Learning from Online Lectures and Discussions

Successful online learners, like all learners, have a growth mindset! They are flexible, tolerate the inevitable technical problems that arise, ask for help when they need it, keep on top of regular work for each class, minimize distractions as much as possible, and persist when things are hard.

Learning from Online Video Lectures

What works for you to stay engaged when you’re not in the same physical room as your professor and classmates?

  • Take time before each class to read the syllabus or Canvas instructions so you can prime your brain before class and have a sense of what to expect.
  • If you need to watch a prerecorded lecture- watching the videos at a regular time can help you establish a routine and avoid falling behind.
    • Speeding up videos may seem like a time saver, but be honest with yourself about how much you’re able to understand and retain and be prepared to lose that “saved” time later on when you’re studying for exams.
  • If you are watching a prerecorded video: consider pausing every 10-15 minutes to review notes and connect the content to other course materials.
  • Take notes just like it’s a normal class. The LSC’s Canvas module and page on Cornell Note Taking offers good general note-taking tips.
  • During synchronous video lectures: if there is a chat function, post questions or points of confusion. It’ll help you stay active, and others may have the same questions.
  • Close down distracting apps while you are watching the lecture. (See “Perils of Multitasking”)

Bruno’s Zoom Tips:

  • Come prepared
  • Stay engaged
  • Use mute when it’s not your turn
  • Squeak your chew toy when it is your turn

Communication is key:

  • Find out how your professor expects you to communicate questions about the class and/or about the course material: During class? In office hours? Via email? Through Canvas?
  • For an in-person class, professors often rely on non-verbal cues to know whether their students are following along or not. In online environments students need to signal to ask for clarification when they are confused. For your online classes, should you use the chat? raise your “virtual hand”? Unmute your microphone and just talk? Just like in-person classes, this varies from course to course.

Participating in Online Discussions

TIP: Active participation in online learning can help you—and the rest of the class— feel connected, which helps learning!

Just like in regular classes, different students have different preferences and comfort levels in live discussion. If you’re somebody who tends to contribute very actively, continue to engage, but make sure you give space to allow others to contribute. And if you normally tend to listen actively and speak less, look for places where you can contribute your thoughts. Consider:

  • Starting in the chat and then contributing more when you feel more comfortable.
  • Doing the pre-reading or pre-lecture assignments and taking a few notes.
  • During the lecture, jot down some questions or points before you contribute.

Doing these things can help you feel more confident when you chime in with your thoughts or questions. No matter how you feel about participating, support your classmates! Remember, while some people feel at ease in online discussions, others may find it anxiety-producing. Offering a quick thumbs-up or “Interesting point!” can make a difference for a fellow student.

Your professor may put you in breakout rooms to have conversations with a smaller group of people. If you don’t know people, take a minute to introduce yourselves and then move to the question you are discussing. Depending on what the professor is asking you to do, think about having someone jot down some notes and keep an eye on the time.

About those Cameras…

If your space and bandwidth allow, turn on your video during synchronous classes. Cameras on can help you connect with your classmates and your instructor, and can also help you focus and reduce the pull of other distractions. It’s harder to feel connected with empty video windows! Zoom backgrounds or blurring can help with privacy concerns. Of course there are plenty of legitimate reasons students may feel they need their cameras off. If you cannot keep your camera on, you’ll need to figure out how you can stay active and engaged through your note-taking, use of chat, polling, or reactions, and by making sure you’re giving your class your full attention.

Watch: LSC’s Mike Chen Shares Strategies for Reading in Online Courses

Are you wondering about useful strategies for reading in online classes? Check out this video on “Online Learning: Reading” for some ideas about how to approach your reading, both before and after class.

Having trouble?

Whether you are learning online or in-person- if you are experiencing challenges, let your instructors know! Professors can’t help you solve problems they don’t know you’re having.

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Many of these tips are adapted from the Center for Academic Innovation at the University of Michigan and the Academic Resource Center at Duke University—thank you to our colleagues for generously sharing their resources.


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