Hands typing at a laptop computer.

What to expect from online learning

Depending on your programme, lectures will be delivered online while smaller group sessions might happen on campus or/and online.
Some teaching online will be synchronous (it happens live) and some will be asynchronous (pre-recorded so you can work through it in your own time). You will most likely experience a combination of both.

Your online lectures, seminars and group discussions will be designed to help you make the most from your study:

  • Sessions may start with informal activities, open discussions or quiz polls. They may also require that you watch some pre-recorded material first.
  • Your tutor might ask you to work on tasks in smaller groups in online breakout rooms. If you’re unclear about the task, ask for clarification before moving to breakout room. Once in breakout room, take on different roles: timekeeper, recorder, reporter, etc., so you can complete the task effectively together. Make sure to write down all the points you produced, so you can share your ideas when you return to the main session.
  • Use the screen share function to share work on your computer.
  • The chat function will allow you to post your comments and questions.
  • It may be much easier to get distracted online so turn off your notifications during sessions and try to stay focused.

Take advantage of online spaces

Learning online is different from in person but can also provide unique opportunities for you to engage with your programme from the comfort of your home. Staying connected with your teaching team, support services and your peers will be the key to your success. 

  • If you’re heading to an online video space, remember, everyone is feeling a bit nervous, not just you. We’re all in this together.
  • Find out when your lecturers and support staff are dedicating time for you to contact them. If you’re clear when you can get in touch and how, you’ll feel more prepared and less isolated. 
  • If you are watching pre-recorded sessions you can still follow them up with questions and chats on your module forums.
  • Use videoconferencing outside of class-time too. Try online chats with your classmates; initiate virtual study sessions or head to your PALS session. It’s important to feel connected to the rest of the group.

Independent study time 

We know that in the transition to university, students find themselves unclear how to use their independent study time effectively. You are given more responsibility for your learning, but with multiple assessments, deadlines and projects to juggle, you may also experience a productive struggle. Try some of the following approaches:

Find your motivation. External motivation (e.g. good grades) is much less effective than internal motivation (e.g. I want to become better at…), so identify your ‘why’. Knowing the reasons behind what you do can give you sources of determination you never knew you had. Use your skills, passions and interests to stay focused on your goals and make the most of your university study.

Establish a routine. Not having one can be not only mentally draining but also prevent you from using your time and resources well. Think about when you work best and plan your tasks around it. Consider your priorities for the day, make a list of things you need to get done, and break your day into chunks with clear goals. Don’t forget to take breaks.

Engage in deep thinking. Critical thinking is a valued part of every assessment, so it’s worth striving to become a better thinker. Schedule dedicated time and space to think conceptually (looking for inconsistencies, questioning assumptions, rejecting the obvious answer) and creatively (trying different approaches, accepting that there might not be one ‘right’ answer, asking ‘but why’). Don’t forget to write down your thoughts and ideas.

Consider your digital wellbeing

Online learning involves spending more time in front of the screen, so it is important to think about your digital wellbeing. Take regular and active breaksfrom your digital devices. Reduce the cognitive/sensory overload and enhance your mood by taking breaks to exercise, go for a walk or read a book. Watch the way you breathe – long and slow breaths are more relaxing.

Consider engaging in activities or tasks that can help you do some work offline. These could include:

Freewriting. Simply write for 5–10 minutes with pen and paper without stopping. Do not look back over your work or worry about spelling. It encourages you to stop editing your thoughts and voice and makes the task of getting something down on the page easier, thus helping with writer’s block. Expressing your thoughts in freewriting also helps you become a better thinker.

Create a mind map of a pre-recorded lecture or topic covered in your online sessions. See if you can identify key themes and concepts from that topic and consider how they are related.

Online assessment

Your assignments and assessments may change now that we have moved online, but what your tutors are looking for hasn’t changed. It is important to remember you are still being assessed on:
  • Demonstrating your application of knowledge
  • Showing your analysis and understanding of topics
  • Meeting the learning outcomes of the module
Make sure you are familiar with the learning outcomes of the module and the expectations from your module team. Your module team will explain the new types of assessment to you and give you time to discuss it with them. Think of this as an exciting opportunity to learn different skills and abilities, which this new learning landscape requires.

The types of assessment you might be asked to do include:
  • Quizzes and online activities on the DLE
  • Narrated PowerPoints instead of live presentations
  • Digital posters and learning objects
  • Peer assessments and group tasks
  • Using videos for performance
  • Open book exams.

Evaluate your learning

 Think about evaluating your learning. After each online session:
  • Briefly summarise what you have learnt
  • Think about what you found easy and what was challenging
  • Ask meaningful questions about the topic. What else do you want to know now?
Finally, take a deep breath. You’ve got this. 

Frequently asked questions

How can I get the most out of online learning?

  • Show up to class when it’s timetabled to be live (both in person and online). If you’re not comfortable on camera, just switch it off, but don’t use it as a reason not to be there.
  • Engage with the online learning activities assigned by your tutors and try not to fall behind with scheduled tasks. Online learning relies on your independent study skills.
  • Make sure you watch all relevant pre-recorded material (eg. lecture content) before attending group discussions.
  • Online sessions are as valuable as face-to-face ones so prepare for them as you normally would for class.
  • Focus on your reasons for learning and review your progress and goals regularly. Find your motivation to do well – you can do this!
  • Make a timetable with deadlines and plan your tasks so you can work on them incrementally. This will allow you to avoid last minute panic.
  • Seek support and constant growth. We are all lifelong learners and looking for ways to do things differently or more efficiently can be very satisfying. Reach out to the Writing Cafe or your designated Learning Developer for tips on how to further improve your academic performance.
  • Take the time to review and reflect on your approaches to the online learning; consider if they are working for you. Are you taking notes, are you getting useful feedback, is your time management effective, are you learning in the way you expected to?

How do I create a successful learning space at home?

Everyone is different and has their own learning space requirements, so think about where in your house you feel comfortable and how you learn most effectively. Creating your own learning environment may involve reorganising, decluttering and noise reduction, but also decorating the designated area with items that will encourage learning and growth. It should be well-lit, functional and comfortable, and it must work for you.

How will I interact with my classmates?

A sense of community with students on your course is really important, and so is maintaining these connections within online learning. Your lecturers will provide lots of opportunities for you to work with other students online through interactive activities, so try to really engage with these opportunities. There is lots you can do yourself to develop your network online:

  • You could organise regular study sessions with others on your course through Zoom, Skype or MS Teams, to allow you to discuss recent lecture content remotely but also catch up with each other.
  • Using group chats can help you discuss and debate your subject with other students, ask questions, plan your work and share resources.

What do I do if I am struggling with online learning?

The online environment is different to learning on campus, so it’s perfectly normal to feel unsure about it, especially at first. 

Look after your digital wellbeing (check out our tips above). Think about all the skills you’re learning in order to navigate this online world – they will certainly enhance your employability. Focus on the advantages to learning online; for example, it gives you a lot of flexibility regarding when to access the material as resources are often recorded. 

Important: if you are struggling with the online learning, don’t suffer in silence but seek help and support from your lecturers, your personal tutor, or contact Student Services. You are not alone.

What support is available to me online?

Student Learning Services are here to support you with your academic study while learning online. We have a range of services to help, including:

  • Our Digital Writing Café 
  • Online Open Hours with Learning Developers for your Faculty
  • Writing Tutorials
  • Digital Resources including study guides and short videos designed to develop your academic skills and boost your confidence
Check out our Learning Development pages for details.

Do I need a laptop for my course and can the university support me in buying one?

We recommend that all students have access to their own technology to access their programme in 2020/21, including the right hardware (e.g., a laptop), software and connectivity (e.g., broadband).

If you’re purchasing a laptop, you should review the specifications listed below, but if you’re unsure about the requirements for your course, ensure that you ask your programme team before you buy anything:

  • Minimum specifications for basic processing (enabling the use of university web-based systems and general-purpose applications, such as Office 365): Intel Core i3, 8GB RAM, SSD storage, Full HD display or equivalent, Windows 10.
  • Recommended specifications for students intending to run a variety of software applications: Intel Core i5, 16GB RAM, SSD storage, Full HD display or equivalent, Windows 10.
  • Specialist specifications: if your programme requires the use of applications which are compute- or graphics-intensive (e.g., CAD, Gaming and Film/Design), you may need a higher specification computer. In this case, please contact your programme team for advice.

The university provides a remote desktop access service to PCs on campus. This enables students to access the full suite of university software from their own device without travelling to campus.

If you find that obtaining the right technology is difficult for financial reasons, the university might be able to support you. Have a look at our bursaries and other funding options.

Take advantage of our study guides

Get helpful tips on a wide range of topics, from improving your notemaking and writing essays, and ways to improve your organisation skills and planning presentations.

Meet the learning development team