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Learning online? Advice from Open University students (the experts!)

As UK universities ‘pivot online’ and students transition to a new way of learning, The Open University community – as experts in this field – have some valuable advice to share.

Online and distance learning is second nature to OU students, but this won’t be the case for many students and their universities impacted by the global pandemic. To anyone in Higher Education transitioning to a new way of learning, here are some top tips:

 1) Plan, plan, plan and, if possible, plan some more

Lots of Open University students study alongside work, juggling family responsibilities and busy lives. For many, planning ahead and being organised is the key to staying up to date with your studies:

“Having a plan is key. Know your deadlines and plan your time but be flexible because you don’t know what’s around the corner. Remember to take care of yourself by doing something you love each day to free your mind after studying – I enjoy listening to music. Remember to never give up because it will all be worth it,” says Nikkii.

Set realistic and achievable goals, try to make a weekly plan to set aside study time, remember that there’s always someone that you can reach out to,” says Ann.

Nylia adds: “Get a weekly planner and set out what you want to achieve each day. Tick it off as you go along. Stick to the plan.

Life happens so always have some spare time at the end of the week for any catch up required! You got this!

A great photo from one of our students, but possibly not recommended…

2. Create a study space that works for you

Study spaces can take all forms when you’re an online learning student: from an office, to the floor, to the dining table to the garden – there are lots of possibilities, even the sofa with a dog draped across your laptop! The main thing is to find what works for you.

“Don’t study in your bedroom. If you have an office or something similar, use it!,” advises Jonathan.

“You don’t need to have the ‘perfect’ study space. I started my degree in 1989 inside a cupboard at the top of the stairs! Study can be a distraction for you in other challenging times. Stick with it,” says Eleanor.

Another student suggested: “A separate space away from your sleeping area, if that’s a possibility. So your brain knows it’s work time!”

And some great advice from Helss:

“A clear desk, chewing gum and earplugs. Chewing gum can be good for concentration, a clear desk prevents you from getting too overwhelmed and earplugs block everything out so you can go to your ‘mind palace’. Also, let go of perfection; do not let the fear of imperfection become an obstacle to your success.”

@buddy.thechocolatelab is a perfect study buddy.

3) Get yourself a study buddy (even if it’s the fluffy kind)

There’s no denying that sometimes distance learning can feel a little lonely, so having a study buddy (even the fluffy kind) can really help during those moments when you need a boost:

“Get a study buddy, it’s a good way to give and get feedback. It may seem like a mountain to climb but one step at a time and you’ll get there,” says Marie.

Frances adds:My top tip is to have a large box of Maltesers (other confectionery is available) and two large dogs to trap you into your computer space.

4) Make a routine and stick to it

When you’re studying from home, it can be hard to keep focussed without procrastinating on the million other things you could be doing instead. Sticking to routine study times and breaks or leisure time, can really help to keep you motivated:

You’ve got to keep a routine! Up, showered and dressed by a set time, take a lunch break away from studying and set a time to finish! I try and treat my study days like 9am to 5pm working days and three years in it works well for me,” says one seasoned student.

Eilsa says: “If you can, set aside a specific study time each day/couple of days: even if it’s ‘every Tuesday from 7pm to 9pm’ and block it out in your diary.

Turn off the phone, corral distractions away, and you can really concentrate. Also, if you’re doing long spells of study, don’t forget to take a screen break every two hours.

“Routine is key,” adds Jackie. “And the advantage is you can work to your own strengths such as avoiding early starts if you are just not a morning person. Also having a study area that you can leave set up is great if you can manage it. Break study into chunks and add in some pleasant breaks like a nice hot drink a bit of fresh air and think of the travel time you are saving and try to use that wisely. Good luck everyone, you can do this.”

5) Pace yourself and take regular breaks

If you’re able to, spreading out your work over a longer period of time and allowing yourself regular breaks can help to make you more productive when you do sit down to study. Be realistic about what you think you can achieve and don’t be too hard on yourself. If it’s not working, put the kettle on, take a break, and come back to it:

One student’s top three tips are:

  • Make a realistic schedule.
  • Skim through the material and check where you need to allocate more time.
  • Make time for other activities/ relaxation.

Regular breaks,” says Dawn. “Every half hour, stand up, even if it’s just to stretch for two minutes.”

“Pace yourself and don’t be a perfectionist. Finishing a module with lower grade is better than giving up because you went from extreme motivation in autumn to suddenly losing it during the dark winter months,” says Logan.

6) Keep in touch with others

From your tutors, to student support teams to the online forums and communities for students to chat with other students – make sure you’re keeping in touch and always remember, you are not alone! And if you don’t understand something, ask.

Rhea says: “You might end up with a situation where you feel completely overwhelmed. Please speak to your tutor and support team if you do.”

“Peer support is invaluable,” explains Sarah. “Keep in touch. Try to get a bit ahead having a bit of a ‘time cushion’ helps. Your tutor is still there and from personal experience will offer you the support and encouragement you might need.”

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About Author

Robyn is Senior Manager (Social Media Strategy) in Communications. Formerly a newspaper journalist, she is an experienced comms professional now leading the University's multi award-winning Social Media Engagement Team. She likes walking her cocker spaniel, Ralphie, reading crime novels and anything that involves laughing.

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