Online Learning Tips

Online learning has been around for decades. These tried and tested tips can help you navigate your online learning experience successfully. But don’t feel you need to read all these tips at once! Explore what makes sense at different parts of the term.

Plan Your Time | Attend Lectures | Communicate | Work In Groups | Complete Assignments | Take Quizzes & Exams

Plan Your Time

Working well through online course content is all about keeping yourself accountable. You may find you have more or less time at different points in the term. Whether time feels abundant or restricted, the same approaches apply.

Create a course plan of smaller steps

  • Break down each online course workload into short-term goals—ones that you can achieve on a daily and/or weekly basis. This planning takes time but will be worth it.
  • Set short-term goals that are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound. Be honest about what is realistic for you given your current situation.
  • Schedule working on your goals during times you know your energy level is higher, if you can. Two hours in the morning compared to the afternoon will result in different productivity for different people.
  • Track your progress as you go, including noting when you’ve not met a goal so you can plan adjustments. Celebrate big and small achievements with concrete rewards!

Tip #1:
When using technologies that are new to you, keep in mind that everything may take a little longer than you expect.

Tip #2:
UBC Library’s Assignment Calculators » can divide writing projects into manageable steps for you.

This section was adapted from the Chapman Learning Commons Managing Your Time toolkit »

Use a time-based approach to your plan

Divide your work and your breaks into regular, short increments using the time-management approach called the Pomodoro Technique. This structure will help you avoid feeling overwhelmed or burned out.

  1. Pick a short-term goal to focus on. Settle into your study space, set a timer for 25 minutes, and start working. If a distraction pops into your head, write it down and return to your task.
  2. When the timer goes off, you’ve completed one increment, also known as a pomodoro. Mark where you’re at and step away from your study space.
  3. Take a 5-minute break! You can check the distractions that popped in your head, stretch, grab a cup of coffee/tea, or do whatever else feels relaxing.
  4. After four pomodoros (two hours of working), take a nice 30-minute break.
  5. Repeat the steps until you’ve completed your task or worked for the period of time you set aside.

For other helpful approaches to looking at your time, check out the UBC Life blog post on ways of reframing time management »

This section was adapted from the Chapman Learning Commons post about the Pomodoro Technique »

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Attend Lectures

Lectures in courses may happen in real time online or be recorded and uploaded to the online course content. The main challenge with online lectures will be making the time and space to focus as you would in a physical classroom.

Attend real-time lectures online

  • Know that fees may apply when calling in to a session, depending on where you call in from. Check your phone plan first to avoid incurring additional charges, or use other ways of joining sessions.
  • Understand your options for giving feedback during a session, such as how to virtually “raise your hand” or respond to questions. Ask if these options are unclear.
  • Find as quiet and distraction-free a place as you can with a strong internet connection to attend the lecture (ideally, use your study space). Consider using headphones, preferably ones with a built-in microphone, so you can be heard clearly.
  • Close down all background programs that you don’t need​ on the computer or device where you’ll be streaming the lecture. Try taking pen-and-paper notes to minimize having to switch between windows on your screen.
  • Join the session a few minutes early, if you can, to test your connection, microphone, and camera before the lecture begins.
  • Keep your microphone muted during the session, unless you’re talking, to reduce echoes and background noise from interfering with the class.
  • Make sure there is nothing behind you that will be distracting or revealing for others to see, if you share your video during the session. If you experience lag time when sharing your video, you may need to turn it off.

If your internet connectivity, time zone, or other remote issues make it hard to attend an online lecture at the scheduled time, talk to your instructor. Together, you can figure out how to best address these issues.

The main web-conferencing and collaboration tool for real-time lectures at UBC is Zoom »

Watch recorded lectures

  • Schedule a regular time to watch lectures and put it in your calendar. Treat this time like a live lecture and try not to miss it. Your lectures can quickly build up and you may become overwhelmed about catching up.
  • Find as quiet and distraction-free a place as you can with a strong internet connection to attend the lecture (ideally, use your study space). Consider using headphones to improve your focus.
  • Don’t feel like you have to watch the whole lecture at once, especially if it’s long. Depending on the topic, you might learn better with smaller chunks and regular breaks (e.g., try the Pomodoro Technique ).
  • Take advantage of being able to pause and rewind what your instructor says. Sometimes hearing something a second or third time is all that it takes to understand it.
  • Ask your instructor if there is a transcript available. You may find it helpful to review this transcript, especially if the video’s audio is poor. (If a transcript is not available and you require one due to a disability, ask for accommodation.)
  • Take notes to summarize and absorb the material, even though you can re-watch the video. When it comes time to study, you may find it more efficient to review your notes.

You can propose a time to watch online lectures together with classmates. Sharing the experience can help you all stay accountable and ask questions of each other, if any content is unclear.

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The solitary nature of online learning can be challenging. Take advantage of opportunities to connect with your instructor and fellow students in a positive manner. Let’s all show we’re here to support each other!

Be a respectful online presence

Communicating in online courses comes with a code of conduct sometimes known as “netiquette”. The rules may vary depending on context, but these top ten apply universally:

  1. Instructors will usually set the tone and provide guidance and guidelines for behaviour. Follow their model.
  2. Introduce yourself in any new setting. You can ask your instructor to set up a discussion board where everyone can exchange greetings, if no other space or opportunity is provided.
  3. Respond to other people using their preferred names, and make sure you are spelling and pronouncing names right. Names personalize the conversation.
  4. Avoid assuming people’s gender based on their name or appearance. Instead, refer to people using names or non-gendered language (e.g., “I agree with what the student before me said”).
  5. Check your tone and phrasing before you share, particularly when responding directly to someone. What you say online is difficult to take back, especially when it’s written.
  6. Be careful with jokes and sarcasm. They don’t always translate well to the online environment and may be misinterpreted by people who are unfamiliar with you or from backgrounds different than yours.
  7. Know that people participate differently, some by reflecting rather than jumping in right away. But reach out if you notice someone has been absent for awhile, particularly in group work.
  8. Quote or otherwise give credit where appropriate, for example, if you are responding to a specific point made by someone else or including something from another text.
  9. Accept and forgive mistakes. We all make them sometimes, despite our best intentions.
  10. Always remember there is a person behind the words and that UBC’s diverse community includes people from various cultures and backgrounds, which influence their communication style and practices. Stay open-minded and ask questions if something seems unclear or unfriendly—try to assume the best about others!

In rare instances, online behaviour can appear so blatantly disrespectful and even hostile that it requires attention. In any case like this, let your instructor know right away.

How you communicate online is one part of your digital identity. The UBC Digital Tattoo site » can help you think about your overall online presence and learn about your rights and responsibilities as a digital citizen.

Reach out to your instructors

  • Communicating one-on-one with instructors is something you may feel uncomfortable about. This feeling is normal and may be heightened when using new technology to create a meeting space.
  • Please know that you can and should reach out for help. Instructors are your guides through the courses and want you to succeed. If you are struggling with the material or concerned about keeping up, let them know—the earlier, the better!

Attending in-person or virtual office hours is a great, informal way to connect with instructors. Even just five minutes can go a long way toward easing your concerns.

Find more motivation for reaching out in the Chapman Learning Commons Interacting with Profs toolkit »

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Work In Groups

Connecting with peers online can sometimes be tricky. But online collaboration tools and a strong team dynamic can help you tackle any group work.

Use online study groups

  • In Canvas courses, groups can be organized by students as well as instructors. Use your Canvas groups to study, collaborate on projects, and discuss course topics.
  • Each group has its own private Canvas group area, which ​contains announcements, pages, discussions, and files that are shared only within your group​.
  • Outside of Canvas, you can support group work with other tools:
    • Microsoft Teams – You can meet, chat, and collaborate on documents in real time in Microsoft Teams. Instructors may create a space for a course that you can work in, or you can use this tool on your own.
    • UBC Blogs – Create a personal blog to share your own content. You can invite discussion of ideas or approaches using the blog comments.
    • UBC Wiki – Develop content collaboratively with a group in this public wiki space.
    • Social media platforms – Connect in other social spaces your classmates are also using.

Setting up your own Canvas groups is outlined in UBC’s Canvas student guide » but you may need to ask your instructor to enable this first.

Establish good group dynamics online

  • Agree on ground rules for communication in the beginning, including how quickly people should expect responses from each other. Everyone has different expectations for different mediums as well as varying external commitments.
  • Consider exchanging a backup way you can each be contacted. Your main communication channel may go down, or its notification messages may end up in a spam folder. A backup contact ensures you can still connect.
  • Be sensitive to others’ schedule and possible time zone differences. Try to vary when you meet, so everyone feels accommodated.
  • Meet online with technology that supports video, so you can see your teammates. Video makes a big difference in keeping everyone engaged and connected. It also allows using facial expressions to communicate.
  • Use online collaboration tools everyone is comfortable with and can access. If certain teammates have advantages like bigger screens or faster internet connections, try to divide the work so they can take tasks better done with these advantages (if it’s a fair division of labour)

Keep the tips for being a respectful online presence in mind. It is all the more important to actively work at being respectful if you won’t have other ways to meet up.

The Chapman Learning Commons also has tips for getting the most out of group work »

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Complete Assignments

Two big ways assignments are different in online courses is that you can’t physically hand something in or present to an in-person class. Submitting and presenting can still be done, of course, but you’ll want to think about them differently.

Submit your work online

  • Save copies of anything you turn in online, including assignments you write directly in application textboxes. Having a backup helps if there are issues with a submission. Organize your files into course folders, and name them with meaningful, descriptive words.
  • Find out the acceptable file types and maximum file size allowed for any technology you’re using, well before your due date. File type and size constraints are common challenges students encounter when submitting assignments online. It will be stressful to be caught off-guard at the last minute.
  • Keep in mind that learning technologies may not be flexible with late submissions the way that instructors can sometimes be. If you miss a deadline and cannot submit, contact your instructor to see if you can turn in a late assignment another way.

Many applications let you save or export what you make in different formats (PDFs are generally a safe bet) as well as minimize file size.

In Canvas, assignment file uploads are limited to 5GB and media uploads to 500MB. If you can submit using the Canvas text editor, the multi-coloured Kaltura icon in the text editor toolbar will let you include media up to 2GB.

Give real-time presentations online

When presenting online, you can use many face-to-face presentation skills and apply these strategies in addition:

  • Rehearse your presentation in the technology, to practice and to troubleshoot any technical issues with what you plan to do. Ask your instructor to set up a practice session, if you can’t make one yourself.
  • Prepare for unexpected technical issues. Write down how you will troubleshoot problems like the loss of audio or students unable to see a visual you share. Send your presentation to your instructor or a classmate as a back-up.
  • Find a relatively quiet place with good lighting to present from. Use headphones and, ideally, an external microphone (one you plug into your computer) for clear audio.
  • Share an agenda at the start of your presentation. Orient the class by giving them an idea of what to expect and when they should be ready to engage.
  • Check in with the class regularly. When presenting online, you won’t be able to see all students’ reactions and non-verbal cues. Ask if people are hearing and following you by having them give a thumbs-up or other specific type of feedback.
  • Keep it simple. Simplicity is important for any presentation and even more so when your classmates are potentially dealing with online distractions.

The main web-conferencing and collaboration tool for presentations at UBC is Zoom »

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Take Quizzes/Exams

Taking quizzes and exams in online courses adds new stressors but also new flexibility. You can choose your space and often use your keyboard for responding, which is easier than writing by hand for long exams. Without physical paper to manage, ​grading turnaround​ may also be faster.

Complete Canvas assessments

Canvas will always call your assessment a “quiz”, whether your instructors assign a quiz or exam in a course. There are a few key things to be aware of in taking Canvas quizzes.

  • Download LockDown Browser, if required: If you see “Requires Respondus LockDown browser” next to a quiz name, you will need to install LockDown Browser. This browser restricts printing, copying, and accessing other websites or applications during Canvas quizzes.
  • Stick to full-screen devices: Take Canvas quizzes on a desktop or laptop computer with a strong internet connection, rather than on your phone. Viewing the quiz settings and timer on the Canvas Student app is not very intuitive, and you may miss something important.
  • Look for the “Available Until” date: This date is the point when you can no longer be taking a quiz. Some quizzes may not have this date set. But if they do and you’re midway through answering when it arrives, the quiz will auto-submit.
  • Don’t leave a timed quiz midway: While you can technically exit Canvas quizzes and return later, try to avoid using this feature on a timed quiz. The timer will continue running while you’re gone, and the quiz will auto-submit when the timer runs out.
  • Navigate quizzes with the question list: If you get bumped out in the middle of a quiz, you can go back in, but you will be at the beginning. Find your way back to the question you were on using the list in the sidebar.

Don’t hesitate to contact your instructor or teaching assistant if you encounter technical difficulties. Everyone wants to support you in removing roadblocks as soon as possible, so you can get back to learning!

The UBC Life blog offers general exam guidance in a studying for exams in a time crunch » post. The Chapman Learning Commons also has a Preparing for Exams toolkit »

Take invigilated exams online

An invigilated exam is one that is supervised, so that the identity of each student can be verified and academic integrity maintained. Online exams are typically invigilated using web-conferencing that lets an invigilator watch you. The following tips can help you get ready for this experience.

  • Prepare your technical setup in advance. You will need a webcam. Your instructor should let you know if the tool you’ll be using has other specific requirements to meet.
  • Take a practice exam in the technology. Enrol in the “Exam Practice” course on Canvas, where the Chapman Learning Commons has set up practice exams you can try in different tools.
  • Identify a good place to take the exam. Start with setting up a study space, and make sure it has a reliable internet connection and does not have anything visible that you don’t want shown on camera.
  • If you’re in a shared living situation, arrange with your housemates to be undisturbed, if you can. Perhaps they can use your exam time to read a book, watch a movie with headphones, nap, go for a walk, or run errands.
  • Expect the unexpected. Sometimes things will happen outside your control when taking an exam online. Calmly explain any interruptions to the camera, and trust your instructor or invigilator will work with you to understand what happened.
  • Try not to stress about the invigilation. Invigilation is about making sure everyone plays fair. When that’s your intention, you have nothing to worry about. Once you’ve arranged your technology and location, focus on studying.

Tip #1:
If you are worried that something about your personal situation may look like cheating, talk to your instructor ahead of time. You can also send an email later to express any concerns that came up during the exam. If your situation is related to a disability, ask for accommodation »

Tip #2:
Don’t hesitate to contact your instructor or teaching assistant if you encounter technical difficulties. Everyone wants to support you in removing roadblocks as soon as possible, so you can get back to learning!

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Setting Up