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Online learning and working from home – the new normal

29 April 2020

Image of person writing in a notebook

In these unprecedented times, we are all adapting to a new type of normal, including working from home, with all the additional challenges that can bring. Interruptions from family, IT issues and anxiety about the situation and our loved ones can all have an effect on our productivity and motivation.  Amongst all these, many of us are also continuing to learn and train alongside work and home commitments.

At the CPD Unit, we’re working hard with colleagues to adapt and create virtual content, converting face-to-face teaching to online, or by creating new webinar and video content. Some examples of work we’re doing in this area include a Structural Geology online programme, a new Discovering Muslims in Britain online course, and adapting an international programme on Leadership Development into virtually taught content.  Cardiff also already offers its hugely successful online Dermoscopy course.

Taking time out during this period to update our skills can be a really positive outcome of such an extreme and unexpected time of change. However, we recognise that it’s also a completely different skill set, and one that can be hard to get to grips with.

We’ve worked with the Centre for Education Support and Innovation (CESI) to bring you our top tips for effective online learning at home, and how to adapt to this new ‘normal’.

We are also working on a free Virtual Summer School – look out for more information on our suite of webinars and other online content, coming soon!

Top tips

Organisational skills

1. Stay organised

A benefit of online learning is flexibility, but this also creates its own challenges. Procrastination and losing track of deadlines can easily occur. We often de-prioritise our learner goals in the face of other demands – be it family, work commitments or distractions around the home.

To help you stay organised and on track, find ways to structure and optimise your time for when you know you learn best. This might mean waking up an hour earlier than usual (eg before children are awake) in order to complete reading and video lectures.

Keep a calendar of tasks and deadlines. Start with your course materials and notes in one place so that you use your time for learning rather than searching for references.

Digital champion tips

  • Make sure that you know which communication channels will be used to contact you, and how you can contact your trainer
  • Check you know what online resources are available and that you have everything you need close at hand before you start
  • Stay organised and create a schedule (more on this below!)
  • Be kind to yourself – set reasonable goals.
Schedule image

2. Create a schedule

Putting together a schedule can provide structure to your days and help keep you motivated. Your weekly routine will have changed, so creating a daily and/or weekly schedule (including time focussed on maintaining your health and wellbeing) will help.

There are numerous free apps available to help you schedule your time and prioritise effectively. Trello is a great option if you want to share your to-do list with others – and it’s highly visual (and motivating!) as you move a task from ‘to do’ to ‘ongoing’ to ‘complete’.

The Pomodoro method of time management is very popular, and breaks tasks down into manageable chunks of time. Created by Francesco Cirillo in the 1990s, the Pomodoro method emphasises timing your work and taking breaks – the concept is that in order to focus on a specific task, you should work in 25-minute intervals, during which you concentrate on just one thing. Between each interval, you have a break of 5 minutes, increasing to longer breaks once you have achieved four 25-minute intervals.

Digital champion tips

  • Make sure that your schedule involves regular breaks and non-online activities; try not to ‘binge learn’ - pace yourself
  • Set targets for the day, add tasks and due dates to your online calendar
  • Make sure you add your work and home obligations (such as shopping, child-care and other responsibilities – and free time!) so that your study schedule is realistic
  • Look into the Pomodoro technique for time management and consider downloading a free app to help you schedule and plan your time
  • Ensure you have all the login details, necessary accounts set up and applications installed prior to your course starting.
Working from home image

3. Create a space for learning

Try to create a space or setup at home that’s comfortable and helps you to focus on your study. If this is unfamiliar territory, think about the type of environment you usually work well in and try to recreate it.

This is also incredibly useful for working from home. Whilst there will certainly be times that you’re settled on the sofa under a blanket while you work, it is useful to keep your work life, and home life separate where possible. Carving out a physical space in your home will help.

Digital champion tips

  • If you can, keep your study space separate to your personal space to avoid distractions
  • Be kind to yourself - learning at home will involve added distractions from family and general life situations!
Student with laptop on table

4. Learning from video

Getting the most out of learning from video will take a little effort, especially when you’re required to watch longer videos. One technique to consider is to watch short chunks without taking notes and then pause the video and write down everything you remember. This may seem hard at first but it’s this effort that helps draw out what you’ve learnt and areas you might need to revisit.

Digital champion tips

  • Write a brief summary every few minutes
  • Consider downloading slides where possible, and make notes
  • If the lectures are live, try to participate, minimise the amount of notes you take and pay attention. Lectures can always be re-watched in order to take notes.
Video learning and working

5. Stay engaged and participate online

In this rapidly changing world of remote learning and working we are having to adapt quickly to adopt new behaviours and etiquette, and learn how to collaborate with others when we’re socially distant from one another.

Connecting with trainers and fellow delegates can improve your learning experience. Opportunities to engage with trainers and your fellow delegates will be different when you’re learning remotely but there are ways that you can keep in touch and engaged. Before you start a course, find out how you can interact - this could be through discussion boards, virtual office hours, email or via other methods.

Consider that everyone is adapting to new conditions in challenging times and that people respond in different ways. Use the channels provided by your trainer to keep in touch, and try to participate in live lectures, as you would in face to face situations.

This is also helpful to consider in relation to working remotely. As we all adjust to a new way of working, we need to find an alternative means of communication and learn a new set of skills. Video conferencing is an excellent method to encourage team engagement, and allows us to pick up on subtle cues in body language and tone, which are missing from other forms of remote communication.

Consider implementing new personal communication ‘norms’ that allow you to work around other commitments. For example, add a line to your email signature if you’re working different hours whilst you’re at home. Be mindful that others will also have restrictions and challenges that they’re working through.

Digital champion tips

  • Where possible, keep in touch with other delegates on your course
  • Make sure you understand what new online participation activities are expected of you
  • It is good practice to participate in live lectures
  • Look for private groups outside the learning management system, for example on LinkedIn, this will promote collaborative learning and reduce the sense of isolation.
Wellbeing image

6. Wellbeing

During times of stress, it’s important to remember to keep an eye on your mental health and wellbeing. Take regular breaks, incorporate health routines into your daily and weekly schedule, and get out into the sunshine where possible. Take walks, run, cycle, or make use of the huge variety of free YouTube videos, blogs and tutorials offering ideas such as home workouts, yoga sessions and hiit classes.

Take a break from social media and news if it’s triggering anxiety, and limit yourself to obtaining information from a few trusted sources.

Try to keep to your daily routines, or create new ones. Plan ahead – creating your schedule and being realistic about your expectations will help to avoid stress.

Be kind to yourself – try to learn and study in bite-size chunks rather than setting your expectations too high.

Finally, reach out to someone if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Useful sources include the NHS’s Every Mind Matters campaign and their general advice/guidance on mental health.

Digital champion tips

  • Create healthy routines
  • Take regular breaks
  • Get adequate sleep
  • Plan ahead to avoid stress
  • Keep an eye on your mental health
  • Healthy eating
  • Reach out if you are struggling.

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