Stay motivated and be on track with online distance learning

By Nurul Saadah

“eLearning is changing. And, we will see new models, new technologies, and designs emerge. So, let’s drop the “e” – or at least give it a new and wider definition.”

Elliot Masie, Education Technology Expert.

The COVID-19 outbreak has led to new changes in our living norms. One of the affected sectors is the field of education, in which schools and universities across the country have unexpectedly embarked on the largest online learning experiment ever.

As we can see, Online Distance Learning (ODL) has become a medium for school and university students to undergo classes in cyberspace. ODL can be defined as any learning that happens without the students being physically present in the lesson. This is applicable to the teacher in certain situations.

Historically, distance learning described the communication between students and their institutions or instructors via mail. Nowadays, distance education has moved online which includes a huge range of complex systems and methods.

Additionally, thanks to the power of the internet, there are a variety of excellent medium and software for the convenience of online learning. For example, Google Meet, which is a video-communication service developed by Google.

However, although we are in the digital era, it could be that no students envisioned their semester would be mainly virtual because of the pandemic. Thus, this new learning method has received various reactions from the students.

It affects the mental health and readiness of students and lecturers throughout this way of teaching and learning. Some may find the transition is not affecting them much, but it has been rocky for most.

In a webinar entitled “Online Distance Learning (ODL): How to stay on track?”, Dr. Syarifah Fatimah Al-Attas, Assistant Professor of Sociology, IIUM, and also Vice President of Girl2Leader MY, highlighted some tips for students to be self-motivated and making sure that they are still getting the most of their education.

Dr. Syarifah Fatimah started by explaining a few types of ODL, which are:

Video conferencing

A way for lecturers to interact directly with students in live lessons. This could be a one-on-one session or a class-like scenario in which multiple students connect to the teacher through Google Meet, Zoom, or other platforms.

Synchronous learning

All students learn together at the same time, and sometimes even place. However, the instructor is at another location. Frequently, it features video or teleconferencing that connects teachers and learners digitally.

Asynchronous learning

A less connected but also less constrained format. Instead of real-time online lessons, students are given learning tasks with deadlines. They then self-study to complete the assignments individually or within a group.

The different types of ODL above show that each course implements different methods based on suitability. Therefore, it is to be emphasised here that students need to understand every course they take that semester and what the expectations of the courses are on them.

After understanding and analysing the requirements of the courses, here are a few things students need to do:

Make a plan and stick to it

The learning semester is about 12 weeks. In order to avoid a breakdown because of an unmanageable hectic schedule, students must know their priority each day and month. They should be aware of their works as every assessment has its specific requirements and submission dates.

So, a proper schedule needs to be planned and followed. It is recommended to have a planner. If people prefer a traditional planner, they can use books or color boards. By using this, they can divide the assignment according to weeks, use sticky notes, and jot down anything based on their preference.

Meanwhile, if people find a digital planner is more convenient, they may use Google Calendars because important events can be added to the calendar with just one click.

Good time management

Having a proper plan, but without planning and exercising conscious control of time spent on specific activities, the plan will be ineffective. We should prevent ourselves from spending too much time on one task because we may have insufficient time to finish the other things. This situation can happen without even realising it.

Besides that, always remember to have a rest between each work as our body and mind require time to recover from the fatigue. When we are fatigued, we have no motivation and no energy. As a result, we are unable to settle the work on time or to do it properly.

Therefore, remember to allocate a specific time for each work, but never forget to rest, and avoid procrastination.

Participate and be active

Other than switching on the camera during class as an etiquette, it also helps us to from getting distracted. We will focus on the topic explained by the lecturer, and it prevents us from doing something else.

The focus that we have can lead to more interaction with the professor and class. Asking questions and volunteering answers will help us feel more engaged with the class and from getting lost in the lesson. On top of that, only when we ask or state our opinion, a lecturer can know whether we are confused or we understand the topic. This will help the lecturer answer our questions more precisely.

Other than that, if we find ourselves getting lost in the lesson, use the “chat” option. We can send a message or ask a question to the whole class or any individual member of the class.

Do as much as we can to make sure we understand what we are learning.

Get socialised

With the new norm of online learning, we could not communicate with our friends, classmates, or instructors face-to-face. To avoid feeling lonely and isolated, make it a routine to interact with our peers and instructors through social media, email or by phone.

Doing so will help keep our spirits high and help us develop a level of accountability to our coursework.

Reward ourselves

Everyone deserves to reward themselves whenever they feel a sense of satisfaction and success within themselves. As we complete our coursework, it is important to take time to recognise our achievements, whether we have finished the assignments or performed the absolute best in an exam.

Enjoy our accomplishments and taking breaks will help us keep a positive attitude and stay motivated.

These are only a few simple and effective ways to help students, to keep motivated and stay on track throughout this online distance learning period.

Online distance learning (ODL) is certainly not something that can easily be adapted by everyone. As we know, every process has its steps, and through each step, we will encounter challenges. Our job is to find solutions.

Therefore, regardless being teachers or learners, they need to encourage themselves to this new way of learning and be confident. ODL has a lot of untapped potentials, thus it will impact us more in the future. As Donna J. Abernathy once said, “Online learning is not the next big thing, it is the new big thing.” ***

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