Maximizing Virtual Learning
October 15, 2020
By Sheldon Hill, Western Law Student Wellness Counsellor
With the move to virtual learning for much of the academic year, a new set of challenges comes with a different form of schooling. Virtual learning takes more effort on the part of the learner, with an increase in time management, self-motivation and accountability required for success. Additionally, students may need to unlearn some of the habits that made them a successful in-person learner and apply different skills to excel in a virtual environment. This shift means that students should be reflective on what is or isn’t working in the learning process, and to adapt as needed.
Create a space that is quiet, organized and distraction-free. This can be a tall order, so do the best you can to make a space within the environment you live in. When you’re preparing, engaging in lectures and reading, do these tasks in an environment that emulates exam conditions: proper lighting, quiet, sitting at a desk or table and mitigate items around you.
Eye strain may increase as you spend more time staring at your computer screen. Consider downloading an application to reduce the glare from the computer screen. Further, try the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, look at something at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.
Each person has a more productive time of day based on the alertness of the mind. Figure out the times you are typically the most attentive, engaged and productive, and schedule your work during that time.
For each task you need to complete, consider the number of hours you need to feel prepared. This stands in contrast to most students’ way of working which is “I will use all time available and never feel prepared”. Instead, figure out the time needed for you to feel ready and plan accordingly
To stay on top of your daily commitments and what you need to do to succeed, consider these two types of scheduling:
- Hour-by-hour scheduling: You plan your day by the hour, including class times, what you’ll be working on during each hour, and the activities of daily living such as eating, exercising and sleeping. Consider using a planner to track these and map out your week every Sunday.
- Goals-based scheduling: Plan the tasks and amount of time you want to complete during the day and set them up as goals. For example, two hours of Criminal Law readings within one day, but you work away at that goal whenever you’d like. Create progress check-in points during the day to make sure you’re on track.
When motivation is low, consciously think about the reason why you’re doing what you’re doing. This can be considering career goals, the enjoyment of what you’re learning, how you’re developing throughout law school, etc. Consider both the internal motivations, like love of learning, as well as external motivations, like financial gain.
Rather than listening to lectures or reading passively (low engagement, low focus, being on “auto-pilot”), work to feel immersed in the material which helps memory and understanding. Retrieval practice is a skill that strengthens and consolidates memory. You can do this by learning the material, then putting all materials away and actively recalling the information, perhaps by explaining it aloud or writing it out.
Since virtual learning makes connections with peers and faculty harder to facilitate, consider how you’re going to reach out to these people to continue learning the information. Peer-to-peer discussions and questions for professors will help you learn and retain information.
To successfully engage and absorb material, learners can work to reach the “flow state”, which is when the level of challenge of learning is high and your skill level is high enough to meet it. This is in contrast to high challenge and low skills, which leads to anxiety, and low challenge and high skills, which leads to boredom. If you find yourself experiencing anxiety or boredom, consider how the challenge level or your skill level can increase to help you succeed.
The Learning Development and Success team offers a myriad of services ranging from presentations and education on learning to individual learning skills counselling. To learn more about their services, you’ll find their website here.
To consider the above means we need to enter a state of metacognition – we’re looking at the learning process from the outside to maximize it, rather than being in the process and pushing through. And remember that although you may not like virtual learning, you have all the skills to succeed as a student, you may just have to apply them differently.