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Online Learning

Transitioning from the traditional classroom to online learning is no easy task – especially if students have never taken an online course. Many university students are accustomed to working independently, but online courses take self-directed learning to a whole new level. Although it may be a newer method of learning, taking courses online can actually benefit the average student in many ways. For one, it can be less intensive because students have the choice to work at their own pace. It also helps improve self-discipline, which is sure to translate to other areas of life. Plus, students can work from the comfort of their couch!

These helpful tips for success can help you prepare for an online learning environment:

Create a routine 

Try to wake up at the same time each day, regardless if a class is scheduled that day. Take the time to eat a healthily breakfast, get some exercise, and take a shower. Doing these things will help with a healthy state of mind and provide the ability to focus on schoolwork.  Always prioritize sleep; get at least 7 hours of sleep a night.     

Create daily to-do lists  

One option to stay organized is to create to-do lists. Many students love to use virtual sticky notes on their electronic devices.  Each sticky note can be a different colour to represent a different course. Once a task is completed, cross it off or delete it. Update your to-do lists each day.    

Take breaks

Taking breaks is important for the mind and body. Taking a break from studying allows the information to digest and process into the long term memory.  When the break is over, try testing yourself using retrieval practice from the "Study Strategies" page. Retrieval practice allows students to know if they really understand the information that was being studied.  When taking a break, be intentional with the time.  Get a drink, go the bathroom, grab a snack, stretch and get back to work.  Try not to turn on the TV or play video games. Breaks should be short, and it is hard to turn off the TV during a show.  A general rule is for every hour spent studying, take a 10-15 minute break.  After studying for 2 hours, take a longer break, around 30 minutes.  Another great timed method of studying is the Pomodoro Technique.   

Find your learning community 

Working from home can feel a bit lonely at times., but remember that there is still a strong sense of community at Ontario Tech University.  Reach out to your professor and/or TA when you need help during their virtual office hours (times will be listed on the course syllabus), have online meet-ups with peers, and create study groups using Google Meet or Zoom.  In addition, the Student Learning Centre has workshops and PASS sessions available to learn course content while providing an opportunity to meet new friends.  Remember to turn on your webcam and microphone to help build a stronger connection with peers and staff.

Use tech tools 

Embrace technology. If a course requires special applications or software, download them during the first week of classes. Watch online tutorials when you are unfamiliar with certain software.  Practice using Canvas prior to the first day of classes and check Canvas daily. If you need technical support, visit the Canvas support page or call IT services at 905-721-8668, ext. 3333.

Test your technology  

Before each lecture, ensure your laptop or device is fully charged, or have it plugged in to an electrical outlet.  Don't always rely on Wi-Fi, plug your laptop into an ethernet cable if possible. Turn off the webcam if the internet connection is unstable.

Use your syllabus  

Course syllabi are full of great information. Take the time to read through every course syllabus.  The course syllabus contains professor and TA contact information, course outlines, and the weight of each assignment/test/exam. It also contains the learning outcomes for the course that can be turned into questions for students to test themselves on the content.

Record your lectures 

Record lectures with permission of the course professor. Take notes of important information.  If a recorded video is available at a later time, try to work through the problems during the live lecture and participate by asking questions or solving problems. At a later point, watch the recorded lecture, create summary notes, flash cards or concept maps, or test your knowledge of the content.

Back up your work 

Using the cloud, Google Drive or an external hard drive, back up your work so nothing will be lost. There is nothing worse than working hard on a huge assignment and losing it due to a computer virus or glitch.  There is no guarantee a professor will give an extension.

Practice lab work when possible 

If you are watching a lab live, ask to record the session.  Even if students do not have all the equipment, try to follow along by doing the hand motions for the lab. Doing the hand motions helps with muscle memory.  At the end of the lab, write out procedural steps or summary notes of processes learned.  Another option is to draw out a process.


California Polytechnic State University. Recommendations for Students in Virtual Learning Environments. Retrieved from:

Joyce, Liz (2020). Tips For Successful Online Learning. Retrieved from

Northeastern University (2020). Tips For Taking Online Classes: 8 Strategies For Success. Retrieved from

Pappas, Christopher (2015).  Getting The Most Out Of Your eLearning Course: 10 Study Tips for Online Learners. Retrieved from

Self-awareness and Online Learning

These are some traits that differentiate in-person learning from online learning environments: 


  • Structured  
  • Face-to-face interaction  
  • Networking opportunities with professors and other students 
  • Strong sense of belonging and community  


  • Synchronous (live) and asynchronous (self-directed)  
  • Flexible study schedule
  • Log in from anywhere 
  • No commute 
  • Work more while attending school 
  • Better work/school/home/life balance  

When it comes to managing your classes online, here are some helpful tips to be self-aware of your time and motivation: 

All online classes are different   

Not all online classes are the same. Attend every class, and follow the instructions of each professor for their particular class.  


Integrate self-care into your daily and/or weekly routine.  Many students practice mindfulness meditation, exercise, bake, take a bath or watch a TV show to relax. Taking care of the mind is just as important as taking care of the body.  Taking breaks and practicing self-care is important to help manage stress and anxiety.   

Stay motivated  

Take the time to reward yourself.  After a long week of studying and submitting labs or assignments, treat yourself. Do something that makes you happy and feel positive. After a midterm or final exam, always take some time to reward your hard work.  Reward yourself after challenging or stressful times, such as a midterm, to ensure your mind associates these times with positivity.



Pappas, Christopher (2015).  Getting The Most Out Of Your eLearning Course: 10 Study Tips for Online Learners. Retrieved from

Managing Online Learning

Here are some tips to help you to manage your time in an online environment: 

Treat online courses the same as in-person courses   

If a professor has pre-recorded lectures and students find themselves falling behind, they can take back control of the situation and set up a schedule. Plan blocks of time to watch lecture videos and review the textbook. Once students know what needs to be done, they should start each day with a daily task list. If students need accountability, they should find a partner and email their to-do lists to each other every day.  

Create a designated study space  

Create a clean, organized, and quiet study space.  When living with family or roommates, let them know a study session is about to begin and you would appreciate if there were no disruptions during the scheduled time.  Hanging a note on your bedroom door that says "studying in progress" is one great suggestion.   You can hang your calendar and/or study plans in your designated study space to keep you motivated and on track.

Set goals

Raise your hand if you are a procrastinator!

Most people procrastinate in some way.  Setting intentional SMART goals can help avoid procrastination. A goal without a deadline can be put off indefinitely. It is important to break down goals into small, manageable tasks. Always write goals down on paper or create an electronic to-do list. Build accountability by creating deadlines and consequences. If the deadline was not met, enforce a consequence such as not being able to go out with friends until the work is completed.  Always reward progress. Rewards can be big or small.  If you have studied for two hours, take a break, make tea and grab a small treat!  If a 10-page final paper has been submitted, go out with friends, see a movie, or play video games with friends.  

Apply the Plan-Monitor-Evaluate Model

The plan-monitor-evaluate model is a tool that allows you to understand your own thinking and learning. In other words, this is a metacognitive strategy that suggests using three steps when learning.

1. Plan - Decide what you need to study and how you would best learn the material.
Hint: Problem-solving course material will require a practice session, whereas, a course focused on theories and concepts may require more reading and note-taking.
2. Monitor - Track your progress to help you determine what you are doing to learn is actually working for you.
3. Evaluation -Reflect back to see if you met your learning goals. Evaluation usually occurs when you receive your exam or assignment back from your professor, however, another great way that you can evaluate your own learning is by using practice tests or by having a classmate quiz you.

Plan, monitor, evaluate cycle

Participate on the discussion board  

Introduce yourself to your classmates. Try to participate in the discussion board as much as possible. It can be difficult to process the tone of voice in written text, so please be kind to your peers.  

Create a remote study group

Study groups are a great way to make connections and reinforce learning. Working and studying in a group encourages the use of study skills such as note-taking, time management and organization skills. For more information, view the tipsheet on how to create a remote study group.

Use your real name

Many students use nicknames on Instagram, Snapchat and other social media platforms. However, in an academic learning environment, it is important to use your real name when attending online classes, labs and/or tutorials. When participating in online discussion boards or school group chats to discuss and work on projects, identify yourself using your real name so students and professors know who you are and can have open and clear communication.


Be respectful

Treat your fellow classmates and professors with respect. When having critical thinking discussions and engaging in deep learning, remember to respect other people’s thoughts and feelings. Even if you disagree, try to learn from others and respect their opinions to ensure thoughtful and meaningful conversations can take place. Treat others the same as you would when interacting face-to-face.




Alger, M., Centres, K., Page, C., & Vincent, A. (2018, August 25). Apply the plan-monitor-evaluate model for assessing your learning progress. Retrieved from

Pappas, Christopher (2015).  Getting The Most Out Of Your eLearning Course: 10 Study Tips for Online Learners. Retrieved from

Northeastern University (2020). Tips For Taking Online Classes: 8 Strategies For Success. Retrieved from

Ontario Tech: Learning with Canvas
Check out Ontario Tech’s support page for Canvas, our course management system. At this link you will find video tutorials for using Canvas.

Online Classes: A Survival Guide
Practical tips for being just as successful in your online classes as you are in your in-person ones. Thomas Frank, College Info Geek.

Working from Home: How to Set Up Your Workspace
How to effectively work (and learn) from home. Thomas Frank, College Info Geek.

Working from Home: How to Plan Your Day
How to make useful plans, both on a daily basis and over the longer-term working from home. Thomas Frank, College Info Geek.

Working from Home: How to Stay Focused
How to stop procrastinating, pick a task, and stay focused on it while working from home. Thomas Frank, College Info Geek.

3 habits for better work-life balance
How to achieve work/life balance while working from home. Thomas Frank, College Info Geek.

Study Tips to Succeed as an Online Student
This two-minute video from the Centre for Innovation at Leiden University has some helpful tips on how to succeed in an online environment at university.

COVID-19 Tips from Teddy - Innovative Educators
This one-minute video provides tips for how to stay safe.

Online Classes: A Survival Guide
This 12-minute video provides great tips for preparing for and navigating online classes.

Planning for Online Learning and Work - worksheet
This open educational resource from Flynn Research Group can help you organize your time and plan for success when online learning.

IELTS Podcast - Remote Learning Study Tips
This resource provides quick tips for managing your study habits in a remote learning environment. These tips can help you to stay focused and on top of your studies.

Recommendations for Students in Virtual Learning Environments
From California Polytechnic State University, this resource gives tips useful to students studying online.