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5 brilliant ways to improve your remote learning perspective

Quizlet HQ & Quizlet in Education ·

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Quizlet is proud to partner with real students to showcase authentic voices on our blog. This guest post is by Trevor Mahoney, a Finance and Management Information Systems major at Santa Clara University.

As a college student in the era of Covid-19, making the switch to remote learning has thrown a massive wrench in my day-to-day life. In my case, campus is still closed down and students living in campus-owned houses have all been kicked out for the time being. For most, this means returning to their parent’s houses and attempting to focus on Zoom classes in an environment not at all conducive to studying.

Whether your campus is completely closed or offering hybrid courses, remote learning has become widespread at universities across the country. CNBC recently discussed a TruePublic survey of 7,000 college and high school students where 52 percent believed it would be a bad idea to return in the fall. Despite this statistic, morale has never been lower among college students.

Financial burdens, combined with difficulties adapting, have created a negative atmosphere in regard to remote learning, even though it provides many opportunities that are overlooked.

It doesn’t have to be that way. You can set yourself up for academic success with a few strategies to motivate you and brighten your overall outlook on the situation. While it may not always be easy to follow the below steps, even trying to implement a single one is a huge step towards creating a positive mindset.

1. Use the Pomodoro technique to stay on track

As we know, it can be hard to stay engaged while your professor speaks to you from hundreds of miles away. The New York Times recently interviewed college students and teachers to learn how people felt about online learning. Student answers pointed to a clear common problem: Focusing on work has become exponentially harder.

EJ Onah, a student at the University of Albany, summarized the collective thoughts perfectly by claiming:

“My attention span at home is a lot shorter than it is at school since my house was not created to be a school environment. Every time I have a class, or I want to get some homework done, there’s always some kind of distraction.”

As a college student living with roommates, a separation of spaces was key to my academic success. When you’re living in a house or apartment with a group of people, it’s almost impossible to focus. After all, how can we be expected to keep our eyes on the screen while our roommates are arguing over whether or not their Hot Pockets are done cooking? Campus libraries or study spots were always a reliable place to get focused, but for students back at home like myself, these aren’t options anymore.

This challenge has led many students to feel less than positive about the continuance of remote work. Fortunately, there are tips anyone can use to stay focused and get motivated when the time comes. A great strategy that can produce results is the Pomodoro Technique.

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Developed by Francesco Cirillo in the early 1990s, this technique focuses on breaking down big assignments into short intervals that are followed by small breaks. The way it works is simple:

  • Set your phone timer to 25 minutes.
  • Work on your task for the entirety of those 25 minutes.
  • Take a 5-minute break when the timer goes off.
  • Repeat three more times, then allow yourself a longer break up to 30 minutes.

This strategy helps you stay focused on your work and hold yourself accountable. By allowing time for breaks, you can help train your attention span and stay more focused when you sit down to handle a task. I tested the Pomodoro technique myself for months last semester and saw a noticeable increase in my attention levels and the speed at which I completed my assignments.

Let me give you a tip: Don’t use your phone as the timer. When I tried this for the first time, I found myself constantly checking how much time I had left, but this would just lead to me falling into the void of checking social media and responding to messages. It even got to the point where I had to tell one of my family members to hold my phone and tell me when the timer went off. I personally found it really helpful to use a website whose sole purpose is to act as a Pomodoro timer, like Tomato Timer.

We all have distractions at home that make it difficult to focus, but overcoming those distractions with productivity methods can help us feel better about remote learning. Also, don’t worry about following these steps word-for-word. You know what works best for you. Adapt this strategy for your specific study habits.

2. Remember that what you put in is what you get out

This age-old saying is true now more than ever. If you go into remote learning expecting it to be an all-around disappointing and negative experience, then it will be. However, if you make little adjustments to your mindset, you can actually subconsciously change your feelings about the entire situation.

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The fact of the matter is that remote learning really isn’t that bad. Sure, it is more difficult for us to focus and certain life circumstances (I’m looking at you, bad internet connection) seem to make learning more difficult, but not that much has changed.

Put positive energy into your learning experience and you’ll feel more positive about it overall. With that said, I have friends who adamantly dislike remote learning and want nothing more than for it to be done. In order to cope and continue to be successful, they’ve begun placing faith in the Illusory Truth Effect, as well as self-affirmations, and the results have been fascinating to watch.

In short, the Illusory Truth Effect is the idea that if you are exposed to something enough times, you will believe it’s true. My friends have taken it upon themselves to only read articles that frame remote learning in a positive light, rather than focusing on all the posts treating it as negative. By doing this, they were able to start equating remote learning with positive feelings in their minds, and their overall moods about the subject actually improved as a result.

With that said, let’s be honest. Five minutes on Twitter over the last few months is all it takes to find a tweet that bashes remote learning and Zoom. Cutting off all the negativity just isn’t possible as a college student going through this situation. However, it’s all about mindset. Just focus on cutting out as much negativity as you can, and tackle it as an “out of sight, out of mind” situation.

Something that may be easier is self-affirmations. These are similar to the Illusory Truth Effect but trigger the reward mechanism in our brain in a way that can change our behavior. You can actually convince yourself that you can succeed at remote learning and that it isn’t as bad as it seems. You just have to tell that to yourself enough times. No joke.

Overall, what you put into remote learning is what you are going to get out. Taking the time to understand how to succeed, looking into success stories of remote learning, and telling yourself that you’re capable of overcoming remote learning are all ways you can change your perspective for the better.

3. Set up a powerful class routine

No matter how diligent you are, there comes a day when you ask yourself: Why get out of bed to log on to a Zoom class when you can just stay comfy under the sheets and leave your camera off?

Being at home tends to make us more relaxed, but it’s important to remember that we need to treat remote learning in the same way that we treat in-person classes. Doing so can help you to stay more focused and see remote learning as a productive use of your time.

It is too easy to just walk away from the computer when you keep your camera off, so if you’re only going to take one piece of advice away from this post, it should be this: Turn your camera on. You will feel more involved in the class, which will go a long way towards keeping you focused.

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Routines look different for everyone, though, and we all have different class schedules. It’s easier to feel focused when you’re expected in a classroom at a certain time and you have time in class to work on assignments in your groups. And actually, that’s a routine in and of itself.

To set up a powerful routine that can help foster success during remote learning, you’ll need to be introspective. Follow the below tips, and create your own, to help make your experience go smoother:

Wake up at a consistent time each day

It doesn’t matter if you’re waking up at 6 am or 12 pm. All that matters is that you stick to a time and train your body. This will provide some order to your chaotic days and help stop you from sleeping until three minutes before your Zoom class.

As someone who is known for hitting the snooze button multiple times, though, I am aware this is easier said than done. Try downloading a free app such as Alarmy that is designed to wake you up. This app will slowly increase the volume on your alarm and won’t turn off until you complete a task.

I chose to shake my phone 30 times to turn off the alarm, but you can set it to require you to solve a new math problem daily, or even take a photo of something in your house. It sounds ridiculous, but sometimes extreme measures are what it takes to build a routine.

Dedicate a space for class

To help build a sense of structure, get on your Zoom classes from the same place every single day. This will help build the separation of spaces that was discussed earlier and will even help you associate your chosen place as an area of focus.

Taking my class from my bed is just a temptation to turn off my camera and turn on the Xbox, especially when I have multiple friends texting me and telling me to join their games. Set up a little space for yourself that you can free of distractions.

Do work immediately before or after class

I know that if I don’t do work immediately before or after my Zoom classes, it’s not going to get done. By blocking out certain parts of my day as dedicated work times, as well as using productivity techniques like Pomodoro, I’m able to focus myself on the task at hand and not be distracted by the amenities of home.

Your class routine and the way you study may look completely different from this, which is fine. All that matters is that the routine you build works for you and helps make you more productive as a whole.

4. Expand your classroom experience

Something that has done wonders for my remote learning experience is expanding my personal classroom. It’s important to have a dedicated space to do your work, as mentioned, but there’s no reason you can’t have a couple of dedicated spaces.

Hopping on to my English class from my backyard on a sunny day with a coffee in hand was far easier than trying to log on while half asleep in the tiny spare room of my house. My favorite mantra has become: If I have an internet connection, I can participate in class.

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The best way to ensure a positive remote learning experience is to go to the places around your house that make you happiest. We have all been trapped inside for so long during this pandemic, that it can do you some good to get out and see anything green.

Did you know that just two hours a week spent in green spaces, either broken up or in one sitting, can lead to better health both physically and psychologically? As discussed by Yale’s School of the Environment, combining nature and work can make you happier.

Remote learning shouldn’t make you feel trapped in your home. I’ve even seen someone join a Zoom call from the golf course. Use your freedom to log in from places that enable your success. This is the best way to change your entire perspective on remote learning.

5. Design a creative workspace

Obviously, it’s unreasonable to assume we can get out into nature every day. What you can do, however, is build a workspace that promotes productivity. In case you haven’t noticed, the lack of ability to focus is perhaps the largest problem we face.

Designing a workplace that stops this is the best way to become successful. To start, set up a desk or workspace in the place you have chosen to be your dedicated study spot. Try your best to keep the space minimalistic because too many distractions will stop you from focusing.

The best way to go about this is to recreate the study spots that worked for you while at school. Your goal should be to create the same productive atmosphere that you would have if remote learning weren’t a thing. Ideally, you will also be able to get natural light into the place you’re working, as this can help boost both your mood and energy levels.

If you can, get some plants for your workspace to bring nature to you, as discussed earlier. Perhaps most importantly, however, don’t keep your phone on your desk (unless you’re using it for the Pomodoro timer). In fact, remove all distractions to another part of the room. If possible, get someone in your house to be your accountability manager, i.e. someone who comes and checks to make sure you’re doing what you should be.

Having a positive remote learning experience demands positivity

At the end of the day, how we choose to view the situation affecting the world is completely up to us. Remote learning has its pluses and minuses, there’s no doubt about that, but it truly is what we make of it. Challenge the perspective you hold now and create a productive atmosphere around yourself.

Teachers and students alike were barely given time to make the adjustment to remote learning, which is also a large cause for the negative feelings. There’s no way to completely get rid of the way you feel, but it’s important for all of us to realize this is just one tiny part of our college experience. Life is going to go on and we will all see our friends again soon enough, so the best any of us can do is to put on a positive attitude about the things we can’t change.


Trevor Mahoney is wrapping up his last year at Santa Clara University where he studies Finance and Management Information Systems. He has been an avid reader his whole life, which evolved into a passion for writing while he studied abroad in New Zealand last year. He is currently searching for a post-college job and hopes to work at the intersection of business and technology.

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