Online learning for students

What to expect from online learning

You can think of the teaching taking place online in two different ways. Some teaching will be synchronous (it happens live) and some will be asynchronous (pre-recorded so you can work through it in your own time). You may also experience a combination of both.

You can still expect lectures, seminars, group discussions and more, but they will all have a different feeling and character:

  • Sessions may start with informal activities, open discussions or quiz polls.
  • 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. 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 all your notifications during sessions.

Take advantage of online spaces

Learning online is challenging, but can also provide unique opportunities for you to engage with your programme and connect with your peers.

We’re all in this together and staying connected with your teaching team, support services and to peers will be the key to your success.

  • If you’re heading on to an online video and audio space, remember, everyone is feeling nervous. It’s not just you.
  • 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. Access the Digital Writing Café for additional support.
  • 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 (eg good grades) is much less effective than internal motivation (eg 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

In the transition to online learning, it is important to think about your wellbeing and the time you spend in front of the screen.

Think about activities or tasks you can do to help you move offline.

These could include:

  • Freewriting. Simply write for ten minutes with pen and paper without stopping. Do not edit, 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. Expressing your thoughts in freewriting also helps you become a better thinker.
  • Create a mind map of a pre-recorded lecture or topic you are covering through your online teaching. See if you can identify key themes and concepts from that topic and start to 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

You will likely have assessments that are as similar to the ones you expected as they can be. 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. The types of assessment you might be asked to do include:

  • Quizzes and online activities on the DLE
  • Narrated PowerPoints instead of presentations
  • Posters
  • Peer assessments
  • Using videos for performance

Whilst some of these types of assessment may be new to you you will still get the option to use formative submissions so you can have feedback to see how you are progressing. Think of this as an exciting opportunity to learn different skills and abilities.

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?

Frequently asked questions

How can I get the most out of online learning?

  • Engage fully with the online learning activities within lectures and seminars, as well as the activities provided to support you in between these sessions.
  • Always prepare for the sessions as you normally would for face-to-face classes.
  • Focus on your reasons for learning and review your progress and goals regularly.
  • Make a timetable with deadlines and plan your tasks. 
  • 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?

It is important to think about your learning space/s, to make sure you have a learning environment that suits you. Everyone is different and has their own learning space requirements so they feel comfortable and can learn effectively. Think about where you will do your learning. Do you need to make changes to your home environment to create a learning space that works 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 this 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 or Skype, to allow you to discuss recent lecture content remotely but also catch up with each other whilst you are all learning online.
  • Utilising group chats can help you discuss and debate your subject with other students, ask questions and share resources. 

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

The online environment will be new to everyone, so it’s perfectly normal to feel uncomfortable with it, especially at first. 

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 usually recorded. 

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.

Can I access support with my academic writing remotely?

Student Learning Services are here to support you with your academic writing whils learning online:

  • Our Digital Writing Café is available online during term time, 13:00–16:00, Monday to Friday.
  • Our Learning Developers are now accessible through Zoom. Visit Student Learning to find out our faculty contact times.
  • From note taking to critical analysis, our study guides can support you in developing your learning skills and academic writing.


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.

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