In the middle of the spring semester of 2020, undergraduate students across the U.S. had to suddenly pack up their belongings and finish their courses away from campus. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many colleges and students to move to virtual learning, an adjustment for many who are accustomed to in-person classes. Some colleges have announced they will continue offering only online classes education through the fall semester as well.
This crisis has transformed many aspects of life, especially higher education. Recent polling from College Reaction in April showed that 77% of more than 800 college students surveyed said they felt distance learning through the internet is worse or much worse than in-person classes.
Here are some of the most common challenges students are currently facing with online learning along with specific tips on how to address them.
Distractions are a reality of online learning, a delivery or a pet running into the home office can be disruptive for everyone involved, if you’re in the middle of a virtual classroom session. As a result of these distractions - and possibly having additional responsibilities - time management becomes more challenging. Having a time management system is perhaps the most difficult challenge for students to overcome because it depends entirely on self-motivation. Students need to be serious about their education, learn how to manage time and set their daily schedule, and learn to study despite the constant distractions.
Minnesota State University lists some online student skills requirements. In this example, the university specifically addresses the importance and unique challenges in self-motivating absent the traditional influence of nearby peers doing the same. This can be a considerable challenge for some.
The solution: Try to think about building a schedule - figuring out when you're going to do what you're going to do and then sharing that with the other people in your house.
Also, try to identify a quiet time and place to complete your coursework, if possible - even if that time is late at night. If you get distracted by social media or browsing the internet, use tools to block out these while you're online learning and other time-wasters when you need to focus on school. Also creating a to-do list for the week or each day with what you need to get done can help you determine the best times of day to tackle each task.
Given that students may not be attending class at a set time on a physical campus, finding the motivation to get started on coursework can be difficult.
When you don't see your home as a space of work, it's kind of a struggle to get in that mindset, but designating different places in your house, that are specifically for work can help you get your work done.
The solution: In addition to creating a daily schedule and finding a productive workspace it can also help to simply focus on the ultimate goal. It helps to keep your reason for pursuing your degree at the top of your mind; perhaps you want to provide a better life for your family or pursue your dream career.
Write down your reasons for attending school along with your short-term and long-term goals. Post them where you’ll see them, and cross off goals as you achieve them.
Staying in touch with classmates, in addition to reaching out to faculty or academic staff as needed, can also be motivating. The more involved you are with your distance education, the more it's top of mind. Log in daily to see course updates and class discussions. Connect with students and teachers and share questions or perspectives.
Unfortunately, technical issues are bound to happen in an online-only environment. This may sound obvious but technical issues and internet connection only add to the online environment’s frustration and interrupt new learning sessions. Sometimes your computer will shut down or there are moments when your wifi is spotty, and weak monitors can make it difficult to keep up with your virtual classmates and learning environment.
The solution: The most important step is to stay in touch with professors and inform them about what's happening. They should understand and be flexible about the situation, perhaps even recording class sessions on your computer through learning platforms as a backup.
There will be technical issues, and it’s important to realize you aren’t the only one with this problem. If your school has technical support services they can be a valuable resource.
Some Students Being Left Behind
In the classroom, teachers can monitor the students and adjust their pace to accommodate anyone who needs extra time. In an online learning environment, it’s more difficult to do so. Since it is harder to read body language virtually, learners may stay silent or “put on a brave face” and then leave the class feeling despondent, frustrated, and having learned nothing.
The solution: Set yourself up for success by asking for information on any relevant apps you may not understand or how to access the classes. Also be sure you know how to raise concerns to your teacher, whether it be during the online class, through email, or a different form of communication.
Diminished Social Aspects
The final spot in our list of the challenges of online platforms goes to the loss of many social aspects with the online route. Within the layouts of most degree programs, there are certainly many opportunities given in social interaction with peers. This can be through virtual classroom activity or even “social lounges” set outside of the digital classroom. All of this is great but still not the same as physical, in-person relations. Interacting in person creates more considerable bonds, a camaraderie founded on common work and goals, and many other supportive attributes for the student. This indeed is a challenge harder to face for some than others.
The adjustment can be particularly difficult for many students in a virtual classroom that is better suited for the face-to-face format, like those with science lab components.
The solution: It can be easy to get frustrated due to the lack of human contact, the absence of a teacher, only learning from online teaching, and an inability to discuss problems with classmates. Sometimes, the online world, no matter how enriching it may be, can become too small and you need a physical space where you can resolve your queries and practice with real tools.
If this is the problem, one solution is to foster personal interaction within the online course as much as possible. You can organize webinars, group work or forums where students can discuss and resolve their queries.
These challenges are only a few that students face during digital learning. The sudden switch to online classes and online learning has caused anxiety and raised questions among students about their academic futures. It’s easy to be concerned about your future education during this time, but it’s important to remember that you aren’t alone.
COVID-19 has changed the world permanently. Although college students have been dramatically affected by this crisis, learning to be adaptable is an important part of life. If you’re interested in learning more about higher education during this time check out the Meratas blog.