Learning online is not as simple as logging on and absorbing the information: it requires a different approach from both learner and teacher. We asked the experts how students can make the most of an online or blended learning approach.
1. Feel reassured. From our earliest years we associate learning with physical classrooms and with being physically-present with fellow learners and teachers, trainers or instructors. The idea of learning online can therefore seem a bit ethereal but learners should feel reassured that online learning is a well- established tradition which in practice provides all the same supports and opportunities as the face- to-face environment and is subject to exactly the same academic standards while offering much greater flexibility – in time and place – to the learner. - Dr Gearóid Ó Súilleabháin, head of department of technology-enhanced learning, MTU Cork campus.
2. Log in: It might seem obvious but you need to log in. Even if you can’t make scheduled live classes or other events, it’s important to login so you can stay on top of what’s happening with your online course. If you go too long without logging in you can get left behind and, moreover, it may seem to your lecturers that you’re not participating fully in your course. - Dr Gearóid Ó Súilleabháin.
3. Additional support: Ensure that you can log into the virtual learning environment (VLE) at your college and have access to any required software, resources, and learning spaces at the start of your course. If you need any additional support, please provide the College with plenty of advance notice. - Dr Jen Harvey, assistant head of academic affairs (learning, teaching and assessment), TU Dublin.
4. Tech requirements: Check any minimum technical requirements, e.g. computer specs, in advance and that you have access to the facilities you need to learn online – i.e. a laptop/PC, headset with a mic, and broadband. - Dr Frances Boylan, digital education manager, TU Dublin.
5. Tech skills: Prospective students should invest in a good laptop that has an inbuilt camera and microphone and make sure they have a good internet connection. This is true for students across all programmes, since all programmes will have at least some level of online learning. If you don’t know how to type: learn. In the modern legal environment, basic IT skills are a given and it is no longer possible to navigate the legal learning or professional environment without these. The good news is, there’s plenty of time to learn if they start now. - Dr Eimear Brown, Dean of School, Kings Inns.
6. Get organised: Create a study space that permits you to concentrate, and let housemates or family know when you must not be disturbed – try the post-it note system: red means Do Not Disturb; orange means interrupt if important; green means you’re open for a cup of tea and a chat. - Karen Mooney, student support and welfare manager at the National College of Ireland.
7. Stay organised: Bookmark relevant webpages you use regularly, like your programme Moodle page, the student support Moodle page, the Library helpdesk, etc. - Karen Mooney.
8. Eliminate distractions: Try to eliminate all distractions when learning online. It is more productive to focus for short periods. Consider putting your phone on silent and downloading a website blocker to block apps or sites that will take your attention away from your work. - Dr Jen Harvey and Dr Frances Boylan.
9. Bite-sized learning: It is important that participants feel they can undertake a very focused form of self-directed learning, one that is bite-sized. The persona and communication skills of the facilitator are central to participants getting the most out of the virtual classroom experience, with a more structured approach required. At IMI, we’ve seen participants on our programmes responding well to the more experiential opportunities that we offer, including simulations and role plays, all of which can be delivered in a seamless way virtually. - Julie Ryan (JR), Head of Customised & Sectoral Programmes at the Irish Management Institute.
10. Get focused: Make a planner of all relevant dates and put it on a wall where you can easily see it. Stay focused – attend lectures live when they happen as much as possible, and actively participate in class. - Karen Mooney.
11. Use the tools: In terms of virtual classroom dynamics, interactivity is essential to engagement. The use of online tools is key to maintaining engagement throughout the session. Virtual programmes work best when breaks are built in, with empathetic and patient facilitators and with an approach that allows space and time for questions to flow and discussion to happen. - Julie Ryan.
12. Revise: You need to put time aside every week to revise and complete activities outside of your classes, labs and tutorials. Don’t rely on just going through the material when you have a spare moment, or when you feel up to it – try to block off set times each and every week and stick to them. - Dr Gearóid Ó Súilleabháin.
13. Know your deadlines: Know which aspects of your course are running online and understand your responsibilities, i.e. what you need to have done, by when, and in collaboration with whom. Check assessment requirements and guidelines such as word count, formatting and referencing. - Dr Jen Harvey and Dr Frances Boylan.
14. Engage: Always try to actively engage with the course content, and participate well in all activities and discussions. Your lecturer has designed these to help you to learn and do well in your assessments. Maintain your academic integrity by developing your own writing style and expertise. - Dr Jen Harvey and Dr Frances Boylan.
15. Interact: Connect with your classmates and participate in any online discussions. Participate in any opportunities provided to you to connect with your fellow participants and other stakeholders. This may be an online discussion or other activities for a particular online workshop or tutorial, or just a request for help or an offer of help from your fellow learners. - Dr Gearóid Ó Súilleabháin.
16. Build relationships: Try to build strong working relationships and social networks with your peers. Perhaps help to set up a study group. Contact your class Student Union representative for information about any meetings or associated activities. - Dr Jen Harvey and Dr Frances Boylan.
17. Attend workshops: Engage with all learning experiences and content. Examine the learning content made available and attend any online workshops or tutorials that may be scheduled. Pay attention and take notes. Be sure to use any opportunities provided to ask questions [and] look for clarifications. - Dr Gearóid Ó Súilleabháin.
18. Make a list: Knowing what you need to get done is essential. Keep a calendar for important dates and deadlines, keep a to-do list for smaller daily or weekly tasks. Being disorganised is perhaps the biggest enemy of the online learner – don’t let it hurt your chances for success. - Dr Gearóid Ó Súilleabháin.
19. Seek support: Students who are less familiar with online learning should not be put off. There are lots of resources available to support and guide them. For example, at national level, the Enhancing Digital Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (EDTL) Project Team has developed a range of resources to support students to engage with online learning. - Advice from Maynooth University’s digital learning team.
20. Get motivated: You have chosen to undertake this course for a reason: write down your goal, as a reminder to keep you going on low-energy days. Stay motivated – good sleep, good food, fresh air and exercise all help you maintain a sense of well-being and balance, to keep you going through the commitment you have made. Finally, enjoy! - it will be a challenge but it will be exciting and rewarding too! - Karen Mooney.