I find it hard to learn online. How will I survive in college this year?

Ask Brian: Most teaching in third level will be online, but there are supports available

I’m due to start my college course soon and have been told that most of the teaching will take place online this year. I struggled with online learning in sixth year at school. I found it hard to keep focused. I’m worried my new university course will be more of the same.

A lot has been written about the quality of online teaching since Irish campuses closed back in March. Most educators acknowledge the experience was far from ideal as institutions quickly pivoted to emergency remote learning.

While there is evidence right across the Irish higher education sector that colleges are now better prepared to harness the potential of online education, thanks to investment in infrastructure and professional development, the importance of the student’s role should not be overlooked. After all, learning is not a spectator sport.

Numerous surveys conducted since the Covid-19 crisis have shown that, irrespective of age or experience, students need greater support to effectively learn how to learn online.


Indeed, learning online requires a new set of skills to master. It is not the same as learning in a physical classroom. As DCU president Professor Daire Keogh put it recently: "Learning to learn online is becoming an important life skill".

One of the advantages of online education is the flexibility it allows to fit learning around your life. However, this flexibility creates its own challenges, especially if students have not been taught how to successfully manage their study time.

Students also report in the course the importance of ensuring you have a good support crew

Thankfully, there is help available. Many colleges are offering advice and tutorials in adapting to online learning. DCU, for example, has just launched a free online course available to students throughout Ireland.

It could help you to improve the quality of your online learning. A notable feature of the programme - called “A Digital Edge: Essentials for the Online Learner” - is how it has been designed for students by students.

Developed by a team at DCU,'s National Institute for Digital Learning, with the support of DCU Students' Union and the Irish Universities Association (IUA), the course will be co-facilitated by students.

It is available online from September 21st through DCU’s partnership with FutureLearn.

What is most impressive are the tips which fellow students share during course.

As one Irish online student says, “I found that creating time blocks in my calendar for working on specific tasks during the day helped me to stay on top of my college work”.

Students also report in the course the importance of ensuring you have a good support crew. In this sense, learning is a team sport and successful online learners share ideas of how to go about building a strong support network.

By actively engaging in this way students gain a stronger sense of learning community and camaraderie that can make online learning both more effective and enjoyable.