Steps to digital learning success


As colleges and universities across the country are adapting to the impacts of COVID-19, most are taking steps to continue to offer classes in formats designed to keep students safe. As such, many are moving to a digital format — either fully online or through a mix of in-person and remote classes.

As the parent of a college student, it’s likely your student will be taking at least a few remote classes this fall. If they’ve never taken virtual classes before, we have some tips and tools to help them succeed.

Create space and time for learning

When a student is taking their classes in their bedroom, the separation between home and school becomes almost nonexistent. Encourage your student to set up a special spot just for their classes and studying. This can be any room in the house that’s fairly quiet and should include their computer, notebooks and pens, books, and anything else they’ll need for their classes. The spot should be off limits to all other family members (no siblings trying to play video games on the computer) and should be the only spot where your student participates in class and does their homework. If space in the house is limited, then a section of the house — the kitchen table, for instance — should double as the study space. And all family members should agree to vacate that space when your student is studying.

Become familiar with the tools

To get started, your student will need two basics: a computer (laptop or desktop) and Wi-Fi. Their instructors will inform them which online learning tools they’ll use for their classes. These might include platforms such as Zoom (a video conferencing tool), Slack (an instant messenger) and Canvas (the virtual classroom).

They’ll also need to know if they have to attend their class at a certain time on certain days or if it’s asynchronous. Some virtual classes require real-time participation (and the professor and some students may even be in a classroom), while others offer recorded lectures and other materials that your student can access at a time convenient for them.

Engage with instructors

Connecting with instructors is hugely important for college students. When classes are in person, students have regular face-to-face interactions with their professors — they have class discussions, they stay after class to ask questions, they stop by their professor’s office hours during the week. In a digital format, access to instructors may be different, but it’s just as important and can be just as easy.

In live, instructor led digital classes, students can ask questions either through a chat box or by simply unmuting their audio and asking (but make sure they know their professor’s preference beforehand). Most professors will hold virtual office hours, or otherwise inform students how and when they can be contacted outside of class time. Encourage your student to connect with their professors before classes start to discuss any accommodations your student may need, or to ask any questions they have about how the course will be managed. Then encourage your student to keep connecting with their instructors throughout the semester.

Connect with classmates

In addition to connecting with their professors, your student should also be connecting with other students in class. After all, After all, their classmates are in the same boat and may be facing some of the same challenges. Suggest to your student that they set up a Slack channel for their classmates to discuss assignments, talk through difficult course concepts, or simply meet and get to know each other. Your student can also find a study partner and meet up with them for study sessions over Zoom. It will help them perform better in the class and they might make a new friend.

Monitor progress and stay motivated

Your student should regularly monitor how they’re doing in their classes, prepare for upcoming assignments and exams, and have a plan if they feel like they’re falling behind. Because your student is not physically on campus — near their professors, libraries, classmates and tutoring centers — they need to be all the more vigilant in keeping track of how they’re doing in class and what they need to be ready for. If your student is having difficulty staying motivated, remind them to keep their goals in mind, and encourage them to connect with their advisor or professors for guidance on topics beyond the learning material that could impact their academic performance. And suggest that they ask their classmates for tips on staying motivated, and consider having regular check-ins with them to see how they’re doing and to make sure they’re keeping up with it all.

Remote learning can certainly be a bit unfamiliar, but it can also be an enjoyable and effective way to learn. Whether your student ends up liking remote learning or deciding they prefer in-person courses, it will be an experience that will teach them something about themselves and will give them the life experience of navigating uncertain times with flexibility and a long-term focus on their goals. And that’s a good thing.