10 Tips for Adjusting to School Online

10 Tips for Adjusting to School Online

Many brick-and-mortar students are discovering what their distance-learning peers have known for a long time: there’s a right way and a wrong way to study online. Naturally, the pandemic adds an extra layer of complexity for students who are adjusting to remote learning for the first time.

Whether this is your first foray into online college or you’re just looking to brush up on your virtual education skills, check out these 10 tips for getting the most out of your online education:

For a comprehensive collection of tips for getting the most out of college, consider our tips for college students

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10 Tips for Adjusting to School Online

1.Get to class early.

One surprising benefit of online learning is that it is actually easier to interact with your teacher before and after class. Even if you sit in the front row for in-person learning, your teacher is likely still 12 feet away, behind a podium, and speaking through a microphone. But with online learning, you are literally face-to-face, and you have a much better chance to make a good connection with your teacher. Use that connection to develop a relationship, ask questions privately and, of course, get a little bit of insight into what you can expect from your next test!

2.Work ahead.

In the old days, you might have been given a syllabus on the first day of class that outlined expectations, textbooks, and final exam dates. But when you are studying online, you typically have some kind of learning management system (Canvas, Google Classroom, Moodle, Brightspace, etc.) Thanks to those platforms, you can often start your homework before the class even has its first meeting. Do it! It will give you a lot of breathing room and make you feel (and ask questions) like the smartest student in the class.

3.Ask questions.

Speaking of being able to ask questions like the smartest student in the class, make sure to use every available channel to ask at least one question per week. The nice thing about online learning is that your fellow students don’t have to know that you are “that person” who always asks questions. Even in a video conference platform such as Zoom, there’s always a way to chat privately with your teacher.

4.Don’t get too cozy.

It’s so tempting to curl up in bed to watch the synchronous or asynchronous lectures. Don’t do it! Soon you will be fast asleep, or a least daydreaming about something that is completely unrelated to the class material. These lectures are your best resource for figuring out what parts of the class are important to your teacher. If you can learn to focus on those parts, you’ll have plenty of time left over for all the cozy naps you could ever want.

5.Use the 80-20 rule.

It turns out that 80% of your grade comes from 20% of all the things you could do in a class. This is true for in-person instruction, but perhaps even more important with online learning because so many grading protocols have changed as a consequence of the pandemic. So it’s up to you to determine which 20% of class lectures and discussions are most important. To find out, ask questions, show up early to class so you can speak with your teacher, and give your undivided, wide-awake, and fully-alert attention to class lectures.

6.Watch lectures at 2X.

Just because you can’t sleep through the asynchronous lectures doesn’t mean you have to watch them at the painfully slow 1X speed. Explore methods for watching all of your lectures at 2X speed. If they are on YouTube, it’s a snap. Other platforms make it a bit more tricky. Still, the time it takes to figure out how to do it will be well worth it. Remember, teachers often take a while to get from important point to important point. Speeding up the lecture gets you there faster, and you can always rewind and listen to the important points over again if they fly by too fast.


If all your lectures are synchronous, you might do well to work on homework while your teacher is lecturing. This works best if you are the kind of person who can keep one ear open for things like, “and this next point is the real key to what I’m talking about”. You don’t want to miss that part of the lecture! But it’s a big benefit to get something useful done during the time it takes for your teacher to move from one important point to the next.

8.Take notes.

This is the hardest tip to follow. It’s a lot easier to take notes when you are in person and everyone sitting next to you is also taking notes. But note-taking is as important online, perhaps even more so. It helps you process what is being said and gives you a tidy crib sheet for quiz and test prep. Your notes should also help you zero in on that essential 20% noted above.

See our Guide to Effective In-class Note-taking for tips on taking good notes .

9.Make a calendar.

Don’t just rely on whatever calendar shows up in your learning management system. That’s a great place to start, but your teacher might forget to include some of the important dates. If nothing else, your personal calendar can have entries like “start researching a topic for essay #2”, which will keep you from having to scramble the night before your paper is due.

10.Stay social.

It’s a big bummer to have hoped to spend time with fellow students only to find yourself holed up in front of your laptop. Make an effort to stay connected to your old friends and even make new ones. Use the “small group time” that your teacher may assign you to get to know people in your class. Set up times to meet in person or virtually. There are a lot of fun “getting-to-know-you” games (Among Us comes to mind) that people can play virtually.

Bonus Tips

Grades Aren’t Everything

This is the most important thing that nobody tells you.

So much of your education has likely revolved around the opposite message—that scores and grades are the reason to work hard and succeed. But this perspective leads to an ends-justify-the means approach. College education becomes a transactional process, where your primary goal is to get the grade and move on.

This not only misses the point of being enriched and learning cool, new things, but can also be extremely stressful. The feelings of pressure and anxiety that so many students feel come from the hyper-emphasis on evaluation and competition.

But the truth is, every student is on a unique journey. Don’t think of grades as punishments or rewards. Use grades as a compass to figure out where you’re going; determine where you struggle, where you excel, and ultimately, where you really belong.

Do It for the Love of the Game

Obviously, one of the reasons people go to college is to prepare and qualify for exciting career opportunities.

And in general, having a college degree from an excellent school will help you do this. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be working in the field where you earned your degree. In fact, a majority of college graduates end up working in a field other than the one they majored in. So when you select your major, or choose your courses, try to make it about more than just your career.

Choose with passion and personal interest. These things tend to stick with you, even as your career path twists and turns.

If you’re still on the hunt for the right degree program, check out our Top 10 Myths About College Majors Debunked.

Or jump right to our search engine and find the most influential school in your selected discipline!

Some excerpts from the article above were originally published at Human Window.

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