Becoming an online learner
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Maintaining your wellbeing while studying online
Studying partly or entirely online is very different from attending face-to-face classes on campus. Whether you’re used to having a full timetable or fewer contact hours each week, it’s likely that the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted your normal routines. If you’re new to the University, you’ll also be adjusting to a new course and ways of studying that you won’t have encountered before.
We all have routines that break up our days, weeks and months. Without our normal study routines of coming into campus for classes, seeing friends and perhaps having lunch or a coffee, we can find ourselves drifting and feeling less motivated. Suddenly it’s just you and your screen. So how do you make sure that you don’t just sit at that screen all day or find yourself spending more and more time procrastinating with social media or Netflix?
We’re going to look at some of the ways that this change might affect your wellbeing, and how you can take care of this aspect of your life.
Your workspace can affect your mood, your concentration and your ability to learn effectively. It’s important to create a space that allows you to focus on your work as much as possible.
Make sure you have a comfortable and dedicated workspace.
Here are some things to consider when you set up your workspace:
- Separate your workspace as much as you can from relaxation areas.
- If you have a desk, organise it and spend the last 10 minutes of your study day tidying it ready for the next day.
- Notice how the light in your study space changes throughout the day. You may need to use a desk light, adjust your screen angle or change position if you’re getting too much glare or not enough daylight to work.
Get up from your desk at least every hour to stretch and move around.
I am juggling my studies with looking after children, so after a work session on the kitchen table, I keep my uni stuff in a box that I then clear away.
Getting down to work
You need to be realistic about how much studying you can do in a day and maintain other activities such as exercise and socialising. Taking a little time to think about your study habits can really help to boost your productivity.
Treat each day as a “normal” day at University. Follow your timetable and use breaks to complete activities that you would have normally done whilst on campus (self-study, eating, drinking, socialising and relaxing). Make sure you can separate your study area from everyday life. If you have access to an office space, then maximise its use. Shut the door and walk away!
Consider these things before you start:
- Think about when you are at your most productive and when your best times to work are: are you sharpest in the early morning or do you come alive in the evening? Use those study times as much as possible.
- Try starting your day with a specific piece of music or nature sounds on YouTube. Some people find that doing this regularly puts them in the right frame of mind for studying.
If you can take some exercise before getting down to work it may improve how much attention you can give to your studies.
Set mini-deadlines and reward yourself when you meet them. For example, give yourself a week to create a reading list for your assignment, and treat yourself when you make this deadline.
It can be harder to focus when you’re studying on your own and you might find yourself losing focus more easily than usual.
Here is some advice on how to maintain focus:
- Meandering thoughts sometimes mean that it’s time for a break! Decide how long you are going to have a break for and move away from your devices.
- Look back at your to-do list. What can you mark as completed? What are your aims for today?
Procrastinating? Everyone does it; read our advice on how to tackle your procrastination habits.
We all have days when we cannot even think of pressing the start button on your computer. But, having small aims and targets can help you keep motivated. It is also very important to keep up with your hobbies and not forget to let off steam from time to time.
Getting away from work
Taking a break from work is really important to help you maintain focus and for your health and wellbeing.
Some suggestions for getting away from work:
- If you work in the same room that you sleep in, you could cover your desk with a blanket or sheet when you finish work for the day so that it is not in your eyeline when you are resting.
- When you finish studying, change the lighting in your room to something softer if you can. Turn off your lights altogether, use a lower level of lighting or close curtains or blinds to change the atmosphere.
- Going outside can be great for relaxing your mind. Look for green spaces, signs of wildlife and notice the changing sky.
Make sure that at least some of your down time is offline. Cooking, drawing, doing a puzzle or exercise are all good ways to practice everyday mindfulness without the intrusion of a screen.
Do something just for you every day so you have something to look forward to. Keep in touch with friends and have a virtual coffee morning each week. Take a half hour walk round your neighbourhood maybe somewhere new, this gives me time to think and reflect.
Everybody can have a bad day, or struggle with a particular aspect of their studies or personal life. The important thing is to make sure you know what to do when things are not quite right.
If you’re having a bad day or week, tell someone - either a family member, friend or Big White Wall.
Long hours at your screen can be very draining, especially if you’ve spent a long time in online meetings. There are specific reasons for this; find out more in this article about online meeting fatigue. Try to take regular screen breaks to prevent tiredness, headaches and eye strain. Move away from your computer and do a different task for a few minutes each hour, like making yourself a drink or doing some stretches.
Identify things that might make you stressed or anxious. Think of strategies in advance that might prevent this from happening. The Student Counselling Service offer some self-help resources and group workshops to help you develop effective coping strategies.
Familiarise yourself with the support the University Student Counselling service can provide.
Get active (short [fitness] sessions have been helpful and even if you don’t feel like doing it in the morning, you can still convince yourself because they are only short). Get out enjoy fresh air, if not possible open as many windows you have in the morning, let the fresh air come to you. Keep in contact with tutors and people on your course.
Connecting with others
Whether you are an extrovert or introvert, it is important that you maintain regular contact with your course mates and friends.
Take breaks and video call your friends, instead of using social media.
Do you like to study alongside others? You could find a friend who feels the same and set up virtual study sessions using Microsoft Teams, Skype, Zoom or similar apps. Microsoft Teams can produce automatic captions for accessibility, whereas other apps may not.
It’s likely that your course will arrange opportunities for you to get together with others doing the same subject, so look out for announcements about these in Minerva or via email.
Virtual coffee or lunch breaks can be fun too, and you could do these with a few people or just one other.
How did your day or week go? For a study focused discussion, you could set up a regular online meeting to talk through your work, your problems and successes together.
I’ve found buddying up [with two other students helpful] as I’ve learnt from them and they have learnt from me. I have learnt from their recent experience of studying (I hadn’t studied for years) and they have learnt from my experience of life in general, prioritising workloads, that kind of thing.