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Staying Focused During Online Learning

The Challenge:

As learning has shifted online during COVID-19, it has brought many new challenges into the lives of all types of students, who are learning to adapt in different ways. Amidst the fray and chaos of the spikes of the virus and the quick switchover to online learning, staying focused and motivated has been difficult for almost any student, including yours truly.


Challenges may vary depending on your year level. Entry level students may find their experience difficult as the supportive scaffolding that had been maintained by teachers and staff in high school has now collapsed. Navigating academia, relationships and organizing can be difficult when the accountability that is usually subtly present when attending in-person classes diminishes.


For entry level or older students, living off campus or at home takes away this accountability and they can often fall out of routines that are usually maintained moving from class to class. On occasion, going to sleep, playing video games or watching YouTube videos may seem more tempting than watching a long

online course. Additionally, it can be much more difficult to focus as many classes are often back to back. As students no longer need to rush back and forth between classes, there is no drive to move. Rather, students find themselves sitting in the same room for hours straight.


Adapting and Modifying:

As focus and motivation can drain from any student very easily in these times, it is important to keep a few key skills in your back pocket to keep a clear head. These are a few tips that I use and find to be effective as the outlook for the conditions of the winter semester were grim. Students can use none, some or all, as well as modify these tips to their preference as not all conditions are the same. These can just been helpful for myself as a Engineering student:


  1. Focused Environment: Being with an environment that has many distractions, noise and clutter will put your mind and body in a state of unease immediately. Keeping a clean work station, turning your phone off and putting it away can help you stay focused on the task at hand: learning!

  2. Setting achievable goals and holding yourself accountable to those goals: Reminders from professors or TAs can be helpful, but cannot always be guaranteed. Creating a list and setting reminders for what is due in the coming weeks is important and can also prevent anxiety as you are waiting to know what the next project looming over your shoulder will be. You can see what’s due and plan accordingly. Additionally, grabbing a buddy from the same class and mutually reminding each other about due dates can be helpful. Even reaching out to an academic advisor for help on how to organize can prove to be a good idea.

  3. Structuring your time: After all the important items that are due are written down, it is necessary to make sure your time is well spent, restoring and maintaining the routine that might have been lost by just sitting at your computer all day. Write down major assignments with the appropriate time to complete them, keep all assignments updated, go and exercise when time allows, talk to others responsibly. If classes are asynchronous, study yourself to know when you are most receptive. A good and lively brain achieves lasting learning.

  4. Take advantage of the resources put in place: Universities and working groups such as ones associated with ESSCO are working hard to make sure students have a place to turn when they feel stuck. Reach out and look to see what is offered. Additionally, since we are on computers all day, try staying social while still being apart, including having phone calls or video chats with classmates to work on projects or discuss topics. This can help students feel less alone in a time where isolation is the solution to the problem. While we are working in a world where 200 students can be listening to the same professor speak, we still have the ability to discuss with students even if they aren’t in the same room.

  5. Communication is key: Instructors now more than ever are in your corner and want to help where they can. Communicate with them how they should improve (kindly), and where you are struggling, what technology isn’t working, etc. We often fall into the trap of getting frustrated or angry with someone or something when it isn’t going our way but feedback, constructive criticism and general collaboration can solve so many problems or be a stepping stone to the solution. The key is letting a person know, even if it is difficult. No one can read your mind.

Though it may not be ideal, COVID-19 has offered students a unique opportunity to move outside of their comfort zone and become more well equipped to take online courses, for example, in the summer when most universities only offer online courses. This can free up space for when semesters with heavy course loads occur and you need to take one less course. Additionally, engineering students can take courses online during co-op or during the summer, where in previous years, many engineering courses

were taught online. These tools and tips have helped me and many of my friends, and fellow students throughout this pandemic and online school experience. Hopefully, it can be helpful to you as well. An optimism and adaptable viewpoint can be critical when heading into the first notable pandemic for young adults.

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