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Expert tips for university students learning remotely to boost productivity, maintain relationships & create routine

With the university doors remaining firmly shut and face-to-face time with lecturers continuing to be kept to a minimum, feelings of apprehension and confusion may well be running high for a lot of students. With this in mind, the edtech and education experts at Quizlet, are keen to arm students with the resources that they need to feel motivated, confident and empowered while learning remotely.

The pandemic has affected everyone in some way over the past year, but for the freshers of 2020, the university experience has been completely turned on its head, with lectures increasingly being conducted online, libraries staying closed and the doors to the SU bar remaining firmly shut.

The opportunities and experiences that are usually available to university students have not been possible during the pandemic – meaning that many are likely contending with feelings of apprehension and confusion. With access to lecturers reduced and opportunities for group study more challenging, the team at Quizlet is keen to arm students with the resources that they need to feel motivated, confident and empowered to learn. As such, we have reached out to our network of educators and edtech experts to put together the following toolkit.

Environment and routine – It may sound cliché but having the right mindset is vital to getting your day right. Setting your alarm, getting up on time, having a good breakfast and getting dressed for the day will put you in the right mindset to work. Whether you are attending three lectures remotely during the day, or have a mountain of coursework to get through, getting yourself in the right frame of mind and creating a routine will reduce the likelihood of procrastination. If you’re looking for an extra boost, studies have shown that getting dressed in formal attire puts your mindset in a place of power, boosting confidence and preparing you mentally to tackle the work that needs to be done.

Motivation – Whether you’re locked down in halls, living in a shared student house, or are attending lectures from home, chances are that you won’t be used to studying full-time in that environment, so enthusiasm and motivation may be lacking. Identifying the best methods for you will see you through lockdown learning, and will be something you will take with you into your future career.

Remember, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to remote learning, so take time to figure out what works best for you!

    • Space – Getting distracted is only too easy when learning from home. Creating an area for you to learn and work in will help you to create a dedicated space, both in your head and in your physical surroundings, for you to enter when approaching lessons and work.
    • Lists – Upon entering your chosen workspace, consider writing a list of what you need to achieve that day. It may seem small, but making this part of your daily routine will allow you to see what you need to do, and prioritise the essential and non-essential, making tasks seem smaller and more achievable.
    • Breaks – Don’t forget to take regular breaks and allow time to relax by managing your time accordingly. Allow yourself time to go outside for exercise, to listen to your favourite podcast, to play games or to do any other activity you enjoy. It is widely known that taking regular pauses can help students with productivity, as incremental breaks throughout the day will allow you to reset your mind and approach the work refreshed.
    • Rest – Be realistic with your expectations of yourself. Pulling an all-nighter to complete assignments or revising non-stop through the night will not produce your best work, and can impact your overall mental health. Instead, creating daily schedules and allotting time for activities, rest, study, revision and classes will make the day more productive.

Your digital toolbox – The switch to remote learning was swift and adapting to online learning can be difficult, especially if you have moved back home and there are a lot of distractions around you. Technology really is your friend, and there are some great tools available that will make the remote learning journey a lot more fun! A few that we have come across and recommend regularly include:

  • SimpleMind – The basis of most good projects and assignments come from a simple mind map. A mind map helps us to organise our ideas and pinpoint the main concept. This highly illustrative app provides the perfect place for exploring your thoughts; enabling visual learners, who are trying to think laterally, to see an idea develop in front of them. 
  • Quizlet – Note-taking is one of the best ways to process the information we have learnt, and flashcards enable us to revisit the information, slimming it down to the finer points of understanding. Quizlet gives access to digital flashcards, built-in AI testing capabilities, quizzes and games to help you learn, and retain key information.
  • Babbel – Learning a language has been proven to have a positive effect on our cognitive ability, with research showing that bilingual people have better attention and task-switching capacities. Apps like Babbel, which help you to learn a new language in bitesize chunks, can provide a study break, whilst improving your brain’s cognitive elasticity at the same time!
  • iStudiez – For those that prefer to keep digital lists, this is the perfect app. This student-planner tool helps you to keep on top of your social, study and work calendar with ease and will allow you to factor in the all-important breaks, mentioned above.

Peer support – Though you may not be physically sat next to your coursemates, you are all experiencing the same thing and attending the same lectures. Regardless of whether you’re living in halls or have stayed at home, reaching out to your peers to discuss course materials and to debrief on lectures is a great way to build a better understanding of what has been discussed. Group Facebook pages, WhatsApp groups and email chains are just a few ways to keep the channel of communication open, allowing you to ask questions and spark discussions. Using online tools and social media can help you to feel less isolated in your learning, and you’re likely to make new friends in the process.

Making friends – Another part of the university experience that has been affected during the pandemic is the ability to spend time with peers and form meaningful bonds with coursemates. Though you may not think it, building meaningful friendships can have a positive effect on your daily motivation in classes and lectures. Keeping an open channel of discussion with coursemates whilst learning remotely will enable you to provide support and resources to one another, bolstering your own academic achievements while also forming meaningful connections with your peers.

Get active – It is no secret that getting active and spending some time outdoors is good for our physical and mental health. Connecting with nature has been proven to contribute to a reduction in levels of anxiety, stress and depression. We all need a little wellbeing boost in these stressful times, and regular exercise is vital to maintaining good mental health. Physical activity boosts the production of endorphins, which are the body’s natural anti-depressant. Find time in your day to do an online exercise class, go for a run or get out on your bike. Further to the physical benefits, stepping away from your desk to engage in completely physical activity will help you to focus better when you do get back to it.

The academic year, for all students, has undoubtedly been completely different. Reduced face-to-face time paired with social distancing rules and blended learning has made the university experience radically different. If you are alone, unable to connect with loved ones or feeling overwhelmed or unable to cope, always seek help from your local GP. Maintaining good mental health is as important as maintaining good physical health. Just as you would seek help from your doctor if you were injured, your GP is there to listen, to talk to you and can direct and/or refer you to a mental health specialist if needed. You can also look to websites and mental health charities that are there to help, such as Student Minds, Office For Students or UMHAN for additional support and resources.

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