Skip to main content

Online Learning

Online Learning during COVID-19

During the pandemic, you may have questions about how to adjust your learning and studying approaches to a completely online environment. We have included some suggestions and resources for:

  • Learning Online
  • Taking Tests Online
  • Presenting Online

You can also visit Motivation for Online Learning for simple strategies to help with maintaining motivation to study. If you are looking for additional support on these topics, you can book an online appointment with Learning Services staff.

Learning Online

Managing Your Time 

  • Pick a tool for managing your time (perhaps a paper agenda or an online calendar) and spend at least five minutes each day planning your schedule. Online courses usually are less structured than in-person classes, and you will need to spend time every day on getting organized and making a plan.
  • Check your Courselink sites and email daily for information from your professors as things change. Note all modified due dates on your calendar or agenda.  
  • Schedule specific times in the day to spend on each class. Set aside time to review your notes, complete your assignments and study for exams. You may want to schedule more time than it would usually take to complete tasks as you adjust to potential technical challenges.  
  • Distractions may be more common if you are working from home. Be sure to communicate to the people that you live with when you plan to study and when you plan to take breaks. You may be able to schedule breaks at the same time as your housemates so you won’t feel tempted to distract each other.  
  • Identify rewards that will help you keep motivated, and make sure you take breaks frequently. It can be challenging to stay focused when setting for hours at your computer. See our webpage Making the Most of Breaks and Rewards for some suggestions.
  • Schedule time to check in with family and friends. It is important to stay connected to the people we care about to help reduce stress and support each other.  

For more information about time management see our Master Time Management Guide

Creating a Productive Environment for Studying 

  • Prepare your study space by having all your materials (pens, papers, textbooks, etc.) easily accessible. Make sure you have your charger handy and you are situated close to a power outlet. Sitting at a desk or table instead of on your couch or bed (if possible) will help you stay focused. 
  • Prepare your mind for studying online the same way you would for face-to-face classes. Dress the same way you would for an in-person class, put away your cell phone, turn off all notifications on your computer, and take a few mindful moments before you begin your classwork to get ready to focus.  
  • Share your class schedule with your housemates and family members. You can print out a copy to share or use post-it notes to let others know when you are in a class.  
    • If you can’t ensure a quiet space while you are attending your lectures, remember to mute your microphone so you don’t disturb others. You can turn it on if you need to ask or answer a question.  

Note Taking during Live Lectures

  • Note-taking on a computer while in an online class can be challenging. You may want to consider taking hand-written notes while watching and listening to your lectures.  
    • If you have an extra monitor that you can hook up to your computer, or you are able to split your laptop screen, you should be able to view the lecture slides/video and take notes on your computer at the same time.  
  • The Cornell Method is one approach of taking notes that may help you summarize and organize your notes. You can read more about it on the Cornell Method Guide.  
  • Try using diagrams, charts, and concepts maps for taking notes instead of trying to write down everything that your professor says.  
  • Spend some time reviewing your notes right after your online class. The information will still be fresh in your head and you can add to your notes if there is anything you missed, come up with questions you still have, or create a lecture summary.  

Other Strategies for Learning Online

Read our Study Effectively series for information on reading textbooks, improving concentration, managing distractions, and incorporating active study techniques to enhance your learning.

Helpful Links from other Universities: 

Testing Online

Online and take-home exams require studying and preparation. Your professor knows that you will have access to all of your notes and materials, and they may expect you to think in depth, clearly and concisely, in your exam.

  • Review all of your materials, and, if you are taking an online exam, work under the assumption that you may not have time to refer to your notes during the exam.
  • If you think that you will have time to refer to your notes during the exam, use sticky notes or other tags to find key notes quickly. Another option is to create a condensed study guide of your course material.
  • Know the format of the online test or exam and adjust your study methods for it. See our webpage Exam Preparation for more information on how to prepare and study for a variety of exam formats.

Set up a good testing environment:

  • Tell your housemates and/or family that you are writing a test and put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door or by your desk. 
  • To reduce distractions, turn off your phone and all notifications on your devices.
  • Check your computer to make sure you have the necessary hardware and software and that your internet connectivity is sufficient.
  • Know the rules for the exam. Will you be able to go back to previous questions and change your answers? What should you do if you have a technological problem during the exam?

Many thanks to the University of Toronto's Academic Success Centre for many of these suggestions.

Helpful links from other universities and organizations:

Presenting Online

Planning your presentation

  • Presenting online requires preparation of slides, interactive components and talking points.
  • Be intentional! Ensure you and your audience know the purpose of the presentation.
  • Don’t forgot the anecdotes. Include examples, stories and details just like you would in an in-person presentation.
  • Try not to overwhelm your audience; keep slides simple and present information visually when possible.
  • See Present like a Pro for general information on preparing and presenting.

Recording your presentation

  • If you are submitting a presentation with your audio recorded, consider how you will do this. You can record it separately and then add the audio to your presentation or record directly in PowerPoint.
  • Learn how to add and delete audio in PowerPoint.

Presenting online

  • Practice your presentation! Try recording or simulating your presentation as if you were delivering it. Ensure that your equipment works, that your audience has access, and that all links and slides connect. 
  • Prepare your technology in advance and give yourself extra time to troubleshoot. 
  • Inform anyone who might interrupt your presentation that you are recording; this includes turning off your phone or computer notifications. 
  • Know your audience and keep them engaged: consider what activities or discussions can take place in an online forum (polls, quizzes, etc).
  • Find out if you can send out information or handouts to your audience to have while you present. A handout can reduce the amount of text needed on slides or offer a way to complete an activity, but keep in mind that it may distract your audience from your presentation.
  • Consider how you will look on camera: look directly into the camera, stand up to improve breathing and focus, determine what your audience can see and ensure it’s appropriate and not distracting.
  • Consider the following for audio-only presentations: ensure what you are saying matches your audience’s view, and limit cursor motion to prevent distracting your audience. You could include a picture of the presenter so your audience can visualize you.

Helpful links from other universities and organizations

Resources to help with Online Learning

Link to Video: How to Create a Concept MapLink to Video: Schedule yourself:Link: Handout: Study Smarter Not Harder

Suggest an edit to this guide

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.