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Learning How to Navigate Online Learning: The New Normal for College Students (Amid Coronavirus)

Uncertain times are causing a lot of disruption among colleges and universities -- These tips and resources will help you succeed as you transition to online learning.

online learning for college students amid coronavirus

The reality right now >> Students are coming back from Spring Break and finding out that school has been shut down. Schools everywhere are responding to the Coronavirus outbreak, including a majority of colleges and universities. As a college student, you may have been asked to vacate campus and prepare to transition from in-person classes to virtual classes. These are crazy times, and I know this is challenging for many. To help you out during this transition time, I’ve put together some online learning tips for college students.

I’ve personally had to lead and participate in a lot of virtual meetings throughout my career, and I’ve also had to develop new habits to help me focus and be more productive as I’ve worked from home for the past two years. A lot of what I’ve learned can be applied to online learning for you, as well. However, before I dive into my online learning tips, I want to highlight a few additional resources for college students during this time.

Resources to Support College Students Who Are Forced to Evacuate Campus

First, please make sure you check in with your respective college or university, frequently, to get the latest guidance from them. For example, I noticed that my alma mater put up a specific website that is host to the latest information and resources for students. Schools are doing what they can to help prepare students for this transition to online learning, and your school will have specific recommendations for you based on their available technology and resources. Make sure you are setting yourself up for success by familiarizing yourself with your school’s plan going forward.

In addition to what your school is doing to lead you through this transition, there are companies out there who have stepped up to help college students during this time. To name a few, Uhaul is offering 30 days of free self-storage to college students who have been impacted by the sudden campus evacuations. Comcast is offering two free months of internet service to those who qualify, enabling students who wouldn’t otherwise have internet to participate in their virtual classes. As is, Charter Spectrum, another internet provider offering 60 days of free internet service to college students.

Finally, if you find yourself in need of financial assistance, your school’s emergency aid fund may be available to you. Google your school’s name + “emergency aid fund” to find out if you’re eligible to apply. Update as of March 19, 2020: Scholly just announced a COVID-19 Student Relief Fund. You can learn more, and apply, on the Scholly website.

How to Transition to Virtual Classes as a Result of COVID-19

The tips I’ve outlined for you below are a mix of physical and mental shifts that you can be making in order to foster success in your transition to online learning. The way I see it, you’ve already had to learn how to manage your own time as a college student. Think of online learning as adding a new dimension to your time management skill set.

The good news? It is 2020. We are more equipped than ever to pivot to online teaching and online learning as a society. You can be successful in this environment. Here are some recommendations on how to do it, with my online learning tips for college students.

  • Demonstrate patience and compassion – One thing you can control in this situation is your attitude.
    • Put yourself in their shoes. If you find yourself frustrated with your school or professors, just remember that they got thrown into this mess at the same time you did. They are doing their best to figure it out, and taking it day by day, just like you are. Creating an action plan for thousands of students is no small task. Remember this before you react in a negative way.
    • Don’t play the victim card. Everyone is in this together. Sometimes the obstacle is the way. Be resilient. Those who don’t let adversity take them down, are the ones who will come out ahead.
    • Be kind. People respond to kindness. In the absence of in-person communication, it is even more important to lead with kindness. Make your emails and virtual interactions positive ones. Things can easily be taken the wrong way online, so go out of your way to show positive intent.
  • Know your online tools – They are here to make your life easier.
    • Familiarize yourself with Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts and other similar video conferencing platforms. Technology will vary by school, but understand your school’s platform of choice and learn how to use it. There are plenty of video tutorials out there to walk you through each of them.
    • Log in to your school’s online student portal. This may seem like an obvious one, but don’t take it for granted. Things can change quickly in uncertain times. Get class assignments, participate in class activities and check for schedule updates on a consistent basis so that you don’t fall behind.
    • Utilize Google Docs. If you aren’t already using this free resource, now is a great time to start. Easily create shareable documents, in formats almost identical to Word, Excel and PowerPoint, and access them from anywhere that you can log in with a Gmail account.
  • Stay organized – Form good habits now, and take them forward with you.
    • Manage your schedule. I prefer Google Calendar for this. I think it is one of the best time management hacks for anyone (especially students). I’ve written an entire post about how to maximize your schedule by using Google Calendar as an intern, and it applies to you as a student in college as well. Regardless of what you use, create a schedule that incorporates your new online classes and use it to stay on track.
    • Create a physical calendar for short term objectives. This is something I like to do when I have a very specific goal I’m working toward over a 2-3 month period. I print out a blank, monthly calendar template, and I write out what I’m going to tackle each day. There’s something about the physical act of writing it out (and crossing things off as I go) that helps me to stay on track. You may find it to be a helpful tactic to get you through this online learning period.
    • Maintain a routine. This is so important, and it doesn’t have to be complicated. Just start with a simple morning routine to start your day off on the right foot. Workout, shower, get dressed, take a little time for yourself and read a book or listen to a podcast, log in to your virtual classes, etc. By starting each day the same way, you’ll find it is so much easier to stay on track. It gives you a sense of accomplishment first thing in the morning, and getting out of your pajamas definitely helps to change your mindset.
  • Eliminate distractions – Maybe the hardest thing to do, but it is so necessary for you to experience success.
    • Put devices on Do Not Disturb mode. This is the number one thing that helps me stay on task throughout the day. You don’t need to see every text from your friends the second they send them. If you are trying to watch an online lecture, or study for an important exam, do yourself a favor and turn off the notifications on your devices for a bit.
    • Close out any non-relevant tabs in your browser. Take away your temptation to check social media or online shop. During your dedicated online learning time (per the great schedule you created for yourself, right?), only pull up what you need to focus on and close out all the rest.
    • Create a dedicated learning space. This may not always be possible, but if you can, designate a place to be your “classroom”. This should be something other than your bed, or the couch that you lounge and watch Netflix from. Find a desk, or a dedicated spot at the kitchen table, and use that as your learning zone. Let roommates or family members know what this space means so that they are less likely to bother you. Mentally, having a dedicated space will help you focus on your schoolwork, and be a lot more productive with your time.
  • Engage in good communication – A life skill you need to develop, regardless.
    • Stay engaged with professors for regular updates. Everything is subject to change, and your professors are likely stressed and unprepared at the moment. Make it easier on yourself (and your professors), by paying attention and following their instruction closely. And remember, be kind.
    • Be transparent about any personal needs or limitations. But also be reasonable. An example may be: You have limited access to a computer during this time. Be up front with your professors. Ask if they can record their live lectures and make the replays available so that you can watch at a time when you have access to a computer.
    • Create virtual study groups with friends. Private Facebook groups or scheduled video chats are great forums for you to engage with friends and classmates. There is strength in numbers, so fire up a group to study with and help each other out. Same goes for continued engagement with any student organizations, sports teams, sororities or fraternities you may be involved with. Just because you’re off campus, doesn’t mean you can’t pick up right where you left off in a virtual setting and maintain those relationships.
  • Practice self-care – Physically and mentally, take care of yourself.
    • Exercise a growth mindset, not a fixed mindset. You will only achieve what you believe you are capable of. Don’t limit yourself. View challenges as opportunities. Focus on progress over perfection. Embrace new ways of learning. If you’re looking for more on this topic, I have a post where I share my framework to help you level up your life and implement a growth mindset.
    • Try some new at-home workouts. Now is the time to jump and dance around your living room like no one is watching. There are so many fitness professionals offering free access to their workouts right now. Not to mention, YouTube always has an abundance of free workout content. Take advantage of it all and move your body!
    • Stay hydrated. This should always be on top of your list, but if we’re all being honest with ourselves, we don’t drink nearly enough water. Staying hydrated is so important to your health. Not only will it help your body fend off COVID-19, but it will increase your ability to focus when staring at a computer screen, taking classes all day.
    • Get your sleep. As tempting as it is right now, don’t stay up all night watching Netflix if you have a full online schedule or important exam the next day. Remember what I said about the importance of a good morning routine? It’s a lot harder to maintain one if you aren’t getting your sleep. Plus, you’re more susceptible to getting sick if you’re lacking sleep, and isn’t that what we’re all trying to avoid right now?!?
    • Take care of your mental health. The uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 is causing a lot of stress and anxiety for many. You’re not alone. I encourage you to utilize your university counseling or student support services if you need someone to talk to. They are there to help. Another great resource that I found online is this Coronavirus Anxiety Toolkit.
  • Challenge yourself – Less social activities, because of social distancing, equals more time to get ahead.
    • Take control of your future. I saved the best, of my online learning tips for college students, for last. Turn the Coronavirus pandemic into a net positive for yourself. Use the time that you would have otherwise spent commuting to classes, or participating in social activities on campus, to educate yourself outside of your traditional coursework. Read books, listen to podcasts, watch informational YouTube videos, learn how to start a side hustle, take online courses, update your resume and LinkedIn profilesearch for and apply to internships. Prepare yourself to be steps ahead when life goes back to normal.
  • There is a lot of uncertainty at the moment. I know it can feel paralyzing at times, but your ability to apply a growth mindset and push onward will pay off. This too shall pass. Focus on being as productive as you can, by applying my online learning tips for college students and using your extra time wisely to take control of your future. Share this with a friend who could use some support right now as well. As always, I’m here in support of your hustle. You’ve got this!

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