Remote work and distance learning have been part of our reality since the spring of 2020, and they seem to be here to stay. College students enrolled after 2019 missed a huge part of the experience. But along with the obvious shortcomings, distance learning offers benefits that are no less significant: more sleep, better diet, and the ability to mix work and study more efficiently. Here is how to leverage the pros of distance education while smoothing over the cons.
1. Set clear boundaries
The first thing everyone I know was excited about when school went remote was being able to work and study without getting out of bed. Among other things, early-morning classes became manageable. That illusion vaporized fairly quickly, though.
The whole concept of learning without having to get out of bed proved a bit less amazing in practice than I’d expected. After a few weeks of taking advantage of the relaxed atmosphere, I found I’d erased the boundary between study and leisure, and I started waking up at night, thinking about an impending deadline.
We all need the right environments for our various activities. For learning, I strongly recommend creating the space you need to focus, listen, converse, read, and work. If you’re going to be studying or working at home, draw a clear line between learning and leisure spaces and keep your activities in the appropriate areas.
Keeping up customary rituals from the old normal can help as well: Get up on time, change into appropriate clothes, brush hair, have breakfast, and so on — essentially, do what you’d be doing if you were going to school in person.
2. Sleep and eat
In making the transition to online learning, it’s easy to go to one extreme or the other. My problem was overfocusing on studies, but examples of the opposite abound as well, with classes taking a back seat to social networks, TV shows, and mobile games. Strange as it may seem, the same set of tips can help with both.
First, work on your sleep schedule. In traditional learning environments, we spend a lot of time traveling and packing, but likely not with remote learning. That newly available time might be better spent getting enough sleep.
Another important step is evaluating and improving eating habits. For example, you may want to ensure you have breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the same time every day, or spend a bit more time preparing healthier meals. With distance learning, you can eat when you need to, not just when class schedules dictate, freeing you to spend less on meals and eat better at the same time.
Neglecting leisure is not a good idea, either. Deadlines and home assignments will never end, but everyone needs room for friends, movies, and TV shows, and just plain recreation. Breaks help us learn more productively and gain fresh perspectives on old problems.
3. Don’t forget to move
Being active is absolutely essential to good health. If you have to spend most of your time sitting at home, try to find even 20 or 30 minutes to move around between or after classes. It will make a world of difference in the quality of your life.
Consider an app, if that seems useful for you. Look for workout or other activity plans that are realistic but challenging, with a variety that appeals to you — with equipment or without; functional, cardiovascular, yoga, sports; slow, fast, intense, or gentle. Getting outdoors in between classes doesn’t hurt, either.
4. Prepare for video calls
Distance education has forced all students and educators into a new world of Zoom, Teams, Skype, Discord, and many other online communication tools. We probably should all have the hang of it by now, but well over a year into the pandemic, there’s still no end to the funny and embarrassing incidents.
Thus, this past September, my whole class was keenly aware that a classmate’s friend hit his first million views on TikTok. Always check that your microphone is muted and your camera is off!
5. Don’t put off lectures for later
Teachers often record their online lectures and share the recordings, which makes skipping class tempting. I just can’t recommend that. Keep the option for when you really cannot attend, but strive to follow a schedule; it’ll help you stay organized and focused — and let’s be honest, how often do you actually watch those recordings?
6. Set notifications and remember your passwords
Speaking of things that do not belong on the back burner, it is especially important to put deadlines on your calendar, or else they can sneak up on you. Helpful tools include Google Calendar, Google Keep, Todoist, Tick-tick, and the good old paper calendar.
Notifications can save you if you have forgotten about the deadline for submitting a course paper or an important home assignment. To keep messages from course chats and school calendars or e-mail alerts from getting buried under junk, configure your notifications properly. Here are a few how-to articles:
- How to turn off annoying notifications in macOS
- How to configure notifications in Windows 10
- Getting rid of browser notifications
Distance learning has made each of us create about a thousand accounts with various services, and remembering all of your passwords is no small feat. So, if you do not have a password manager yet, now's the time to start using one.
7. Learn to manage background noise
Humanity’s engineering achievements can help to address some of the challenges online learning presents. You can always ask those around you to keep it down, but keeping the peace may require technological solutions.
Those apps can keep the people you talk with from hearing excessive noise, but what about your concentration? You have a few options for keeping your study space calm and quiet, not all of which involve actually shushing the neighbors.
8. Upgrade your hardware
Learning from home is more likely than not to require some equipment upgrades. If you have been delaying getting that powerful laptop or a second monitor, now may be the time.
Cash-strapped students may not be able to buy expensive devices, and it may make sense to cover at least some of your needs with old gadgets. For example, an old tablet could become a second screen, and a smartphone makes a good webcam. Wi-Fi routers needs special attention as well; they’re sure to see extra work.
Distance learning may have prevented us from enjoying part of the traditional student experience, but it can also uncover a wealth of new possibilities — and don’t forget, the pandemic will be over one day, whereas the skills you develop during this time are yours for life.