The Worst Things about Online Learning (and How to Survive Them)

 We’ve been at this for a little while now, long enough to have worked out that there are some aspects of online learning (or blended learning for those of us lucky enough to have some in-person university interactions) that are simply just The Worst. 

So I figured it was about time that I came up with a blog post detailing all of the things that we don’t like and give some suggestions on how to make them just a little bit easier for us all. 

1. Breakout Rooms

It seems not a day goes by where we don’t hear some kind of awful sentence. But most of the news these days pales in comparison to the dreaded “I’m going to put you into Breakout Rooms now”.  Why would anyone want to have created such an awful concept. It’s beyond me, that’s for sure. 
I don’t think that I’ve had a single productive discussion in a breakout room. Somehow you’ll be shoved in with people that you’ve never met, despite how long you’ve all been doing the same course for. Someone won’t have done the seminar prep or watched the pre-recorded lectures, someone else will be having “microphone problems” or some other technical difficulty that may or may not be legitimate (it’s about a 50/50 chance) and someone has probably only logged on to the seminar to get their attendance up and has since left their desk to go grab a tea and have a natter with their housemates in the kitchen. And at some point you will be one of these people, so can you complain? Not really. 
So how, how, can we make this hellish creation into something useful? Or at the very least, make it not so hellish? 
At the end of the day, you’re doing your degree for you, not the three people you’ve never met that you’ve been shoved into a breakout room with, so these other three people are the least of your concerns. 
If there are legitimate technical difficulties then you can hopefully find some way to work around them, such as using the chat if you’re having problems with your audio. 
If your difficulties seem to be less technical and more personal, then you’ll just have to do your best to get as much as you can out of the situation. In some cases, it may be that no one has the guts to start. Suck it up, take control and take the necessary steps to get the most out of a crappy learning situation. At other times, it may simply be that no one cares enough to try. So maybe take the opportunity to make a quick cuppa (if you think you’ll have enough time) while playing out the conversation you would’ve had, if people had been responsive. You can’t exactly change others, so just you’ve just got to do what you can for yourself.

2. Motivation (or Lack Of)

A lot of complaints I’ve been hearing, have been about people struggling with motivation. With everything online (and in my experience, not a lot of it being checked!) it’s harder to force yourself to actually get started, compared to when you have to physically get out and do it. 
Which is kind of weird because, you’d expect getting up and out may be harder than just switching on your laptop. Yet somehow, with everything online, it’s so much easier to just ignore it. Why this is, is probably some psychological reason beyond me, but it does seem to be a bit of a fact (has there been much research into the effects of online learning? There should be). 
Anyway, I struggle with my motivation at the best of times (I missed waaaay too many seminars and lectures last year, and by my second week of this semester I was considering dropping out of French) so finding motivation right now is even harder. 
There are probably a lot of people out there who would have better suggestions than me, but I’ll do my best to suggest some things that help me. 
Firstly, I like to take Sunday evening or Monday morning to plan out the things I want to get done during the week. This not only includes academic things, such as online seminars and any reading I need to do, but pretty much any thing I can think of, you know, washing, shopping, and the like, as well as any fun plans I have with friends/family. 
This isn’t really a ‘To Do’ List as such, because I find the concept of getting all of these things done way too daunting, it’s more of a soft weekly overview of things I’d like to get done. For me, it serves the purpose of having a bit of structure to my week so that I know where I am with my life. 
I don’t like to beat myself up for failing to follow through on all of these ‘tasks’ (for lack of a better word), but crossing off the ones I do complete is very satisfying. 
As well as this, I tend to ensure that I have a fair few fun things planned so that my life doesn’t feel like an endless work cycle. Being a studying robot just does not do good things to anyone’s well being, so taking time out to do things you enjoy can help you do better in the long run.
If I’m honest, the whole motivation thing is something I’m still working out. Apparently having an Orange Twirl in front of me, only to be opened upon completion of a task is quite motivating, but also rests on me resisting the temptation of opening it anyway. 
Quite frankly, I am also highly motivated by fear, so the fact that I missed too much uni last year and got a few scary emails has definitely helped me, but that’s more of a personality thing. Not that I recommend this as a method of motivation. 
In summary, I guess I’ll have to recommend doing a little research and soul searching to see what works for you. 

3. A Hell of a Lot of Screen Time 

Has anyone else noticed they’ve been getting a lot of headaches recently? I know I have.
I’ve put this down to an extreme amount of screen time, which learning online has definitely added to. 
And on top of the headaches, I find my eyes get kind of fuzzy after a while and I can’t really concentrate as much as I used to be able to. Basically, what our parents have always told us has turned out to be right. Screens = Bad. 
Yet now we have no choice but to be at our screens. so how can we make this a little easier.
Once again I’m going to point you in the direction of anyone who is more qualified than I, but offer some suggestions of my own. 
Now, I have always preferred to a lot of my work on paper, as I just find this easier, so I would recommend switching to working on paper whenever you can. Sometimes it is just easier to type something straight up on to your laptop, especially when the majority of work we have to submit needs to be submitted online. 
But simply minimising screen time where you can, by doing some work on paper instead probably makes a bit of a difference. 
As well as this, when you’re not working, definitely try to do things that don’t involve further screen time, and make sure to get out just for a little walk or something outside as well!
If any of you are noticing extra headaches, then it’s probably best to go to an actual medical professional for help with that because I would have no idea what to suggest to you (nothing really sank in during my 4 months working in a pharmacy when I was 17). 

4. So Many Distractions

It is so easy to get completely distracted when you’re the only person making sure that you’re getting your work done or to just zone out completely. We’ve all been in that situation where we have been sat staring at a screen and not really taking anything in or where we’ve logged on to a seminar and then opened Instagram and started scrolling. 
To combat these distractions, I’d suggest one of those apps that can block you from going on your phone or certain websites. Of course, these can be quite easily overridden, so you could also try placing your phone somewhere out of reach and view. The classic ‘out of sight and out of mind’ technique. 
If your problems are more linked to the distractions of the real world, such as housemates that you just can’t resist having an hour long conversation with, you can always ask them to remind you that you have work to do, or try making an agreement to all do work at similar times and then come together when you’ve all got free time, so that everyone benefits from some study time that won’t be interrupted. You could also get a friend to check up on you every so often, to make sure that you are getting bits done and then reward yourselves by meeting up after you’ve sat through a certain amount of lectures or got a certain amount of words written on your essay. Simply having someone else to encourage you to be productive can make a big difference (this may also help with motivation problems). 
Another common issue I have is that I like to take frequent tea/coffee breaks very frequently, and I end up taking up more time making tea and coffee than actually working. Recently, I’ve started making a full pot of tea or cafetiere of coffee so that I don’t actually need to get up to make hot drinks as often. Of course, also beware of giving yourself caffeine jitters that probably won’t help much with studying.  
More generally, you could set yourself a timer for an amount of time that you know you can stay focused during and get as much done as you can before the timer finishes, then give yourself a quick break, before returning. This doesn’t really work for me because I find my focus really varies on any given day, depending on a lot of aspects, but I’ve seen it work for some people. 

5. The Seemingly Endless Waterfall of Work

I’ve noticed that every week, just when I begin to feel like I’m getting on top of the mountain of work, I’m suddenly drenched in next week’s tasks. Which is not a nice feeling.
At the moment, I prefer to take it a week at a time, so I tend to draw a line under any unfinished work at the end of the week and make a note of it to be done when I have extra time. Right now it’s hard to see if this method is going to help or hinder me in the long run, but it does certainly allow me to focus on any particular tasks that I need to do on a given week, rather than spending all my time catching up, yet still getting further behind. 
For example, if I have a week where I’ve managed to get all my seminar prep done, I’ll come back to any bits of reading I missed in the week before, but unless it’s essential work I won’t make it an absolute priority, so that I can focus on getting any new things done. 
Will this work out for me later when I might have some blank spots in my knowledge? Maybe not, but hopefully over reading week and the holidays I’ll have a chance to fill in those spaces completely. For now, this is the best method I have of managing a lot of work and not a lot of time, so that I don’t feel too behind and completely drowning in this never-ending work heap. 
So there’s just a few of the problems we’ve encountered through this whole ordeal of Online Learning and some of the ways I’m trying to deal with it all. I also asked you guys what you thought and got a few responses that were quite specific, so I thought I’d add some of them with less detail at the end!

    “The lack of proper debate and discussion…” 

This is a tricky one, because we only have so much time during our live online sessions, and, for me at least, majority of my work involves watching pre-recorded lectures and doing independent work. To get a bit more debate and discussion time in, you could try reaching out to your coursemates and setting up some sort of study group, where the primary activity is discussing topics that you may not have had a proper chance to discuss in lessons. 

    “When I don’t know the answer but I feel like I should say something because I feel bad.”

So relatable, there is nothing worse than that awkward silence when no one is interacting. I would suggest simply answering when you can because at least you’re giving your best interaction. If that awkwardness is just too much I suppose you could say you’re really not sure, just to break the silence. But also remember that your lecturers are fully grown professionals and I’m sure they aren’t taking this personally. 

    “Hate that there isn’t really social interaction, feels almost isolating at times.”

Being shut inside your room for so long, doing nothing but looking at a screen is really quite rubbish. This year is definitely a make the best of a bad situation thing so we’re all having to look for different ways to get the good out of this year. I wrote a little post more focused on the social aspect of university this year so I’ll link that here

    “Having sh*t desk chairs that hurt your back.”

I really can’t suggest anything other than get a better desk chair. Which, as students, we probably can’t afford. 

Maybe yoga? Or find someone willing to walk on your back.

    “The online bit.”

Guys. I can’t change this. Sorry.

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