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Tips for Students to Prepare for Online Learning

Photo of a laptop and a person writing on a piece of paper on a table. Photo is from Unsplash: jacqueline-kelly-PeUJyoylfe4

Article written by Teaching Assistant Professors Melissa Ramirez and Claire Gordy from the Department of Biological Sciences

Over the past week, faculty at universities across the world have been preparing to take their courses online. For many, this will be the first time they are considering how to adjust their courses to this new format. Universities have stepped up in big ways to support their faculty in this tremendous undertaking. Groups like DELTA have quickly put together numerous workshops, webinars, and training, and have made themselves available to help in any way they can. 

And soon faculty and students will be together again (virtually anyway!) as we continue our semesters. How are we preparing to be successful in the new online environment in which we find ourselves? With much work happening behind the scenes on the faculty side, we want to be sure that students are preparing on their side too. 

We enlisted students to give us their best tips and tricks for success with online course work.

Schedule and Routine

You’ve probably already worked out a routine for your semester based on your class schedule, work responsibilities, and other activities. Now that your classes have gone online, your schedule is suddenly more flexible. Try not to let time get away from you, though — if possible, try your best to stick to the same class schedule as before, logging into your course website when you would have been in class to watch lectures or do other activities that your instructor has added to replace in-person lecture time. That allows you to save the time you normally used for homework and studying — because you’ll still have to do both of those things.

Take Breaks

Now that you’re learning at home, it can be easy to find yourself working or studying for long periods of time and losing focus. Here are some suggestions from your fellow students about ways to build in breaks. (You can read more about why taking breaks is critical for learning here:

  • Get up and move once every hour. Even if you’re just walking up and down your hallway. 
  • Build in 5-minute phone breaks. If you have them planned then you’re less likely to get distracted and check your phone in the middle of your work. 
  • Concentration is key. You can take breaks online whenever you want, try the Pomodoro method ( to try and stay focused.


When all of your work is online, it can be easy to lose track of deadlines. There are many tools, both online and on paper, to help keep you organized. Different methods work for different people. You might prefer a traditional paper planner, or a visual project management method like scrum or kanban (more about those here:

If you’re looking for digital solutions, our students have several ideas:

  • Google Calendar is amazing because you can color-code all of your events/deadlines by class and set specific reminders for certain assignments. It’s a lifesaver. If you have an iPhone, the reminders app is also incredibly helpful.
  • Every morning I quickly glance through each class’s Moodle page to remind myself of approaching assignments. With all of the classes online, it can be easy to miss an assignment, even with the help of a planner. 
  • If you like the scrum or kanban methods, but want something digital, try

Location, Location, Location

Your physical workspace is important — not just in terms of having access to your computer and enough space to take notes — but also in terms of minimizing distractions and creating separate spaces for work, sleep, and other activities. Our students have found this to be true through experience:

  • It’s tempting to get cozy and listen to lectures in the comfort of my bed, but it’s important to separate relaxation time from work time. If I set up an area that is devoted to work in my home, I can be much more productive with my time.
  • Something I do is intentionally separate my leisure spaces and my productivity spaces. I don’t ever do homework on my couch because I’ll inevitably be less productive. 

Setting goals

It feels great to be able to check something off a to-do list (even when it’s “Make a to-do list)! Setting concrete goals for yourself is a great way to encourage productivity and to break assignments that seem daunting into smaller “chunks”:

  • If regimented schedules aren’t your thing, go for daily to-do lists with concrete goals. Examples of good goals are: “Read 5 pages today” (even if the end goal is to have 25 pages read by the next week), “Watch half of the lecture materials”. Avoid time-based goals: You can study or fool around for an hour.

You can also incorporate your goals into a reward system for yourself:

  • Create a reward system to make work productive. For instance, tell yourself that you can only check your phone once you have finished 2 paragraphs of the essay. Or, have a snack between assignments. This will keep your focus on the assignment and make you work more efficiently.

(And this kind of reward system also helps you build in breaks!)


Now that you won’t see your professor and classmates in person, it is critical to make sure you are communicating with them. Your professor can’t see that confused look on everyone’s face and realize that a point needs to be explained in a different way, so you will need to reach out when something doesn’t make sense. At the same time, your professor is now receiving exponentially more emails than they were before. One good solution is to first check-in with friends from class, and if you all have the same question, or if you are still confused after a friend explains it to you, contact your professor.

Communication isn’t just about course content, though. We are all encountering new and changing barriers that might affect our ability to succeed as students and as instructors. Your instructor can’t possibly anticipate all of the barriers that might arise for their students, so it’s important for you to let them know when you need an extended deadline, when you are unable to access course material, or when you are struggling to stay on top of things because you are caring for family members in addition to trying to finish your classes. 

Have more tips to share?

Wondering how to handle a specific challenge? Tweet using the hashtag #KeepLearningNCState and we’ll retweet your tips, questions, or concerns!

We would like to thank our students who shared their thoughts and tips with us:

  • Felix Harris (B.S. Genetics, 2019)
  • Maame-Yaa Asare (Biological Sciences, Senior)
  • Carson Noel (Biological Sciences, Senior)
  • Breanne Hewitt (Zoology, Senior)

This post was originally published in DELTA News.