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Becoming an online learner

Active learning

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Being an active online learner

If you are an active learner, you actively seek to understand the course material by fully participating in problem-solving activities, group discussion, reflection activities, and any other task that prompts you to think critically about your subject. Active learning is more effective than passively receiving information and requires you to take responsibility for your own learning.

You will have both synchronous (learning in live sessions with the rest of your class) and asynchronous (learning at a time that suits you) learning opportunities.

Actively participating

You will be attending live online classes as well as being set work to complete in your own time. The following tips will help you make the most of these learning experiences.

Make a contribution

In live sessions with large groups, your tutor may mute your microphone and instead set up a chat feature alongside your live class that you will be encouraged to contribute to. They may also set up a discussion board so conversations can continue outside of specific class times.

You may feel you need to use an academic or formal writing style but you do not have to contribute perfect prose every time. In this environment it is the exchange of ideas that is important. If you are not sure what to write, you can use emojis to like others’ posts.

You can also contribute by answering other students’ questions, agreeing or constructively disagreeing with others. Think about how you can add something to a discussion, otherwise what is meant to be an exchange of ideas can become several individual, well written opinions. The more students that contribute, the richer everyone’s learning experiences are.

Participate in activities

Complete any pre- and post-class activities that your tutor sets. This will help you to get the most out of any live classes you attend.

Your tutors may use in-class activities such as quizzes, polls or writing on the screen. Participate in any activities set, to ensure you and your fellow students get the most out of the class time.

Sometimes your tutor may separate you into small groups, using online “breakout rooms” to have a discussion or complete a task. This may feel strange at first as the tutor may not be “in the room” with you. It is important that everyone in the group contributes. Usually you can use your microphone to speak to each other. If you don’t know the other students, start by introducing yourselves.

Making notes from online learning

Your notes are a key part of your learning at university. Notes not only capture what your lecturer has said, or the ideas that the author you are reading has written about, but they can also help you to develop your ideas on a topic.

Whether you sit exams, write assignments or take part in other forms of assessment, you will need your notes as one of your starting points for revision or planning. We’re going to look at some of the ways that you can make notes from live online lectures and online reading (from PDFs for example).

Live online lectures

Lectures are the backbone of a module, where you’ll find out about the big concepts, arguments or theories in your subject. With more lectures taking place online, consider how to make notes from this form of learning and how this might be different to how you approach note-making in other situations.

Think about how you would normally take notes in a live class (not just lectures). Do you prefer handwritten notes in a notepad, or do you type your notes on a laptop or other device? If you usually prefer to type your notes during face-to-face teaching, consider how you can do this if you are also participating in the session online. Do you need to watch the lecture on a different device?

Think about how you might want to adjust your note making technique for live online lectures. You should make every attempt to listen and participate in the lecture as it goes out live. Make brief notes throughout the lecture. If you make handwritten notes, make sure that you leave lots of blank space on the page so that you have room to add more later.

It’s very likely that your lectures will be recorded. If you’re not sure whether this is the case, ask at the beginning. You should use the recording to help you to remember what was discussed and to add more detail to your brief notes later.

However you make your notes from online lectures or other live sessions, remember that these are a starting point for your understanding. To strengthen that understanding, keep reading and revisit your notes throughout the module.

Online reading

Most of your reading lists will feature online books or journal articles, and you will also find them from your wider research in Library Search. If you’re reading online from a webpage or PDF, the notes you make are just as important as those from physical books.

Here are a few tips for making notes from online readings:

  • You can annotate PDF documents with PDF mark-up software and apps. There are different types of software and apps to choose from such as Evernote or in-built tools within your PDF reading software. Try a few to see which you find most useful. You should be able to highlight, add notes and underline or circle text as you might do with a highlighter pen and crucially, to save your annotations into the PDF. You can also use a PDF converter to covert the document into other formats such as Word which may be easier to read and annotate.
  • Save any typed notes alongside the relevant PDF. Keeping the two together will help you when it comes to re-reading for an essay or exam, or writing for an assignment.
  • If you’re struggling to read online, then look for software or apps that will read the text to you out loud. This might also be a good way to refresh your memory of something that you have read before and will give you a break from looking at your screen. When you want to make notes about the text, just pause the reader until you have completed your notes before starting again.
  • Don’t cut and paste from online readings into your notes. It’s very easy to mistake those words for your own and accidentally plagiarise them. If you do need to quote any text in your notes, use a different font or colour, add quotation marks and include any relevant details to create a reference and citation.