Quarantine restrictions may be slowly lifting over the coming year, but Covid-19 is still a serious danger, and we will not be back to normal for several months. While nearly all aspects of our lives will continue to be impacted in some way, this offers a special challenge to anyone who planned on taking classes or lessons during this time. Parents of school aged children and on-campus college students know this all too well, as routines they’ve relied on for generations must suddenly be altered due to the pandemic.
Adults taking classes as “off-campus” students, online students, and those needing to take a course or two for work may not experience the upheaval that more traditional, full-time students go through, but studying is going to be a challenge for everyone for a while. Here are just a few ways to make the best of the situation.
These tecniques can also be used to teach yourself a new skill at home.
Take health precautions seriously.
Being sick of the words “social distancing” is completely understandable. But the idea behind it is important. Avoid crowding together with classmates who do not currently live in your household if you are taking an in-person class or attending a required offline meeting for an online class. Keep the seats spread out to avoid sharing germs. Wear a mask when you must be near classmates. Wash your hands a few extra times. If you are teaching yourself something, and you need to run to the bookstore to purchase something, wait for other people to finish looking at the books or other materials before moving into the space.
Refusing to allow space between people, pulling off your mask as soon as you get past the front door, and mocking the santizing stations or signs reminding you to wash your hands is not a political statement any more than pulling off your shirt and shoes inside a store, choosing your food at a buffet with bare hands, or refusing to comb or brush your hair, take showers, and brush or soak your teeth is a political statement. It’s just a way to spread around potentially deadly germs.
Set up a study space for online courses or self-directed learning.
Ideally, you have a space you can set aside as your school area. If you do have a den, office, or even an especially spacious dining room or living room, set up a space that is just for school. Arrange a desk or table, computer, chair, and basic office supplies to duplicate an office or classroom space. Those who live in smaller homes, or whose study space is taken up by kids, roommates, or spouses who have already moved their work or school online, can choose a space used for other purposes, and set it up as a temporary school space with markers. You might select your chair at the kitchen table, but have a cup full of pens or a special notebook or coffee mug that comes out only when that space is your at- home school. Make it a rule, both for yourself and anyone else in the home that this item or set of items means school, workshop, or study time. When your thumb drive is in the laptop, your school mug, or your school notebook is on the table, or your backpack is at your feet, you are in school, or having study time.
Make a schedule.
The popular image of studying (or working) from home is of a person in lounge wear stretched across the couch with their computer in their lap. The implication is that you can just pull out your electronics and “do school” at any moment. Perhaps some people can. Most people would find it difficult to focus.
Most online or self-directed learners find it easier to concentrate, get tasks done, and keep track of deadlines if they make themselves a schedule similar to the one they would have if they were going to class offline. The flexibility lies not in the freedom from a schedule, but in the freedom to create your own schedule.
Don’t forget breaks. If you were in a classroom or at work in a conference room for a workshop, you would have a lunch break. Make sure you have one at home too. Taking shorter breaks throughout the day can also help with focus and motivation.
Plan your tasks by starting with the final project and the due date, breaking down the tasks, and assigning a certain number of tasks each day.
Suppose you are taking an online class in setting up your arts career as a small business. For the first week, you will need to create and write a business plan. The weeks run from Monday to Monday, and the assignment is going to take you eight steps to complete. You will want to complete the two simplest steps in one day, and schedule each of the others one per day, with the final step done right before you hand the work in.
Duplicate this same process for self-directed learning. If you are teaching yourself a language, set a weekly goal, and then break that goal down by the day. Learning 100 new vocabulary words in a week may be impossible if you try to learn them all on Saturday evening. But if you break that down to 15 words per day, you will increase your vocabulary by 105 words in that same amount of time, and it is much less daunting.
Schedule a day for revisions, rewrites, and other issues.
When breaking an assignment down into steps, make sure the final step is going over your work and doing any revisions you need to do before you hand the work in. While you do want to give yourself the full amount of allotted time to complete online learning projects, you don’t want to find yourself scrambling to complete work because you scheduled too much at the last minute.
If the learning is self-directed, schedule some time for things to go wrong, or to be harder than you expected. Plan for time for that step you just couldn’t get down, or that material you just haven’t yet learned. It will happen, and it’s much more productive to plan for it than to beat yourself up and declare your studies a failure.
Keep your documents organized.
On your computer desktop, make a folder for your course or workshop. Inside that folder, make one subfolder for assignments or projects you are working on, one for submitted work that has not been graded or evaluated, and a third for graded or past work. Create another folder for notes and saved resources. If your course requires more documents or projects, make folders for those too. Folders on your desktop do not waste paper, cost money, or do anything else except help keep you organized. It’s better to have too many than too few, and find yourself frantically hunting around for that paper that needs to be submitted tonight.
Remember that academic and professional integrity rules still apply to online courses.
Even those who would never think of actually cheating may be tempted to bend the other rules of academic integrity in order to get by in an online course. After all, the instructor will never know that you’re not really that sick when you send them an excuse and ask for an extension. They won’t know that your personal issue isn’t truly preventing you from completing the work of the course if you “open up” to them with the secret hope they go easy on you when they hear your story. Except that they will. Online instructors are well aware of the internet age versions of “the dog ate my homework,” and of the pity play. It likely won’t work, and even if you should happen across an instructor who is guilible, distracted, or just plain worn out enough to take it, trying to manipulate your way into better grades is still wrong.
Get dressed for school or work.
Some people can concentrate well in their pajamas. Most need to at least get dressed in order to concentrate. There’s no need to dress in professional business attire, unless you’re going straight from your class or training to a Zoom meeting that would require such clothing if it were offline. But you may want to wear your normal business casual to casual workplace clothing. At least put on the clothes you would wear if it were a weekend day and you were going to meet friends for coffee. It may seem like an added hassle, but for most people, it aids in concentration and focus….and leaves you prepared for that unexpected moment when what you thought was a text chat with the boss or instructor turns out to be a video call.
Take advantage of some of the perks of studying from home.
Having a place, the materials you need to learn, and the people around you respecting the fact that you are “in school” or “in training,” just as if you were in a classroom or conference area is important. But you don’t have to duplicate every detail. You would probably not get up for extra snacks or drinks three times in a training session at work, but if you’re doing the training by yourself at home, with nobody else waiting for you in a video or text chat meeting, don’t worry about it. Go ahead and play loud music, or watch tv while doing tedious tasks if it helps you focus.
Make sure the day has a beginning and an end.
One of the biggest issues with training or studying from home is the feeling that because “home” and “school” are the same physical space, you are always obligated to be present in both at once. You decide to just go ahead and do that last lesson over dinner, or start your lesson while you have your coffee, before breakfast. This can be helpful during a rushed day, or if something unexpected happens, but making it a habit will only make it seem like you never came home from training or school. Make sure your training or class time has a definite end each day.
While the news about Covid-19 vaccines offers hope, and we know we will someday be back to only taking classes, seminars, and other training from home if we want to, self-directed, remote learning is going to be necessary for several more months, as the vaccine will need time to be distributed and work through the population. But remote, self-directed, online learning can be done, and done well once productive patterns become habits.