Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, remote-learning students are running into all sorts of barriers to learning. Instructors are seeing that previously learned study strategies and habits are falling by the wayside as a result of too much unstructured time and relatively isolated campus living therefore creating challenges for even the best-equipped and disciplined students.
A guide from the Center for Academic Innovation at the University of Michigan advises students to be patient with themselves, their peers and instructors during this challenging time, and recommends that students make a plan and adjust studying to help regain just a little sense of control over this situation.
The guide also offers seven strategies that instructors can communicate to help students alter their study habits when learning remotely.
- Stay organized. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with assignments and course requirements when doing them independently. Students might want to keep track of important dates and course milestones for each class in a single chart or spreadsheet, noting how the remote classes are held and including links to lectures and office hours for handy retrieval.
- Don’t multitask. It’s easy to get sidetracked and distracted when time is less structured than usual and students are doing more work independently. While it might be tempting to do multiple things at once – like playing a video game or checking social media during an online lecture or while working on a paper, for instance – most students can do two things at once without problems. For instance, assignments take longer when students return to the academic task. Switching between tasks tires out the brain and leads to more errors. And when student attention is divided between two activities, the brain doesn’t commit the learning to long-term memory as well as if the student concentrated on just one thing. Advise students to focus on one thing at a time, take breaks between tasks and try focusing on work for solid 25-minute to 50-minute periods and then use a five- to 10-minute break as a reward.
- Make the most of video lectures. Encourage students to stick to the instructors’ schedules whenever possible to keep a routine going and to prevent falling behind. Provide a chat feature and a discussion forum to help keep students engaged. Help students focus on the lecture by asking them to close any distracting tabs and apps that might compete for their attention. Ask students to take notes as if they were in a typical classroom. And finally, some students might be tempted to watch lectures at 1.5x speed to save time. Strongly suggest that students watch lectures at normal speed to ensure they’re learning and retaining the material.
- Set a schedule. Students’ time is much less structured during remote learning, with fewer social opportunities and perhaps even restricted movement around campus. Setting a schedule can help students develop structure for their daily activities. A weekly or daily calendar or even a spreadsheet can help students organize their study and personal time.
- Swap out study strategies. The old study routines from pre-COVID semesters may no longer work. Students can adapt usual habits for the new situation or develop entirely new strategies. For instance, if a student previously preferred to study in a library or coffee shop, he or she might want to try re-creating that environment in a dorm room by studying in a chair rather than at a desk, or listen to music, if background noise helps him or her hit the books. Phone-based or virtual study sessions can help students who like to study in groups.
- Collaborate remotely. Some assignments require students to collaborate, which isn’t as easy as when students saw one another during classes and around campus. Help students work together by advising that them to avoid procrastination by making small progress and staying in touch consistently. Recommend or require students to meet or check in at least every few days, to talk about progress and plans. Ask students to set up meetings with a clear objective or purpose and take notes in a shared document. Keeping videos open and seeing teammates can help students stay connected to one another. Encourage students to check on each other and request that teammates alert the instructor if a student has been MIA from meetings.
- Stay connected to others. It’s easy for students to feel isolated and cut off from other people in this COVID learning environment. In-person, face-to-face communications may be limited, so staying in touch with instructors, classmates and peers is very important to student learning and success. Let students know to call or do video chats with friends and family. Use hangouts apps to connect with classmates. And encourage students to visit instructors’ during virtual office hours, if necessary.