sign in as soon as you can to get a handle on the expectations for the class and become comfortable with the platform.

Discover where to find course materials as well as how to submit your work. Your instructor may also link to several tools you’ll use during the class, including discussion boards, chat rooms and webinars. If you haven’t used any of the programs before, explore how they work.

If your course uses video conferencing software such as Zoom, do a test run to be sure you can join a sample meeting. Test your audio and video to ensure that you’re able to see and hear everyone in class. While you’re signed in, make time to experiment with the different communication settings within the software.

3. Create a Distraction-Free Study Space

When taking a class remotely, the place you choose to do your work may serve as both your classroom and your space to complete assignments. Whether it’s from the quiet sanctity of your home office, the comfort of your couch or a corner of a bustling café, find an environment is comfortable and allows you to do your most productive work.

Remember that, unlike in a traditional classroom where everyone else in the room is also a member of the class, the rest of the world and people around you are not. Minimize disruptions from friends, family members and roommates by reminding them that you’re taking an online course and shouldn’t be disturbed.

You’ll also want to keep multitasking to a minimum. Silence or turn off your cell phone to prevent interruptions. Close your email, turn off your TV as well as other technology that’ll keep you from listening and learning. 

4. Treat Your Course Like an In-Person Class and Set Up a System to Manage Your Time

A remote class may be structured differently than a course that meets in person, but you should treat them both the same. Log into your email daily as well as your learning management system to be sure you’re up to date and haven’t missed any communications. Staying current is vital to your success. If you fall too far behind, you risk being unable to catch up with the rest of the class.

You’ll also want to block out dedicated time on your calendar for studying and hold yourself to that schedule. Do the same for completing assignments, attending lectures, engaging in group discussions and reading. It may be tempting to skip your study time to binge the latest season of your favorite Netflix show, but you’ll short yourself on getting the full value of the course.

5. Ask Questions and Speak Up if Problems Arise

While you may not physically be in the same room as your fellow students, it is important to remember you aren’t alone. Engaging in class video calls, discussions and chats, if they’re available, will provide you with a better understanding of the materials and a richer experience. Plus, you’ll get to connect with your classmates in real-time, which helps make learning remotely feel more engaging.

When possible, join your classmates in discussion groups or chat them on an instant messaging service like Slack and get to know them. You may even want to create a Google Hangout or Zoom study group where you can collaborate, ask for feedback and prepare for exams together. Anything you can do to create a sense of camaraderie and community will make your experience much more gratifying.

If you don’t understand a concept, are having trouble with an assignment or can’t get an application to work, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for help. Your instructor ultimately wants you to succeed, but they won’t know what assistance to provide if you don’t tell them.

Once you’ve got a handle on your set up and established good study habits, you’ll quickly discover remote learning is not as intimidating as it seems. Not only is it an excellent way to expand your knowledge and fulfill your goals, but you’ll also meet some interesting people along the way. After you finish one course, try some more. Learning is a lifelong process and the more information you absorb, the more successful you’ll become.

For more career tips and industry trends, visit the News & Features section of our website, and subscribe to our email list. To learn more about UW Professional & Continuing Education certificates, specializations, degrees and courses, explore your options or contact us.

Author Brenna Ciummo

Brenna Ciummo

Brenna Ciummo is a senior editor and writer at the University of Washington Continuum College and has more than 15 years of writing and editing experience. She's developed a wide range of copy, from in-depth feature stories to bite-size blurbs across various industries, including education, travel and food. She enjoys covering student success stories and the latest trends in the career and education space.

Ciummo has a B.A. in communication and writing certificate from Arizona State University. A firm believer in lifelong learning, she is also an alumnus of the UW Certificate in Storytelling & Content Strategy and a UW copy editing and design course. 

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