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3 Tips to Manage Distance Learning

Millions of students are flocking home to participate in distance learning in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools, colleges and universities are scurrying to put plans in place to support students while they are at home learning. For most schools this is the first time they will have to put into place a widespread distance learning program and the learning curve is likely to be steep. And for students and families this is a dramatic change in the way we “do school” and live our lives and likely is going to take a period of adjustment. 

You certainly didn’t sign up for virtual classes or coming back home to live with Mom and Dad for the last part of the year. But faced with the new reality, how can you make the best of it? Here are three things you can do to help stay on track of your distance learning and make the most of this social distancing situation. 

1. Create a daily schedule for yourself to help you manage your days

Now that your usual schedule has been disrupted, it’s important to put a new one into place. Without a daily schedule, it’s easy for the day to go by and not get what you need to get done. Ultimately this will add even more stress into your life which no one needs!  Given there are expectations for you to get work done, put into a place a self designed schedule to set yourself up for productivity success. Plan your weekly schedule electronically on a calendar app or productivity document (word or excel), on a white board or on paper using a template or a paper planner. (Here are some templates to try: Google Doc, Google Sheet or Downloadable .pdf.) Start by creating a list (on paper or in a doc) of everything you know you need to accomplish as well as the deadlines. Be sure to include personal and self care things you want to do as well (i.e. daily morning walk, FTing friends, catching up on shows, starting a mindfulness practice). Once you have your list, start placing those items out across the week. Be sure to include blocks of time to study, to relax, to be with friends and to take care of yourself. 

Sample weekly plan

Sample weekly plan

2. Make sure to spend time with friends (at a distance!)

Luckily we have FaceTime, Google Hangouts as well as an abundance of other video conferencing tools that allow us to see and hear our friends wherever they are. Make sure to spend time daily with your friends. This is really important. Most people need social interactions so use the tools you have to create them! In college things are much easier because you can walk out of your dorm room and find a buddy. Now you have to make a few more plans to make all of things happen for you. But make the effort. It’s really important.  And you can still do some fun things like go for a walk “together” or get coffee “together” just use your phone to make the connection.

3. When you do school work, do it distraction free

We do our best learning in distraction free zones because our brain is wired to do one cognitively complex task at a time. Home can be extremely distracting especially with everyone around. To keep yourself focused try a number of these tips:

  1. Pick a quiet place in the house to work where either you can close a door or no one is around
  2. Turn all devices to airplane mode to avoid interruptions
  3. Work for 25 minutes and then take a five minute tech-free break. This method, known as the Pomodoro Method, helps you stay focused and your brain fresh as you dive into work for an extended period of time. 

Finally, be sure to be kind to yourself in these next few weeks. It's not going to be easy but we are all in this together and need to make the best of it. And who knows, maybe you'll pick up some good new study habits along the way!

Lesley MartinLesley Martin has been working in education over the last 20 years. She currently works with students privately as an Academic Success Coach and is the CEO of ClassTracker, a company she founded that creates customized academic planners for middle and high schools and students. Lesley has published two books: Where’s My Stuff: The Ultimate Teen Organizing Guide and Make the Grade: Everything you need to Study Better, Stress Less, and Succeed in School.