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How do I learn online?

Need Help?

Ask a Librarian @
Betty Sue Jessup Library

501 College Drive
Charlottesville, VA 22902

Tips for Successful Online Learning

  • Don't make this mistake.
    • Many students think taking college courses online involves watching video lectures, taking notes, and then taking multiple choice quizzes and exams. This is not true. College classes - whether online, face to face, or hybrid - involve hard work, including analysis, discussion, demonstrating critical thinking, writing papers, reading, evaluating, and more. It is hard work and you are responsible for it, so be prepared to do the work.
  • Avoid this mistake too.
    • Just because you don't actually go to class on campus, don't think you can slack off. You'd be making a huge mistake if you think taking a class online means you can relax and take it easy. Learning online requires a high level of self discipline and self motivation.
  • Make sure you have what you need.
  • Read the syllabus.
    • A syllabus (plural: syllabi) is a document that provides information about a course, and it is to your benefit to read the whole thing and to keep the document somewhere where you can easily refer to it if you need something (for example, the instructor's email address, phone numbers, and office hours, course policies, important dates, and  more).
  • Read your school email every day.
    • Your instructor or other people at the College may contact you about important information. Stay informed by keeping track of your email daily, and clearing your inbox of unwanted emails.
  • Read the course announcements.
    • Your instructor will post announcements in your Canvas course. Read them, as they contain important information that you need to be aware of.  Typically you also get a copy of the announcements via email.
  • Contact your instructor first.  
    • If you have a question about the course or the assignments, email or call your instructor before you contact anyone else. Many students bypass this step and contact the library or an advisor, but in this case, that's not the best choice. Only your instructor can answer questions related to the course and to the assignment instructions. 
  • When doing school work, do school work.
    • This means, limit distractions as much as possible: put away your phone, ignore social media, work in your dedicated workspace,  wear headphones to filter out sounds, don't engage with others (let others know not to interrupt you during schoolwork time), etc.
  • Prepare for technology issues.
    • Tech issues happen: you lose internet, Canvas is not letting you in, you lose power. Contact your instructor as soon as possible and provide evidence that you did the work but could not submit it.  Send the work via email as soon as you can, and provide screenshots to show you were encountering issues.
  • Participate. If there is a discussion board assignment or a live discussion in a Zoom session  contribute meaningful material, not just "I agree" or "That's a good point."
  • Don't wait until the last minute.
    • Aim for submitting assignments a week early. This way, if there are issues, your can work to fix them and your work will not be late. Deadlines are a fact of life, and observing deadlines is an important skill to have in real life, both in and outside of college.  If you are gathering sources the morning of the day the paper is due, you are setting yourself up for failure.
  • Don't forget to ask for help.
    • Avoid unnecessary frustration by learning to ask for help. Go to the College's home page and look under Student Services & Support, where you will find links to such services as the library, the bookstore, career services, online tutoring, the writing center, and more. When emailing someone, practice good etiquette.
  • Use the Ask the Librarian forum if your course has one.
    • The librarian can help you learn how to find sources, how to improve the effectiveness of your searches with better keywords, how to cite correctly, and more. Need help with a research assignment? Don't be shy! Connect and interact with the librarian.


Bonus Tips

Bonus tips for synchronous online courses (these classes meet online, live)

  • Use your webcam. Instructors read students' expressions to gauge if they need to slow down or explain things differently.
  • Mute yourself during lecture and only un-mute yourself if you need to speak. This minimizes background noise which can be distracting to others.
  • Don't multi-task. Pay attention to the lecture and don't go to other webpages unless required by the instructor.
  • Take notes by hand. This is actually faster than using an app or the computer.
  • Sign in to the meeting 5-10 minutes early to make sure you can connect and that everything's working. If the meeting is not open, you can check that things are working by joining a Zoom test meeting for a minute or two.
  • Don't leave the meeting as soon as class is over. Instructors often stay connected to answer questions from students, so use this time well, if offered.
  • If you have a question, use Zoom's "raise your hand" feature so your instructor will know you need help.
  • You can also use the chat feature, but before you do, ask your instructor if s/he will be reading and answering questions posted via chat
  • If your instructor asks a question or gives a prompt, answer it!  Stay active and participate fully in the class. You will remember more.
  • Use a headset with a microphone (or use AirPods). This reduces the background noise in your study area, so it's not distracting for other in the class, plus it increases audio quality when you're speaking.

Bonus tips for asynchronous courses (the material is recorded and you can view it whenever)

  •  When taking notes, don't write everything the instructor is saying, or you'll become frustrated or take a long time to take notes for the whole lecture. Take notes the same way you would in a face to face class. You need the gist, the most important information.
  • Most recorded lectures come with a transcript. Use it to your advantage. You can often copy and paste the transcript into a file and then highlight portions of interest.  
  • Print the transcript and your notes and keep them in a notebook for easy access when it's time to study for a test or exam.
  • Listen to the whole recording.
  • Follow up with your instructor with any questions you may have regarding the lecture or assignments. Visit during their virtual office hours (check the syllabus to see when these are), send an email, or call.