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How to Adapt to Online Learning: Tips for International Students

Tuesday | May 12, 2020 | by Aliyyah Nazeem

online learning

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, universities and colleges across Canada have closed their doors to all non-essential staff and students, disrupting the study plans of 642,480 international students in the country. According to an Eduvation blog post, 85 percent of the institutions Eduvation is monitoring have moved their classes online for the spring and summer semesters.

Many students are now adjusting to the virtual environment, some as they start post-secondary for the first time. With this major shift, students may be feeling anxious or uncertain. Being away from home, family, and community may be compounding the stress.

It is natural to feel anxious during this time, but you don’t want anxiety to take over your life. There are a few simple things you can do to ease your stress. The Canadian Psychological Association recommends the following:

  • Taking a break from the news. Staying informed is important, but it can also be overwhelming and leave you feeling as if the situation is out of your control (which it is). Instead, set aside certain times of the day or evening for checking news outlets or social media.
  • Connecting with others. Experts advise staying connected, whether through virtual study groups, playing online games with friends, or maintaining a daily phone call with family members. Free apps like Whatsapp and Skype make connecting easy.
  • Following health and safety guidelines. Follow the instructions of the Public Health Agency of Canada and Health Canada to reduce the risk of contracting the virus.
  • Moving your body. Movement and exercise are critical to your mental and physical health. With the warmer weather approaching, walking or biking outside (while maintaining social distancing and wearing a mask) is a great way to get some fresh air. Many universities and colleges are offering students free fitness classes virtually through the schools’ fitness centres. Eating healthy foods, limiting alcohol consumption, and getting lots of rest also contribute to mental and physical health.
  • Asking for help. If stress or anxiety is getting in the way of your day-to-day activities, seek help. Many psychologists, family physicians, and social workers are available virtually during the pandemic.

Adapting to full-time online learning takes self-discipline, time management skills, and motivation. But you may still find your study routine hard to maintain during these stressful times.

Below are a few tips to help you, whether you are studying in Canada or your home country:

Ensure a Reliable Internet Connection

A reliable internet connection will allow you dependable access to your online learning environment. Keep in mind that technology glitches and power outages can lead to connectivity lapses, so make sure to consistently save your assignments and stay in touch with your instructors. Google Drive and Dropbox are free resources that allow you to store your documents in the cloud and also autosave while you work.

Set Aside an Area for Dedicated Study

Having a dedicated study space is just as critical as having reliable internet. Make sure that the space is quiet, organized, well-lit—preferably with natural light—and free of distractions. Keep everything in order by having all your materials (pens, papers, textbooks, etc.) within reach. Make sure you have a charger handy, and that you are situated near a power outlet. Consider turning off your cell phone and logging off of social media. To further limit distractions, ask family members or roommates to respect your study space.

Treat Online Learning Like Classroom Learning

Although you aren’t physically in class, you still need to schedule dedicated study time. Use a calendar or planner to keep track of assignments and tests, and schedule reminders in your cell phone or by using colour-coded adhesive notes. To help you stay focused and productive, try breaking down your week into manageable blocks of time each day.

Develop a Routine

Now that you are learning remotely, you may need to adapt your daily routine. It may be tempting to wake up right before it’s time to log into your course, but experts say it’s better to do the things you would normally do if you were physically going to campus. If you normally drank coffee and checked Twitter before class, keep that up. Did you go to the gym? Consider doing a home workout before hitting the books. Make sure that you are taking breaks, and have healthy snacks and water on hand while you’re studying. During this time of quarantine, it’s even more critical to take care of yourself both mentally and physically.

Be Engaged and Participate in Group Discussions and Activities

Attend any live online lectures, and engage in group discussions. Doing so will help you understand the material, especially if this course is your first remote learning experience. If possible, turn your camera on to foster engagement with your classmates. Set up study groups to review material together using Zoom or FaceTime. If presentations are part of your coursework, dress professionally—as if you were presenting in person. It is also important to ask your professor for help when needed.

Remember, the current situation won’t last forever. Life will eventually return to normal, and you will be back on campus. The adaptability and resilience you develop now will stand you in good stead for the rest of your life.

Related Reading

15 Must-Have Tools for International Students in Canada

50 Tips for International Students

Aliyyah Nazeem is Manager of Academic Services at WES Canada.