How to Use Remote Learning to Cultivate Community

How to Use Remote Learning to Cultivate Community was originally published on Idealist Careers.

Maybe you’re one of the many students who recently swapped the hustle and bustle of a physical campus for a solo room and a laptop. Or perhaps you’ve started a program without setting foot on campus at all. In either case, you’re likely already facing the unique challenges (and rewards) associated with virtual learning.

A remote classroom can be an enriching experience as long as participants work to make it that way. Though instructors set the tone, there is a lot that you can do as a student to take responsibility and ownership over your academic experience.

Set a schedule

You have to “be your own boss” in a virtual environment, and that means setting up a structured way to get your work done. Schedule time to attend classes, complete assignments, and fulfill any other requirements. If you have the information you need to plan in advance, go ahead and carve out blocks of time for the entire semester before it starts.

This can be especially helpful if your classes allow a lot of flexibility, or if you’re balancing other responsibilities like work or childcare; a schedule helps ensure school is a regular, significant part of your life.

Here are some suggestions for how to establish a routine:

  • If your instructor doesn’t assign due dates, create deadlines of your own.
  • As much as possible, plan to study at around the same time each day—you’ll prime your brain to recognize this time slot as “school hours.”
  • If you can create a regular, semi-private workspace for yourself, that’s another big help.

Commit to monotasking

Multitasking may get more press these days, but monotasking—focusing exclusively on one task at a time until it’s complete—is the best way to be fully present for remote learning.

When you give school your full attention, you’re more likely to remember what you learned, not only when exam time rolls around, but in your long-term memory as well. And concentration is just as important in peer discussions as it is in teacher lectures; you’ll feel more like a member of a learning community if you really listen to what other students have to say.

Monotasking could mean closing unused browser windows and putting away other electronics when you’re in the virtual classroom. Or you could practice some time management techniques to get assignments done as efficiently as possible.

Also, even if you have access to a recording or write-up of the class afterward, take notes. The actual process of note taking activates your brain, improving comprehension and memory.

Get involved in the discussion

Learning is social and reciprocal—you’ll learn from your classmates and they’ll learn from you. Think of yourself as an essential contributor to the learning environment (because you are!). Discovery Education Canada community manager Dean Shareski suggests remote students answer two questions after every class:

  • What did you learn from others?
  • What did you contribute to the learning of others?

Take advantage of any spaces or platforms your class offers for dialogue, from email chains to Zoom debates. Many online courses have message boards where students can ask questions, respond to prompts, and bounce ideas off one another.

For introverts, a remote learning environment may allow more time for reflection and a low-pressure way to engage. For extroverts who crave social bonds, active participation in an online course makes the class seem more like teamwork and less like solo work. You may find you’re more comfortable opening up and taking risks in a virtual classroom than you would be in a traditional setting.

Even if you’re not ready to contribute in a group forum, stay involved by paying attention to discussions as they unfold. You’ll learn a lot—classmates might have insights about the material that never occurred to you, and your perspective may be just as valuable to them. And sometimes it’s a great help to simply hear that others are struggling with the coursework as much as you are.

Don’t be afraid to share your class-related thoughts and questions with the instructor privately if you prefer; that’s what teachers are there for.

Share in small groups

Ask a classmate to be your “study buddy,” join a study group, or form one of your own—especially if your course is large enough to make personal interaction a challenge. Alternatively you can pair up with a friend who’s also taking online classes; you’ll be able to keep each other on task and share what you’re learning, even if you’re not studying the same subjects.

Either way, a course group or partner can share resources, suggest new study strategies, and provide a core of emotional support. You may even grow more confident in your ability to facilitate your own learning without in-person guidance.

Virtual meetups outside of class should have a purpose and an advanced-set agenda. That doesn’t mean you have to keep it formal or stick to course topics the whole time, however. Another perk of having a study group is the chance to check in on everyone’s general well-being and possibly form new friendships.

Pro tip: You’re getting great job-market experience by tackling remote learning, from organizing goal-oriented meetups to creative collaboration in unusual circumstances. When it’s time to apply for jobs, feel free to turn your virtual learning expertise into a marketable skill.

Use your school’s resources

The physical campus may be closed, but plenty of student services will still be active in a remote capacity.

  • Browse the school website to find out what resources and opportunities come free, or subsidized, with the price of tuition.
  • Spend time familiarizing yourself with the learning management system your school uses for a virtual classroom. If you’re having trouble accessing certain features, don’t be shy about asking your teacher or classmates for help; chances are you aren’t the only one experiencing some technology setbacks.
  • Go to remote office hours if your instructor offers them. This gives the teacher a chance to learn your academic interests and goals and put a face (or voice) to a name, and you can ask for help with any coursework you’re struggling to understand.
  • Investigate the physical and mental health care provided by your university. Student counseling centers have gone virtual at many schools, and you can make an appointment if you’re feeling depressed or overwhelmed.
  • If you have time, check out any extracurricular clubs that strike your interest. You may be surprised to find a lot of these clubs are just as active online as they would be in person. Schools might also have virtual events like seminars, concerts, film screenings, and more.

Even though it may not feel that way at first, you are part of a community of learners . The more actively you can participate in remote learning, the closer it will feel to the in-person college experience, and you may even emerge with connections that will last a lifetime.


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