Learning Tips

Woman working on a computer at home

We have compiled some of the best tips to help you succeed while learning online.

Start by watching this short video by Dr. Joseph Bauerkemper, Associate Professor of American Indian Studies, University of Minnesota Duluth. You will need a U of M login to view.

Getting Organized

  • Man at computer looking at cell phone
    Put together a schedule and expectations for each of your classes. Check Canvas for updates to your syllabus. Watch the Staying Organized video by the U of M's Student Academic Success Services.
  • Prioritize your work. What due dates are coming up first? Make a smart decision about how to best spend your time. Watch this video about Constructing a Time Schedule. Use the tutorials from Effective U to learn new ways to manage your time, manage stress, take better notes, and prepare for tests. Be mindful of your technology use (Ohio State) to keep focused and reduce stress.
  • Give yourself plenty of time when turning in important assignments and tests. Don't wait until the last second, in case you encounter technical issues.
  • Learn more about online learning expectations at the University.

Know Your Classes

Keep track of each of your classes by asking yourself these eight key questions:

  1. What are the in-person parts of this course, if any (lecture, lab, etc.)?
  2. How do you access the online content (live Zoom session, recordings, material in Canvas, etc.)?
  3. Is there a specific time you need to view and participate in your online class session, or can you watch a recording anytime?
  4. How will you submit your assignments?
  5. Will the class use electronic proctoring for exams?
  6. What should you do if you need help?
  7. Is your class offering virtual office hours? When and on what platform?
  8. Is there an online forum for asking questions?

Here is an example of a simple chart you can create to track class information.

  Class 1 Class 2 Class 3
Important Dates     Paper due Friday
Class Structure No lab; live lecture Discussion optional. Recorded lecture. May do paper instead of group project.
Important Links Lecture. Office hours. Discussion. Lecture. Group paper Google folder.


Managing Your Learning Environment

  • Man seated at desk in a home office
    Schedule specific times in your day to dedicate to studying or participating in your online class. Check with your instructor if you should be calling into live Zoom broadcasts.
  • Consider using the "Do Not Disturb" function (Apple iOS devices, Android devices) on your devices or a lockdown browser on your computer when you are trying to manage distraction.
  • Find a space that is comfortable and allows you to focus. This can be your home base for coursework. Take a look at the elements of a productive study space and physical strategies to support your learning.
  • Discuss work and class schedules and set boundaries with family or roommates. Proactively addressing these issues, and even posting them in writing, can help manage frustrations.
  • Set a schedule for yourself. You may have fewer social commitments, group meetings, or work hours, and a schedule can help provide structure and keep you motivated. If you don’t already keep a weekly or daily calendar, try something like the example below to organize your time. Include time for exercise and self-care.

Adjusting Your Routine

Your routines may have to adjust during this time. Look for ways to adapt your usual habits or form new ones. For example:

  • Open laptop with woman's hands holding a cup of coffee
    If you usually study in a coffee shop or library, ask yourself what kind of environment helps you study. See if you can recreate that at home. Maybe it's studying in a chair, rather than on your couch or bed, or moving to a new spot when you change tasks. If you feel you need background noise, consider a white noise app.
  • If you always study in groups, try an online or phone-based study session with your group.
  • If you thrive on tight timelines but now have a more open schedule, think about how working with others or setting up a schedule can recreate that for you. When that gets hard, see if you can even do 15 minutes at a time.

Avoiding Multitasking

Smiling woman looking out window with arms crossed

If you’re doing more work on your own and your time is less structured, you might be more tempted to multitask. Many people think they can do multiple things at once, but research shows us that only about 2% of the population can multitask. Even if you feel like you’re multitasking, you’re probably not: you’re switching between tasks very quickly (some call this “micro-tasking”). 

The downsides of multitasking and microtasking: 

  • Assignments take longer. Each time you come back to an assignment (from Instagram for example), you have to get familiar with it, find your spot, remember what you were going to do next, etc.
  • You are more likely to make mistakes. Distractions and switching between tasks tires out the brain.
  • You’ll remember less. When you brain is divided, you’re less able to commit what you’re learning to long-term memory (because it doesn't get encoded into your brain).

When you need to study something important, consider the The Magic of Monotasking:

  • Focus on one thing at a time.
  • Take breaks between tasks.
  • Consider the Pomodoro Method to help you focus for 25−50 minute periods, and then reward yourself with 5- or 10-minute breaks.

Making the Most of Video Lectures

  • Smiling woman working at computer
    Stick to your instructor’s schedule as much as you can. Staying on a schedule will help you gain a feeling of normalcy and prevent you from falling behind.
  • Find out how to ask questions. Is there a chat feature? Is there a discussion forum? 
  • Close distracting tabs and apps. Humans are not as good at multitasking as they think! Review “Avoid Multitasking” above.
  • Continue to take notes as you would if you were there in person.
  • Watch recordings at normal speed. Research shows that playback speed of 1.5x can lower your retention and can result in lower scores on assessments. Faster playback speeds are worse for complex, multistep material (which most of your lectures probably are).

Working in Teams

  • Man at computer talking on cell phone
    Try not to procrastinate. Resist the urge to put work off. Make small progress and stay in touch.
  • Meet regularly, especially if you usually touch base during class or lab. Consider a quick text on your group chat about progress every couple of days. Ideally, have real conversations over video any week you’re working together. Check out tools you have access to as UMN students.
  • Set a purpose for meetings in advance.
  • Take notes in a shared document so you can all contribute and follow along.
  • Keep the video visible on your computer screen during meetings. It’ll help you see your teammates' expressions and stay connected to each other.
  • Check on each other and ask for backup. If someone has been absent from your meetings or chat, ask them directly if they are still able to participate in the project. If you aren’t getting responses within a day or two, let your instructor know. 

Communicating Effectively

  • Man sitting cross-legged with computer in lap
    Watch for communications from your instructors to find out how and when your classes will be held. 
  • Check Canvas often for updates. Instructors are encouraged to use Canvas to keep you informed. Your instructors will contact you with information regarding scheduled tests and exams.
  • Contact the IT Service Desk of your home campus if you have questions about technology tools.
  • Participate in virtual office hours over Zoom, if offered.
  • Communicate regularly with your instructors.
  • Consider using a group communication tool like Gmail, Discord, GroupMe, or group texting to stay in touch with your classmates about group projects or just to build community.