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Getting the most out of online study

Explore some of the differences between studying online and on campus

Studying online is different to studying on campus or in a school environment.

When you study online, you'll have a lot more freedom to choose when, where and how you study. You'll need to manage your time and create your study schedule. You'll also be responsible for staying in touch with your tutors and lecturers, since you won't be seeing them face-to-face.

You'll have the freedom to work from anywhere with an internet connection and access your classes, assessments and resources from anywhere that suits you.



Similarities between studying online and on campus

There are lots of similarities between campus-based learning and studying online.

During face-to-face and online studies, you should:

  • actively engage with your studies – take notes, participate in class discussions, read around your subject and spend time on your work and revision
  • plan a study schedule – use a study timetable to help you prepare for your classes, finish any relevant reading on time, arrange your time, work on your assignments and stick to your deadlines
  • take notes during your lectures whether they are live or recorded, so you can revise and revisit the lecture content
  • stay in touch with your personal tutor – they'll support you during your studies and should be the first person you speak to if you're concerned about anything
  • reach out to your lecturers – they'll help you with subject specific questions and assignments and can direct you to the latest lecture and seminar notes, reading lists, and relevant resources
  • develop your digital skills – even if you know how to use some software and devices, you'll improve your digital skills during your course
  • use an effective calendar – use a paper diary, digital calendar or wall chart to help you remember your assignment deadlines, exams, and other important dates
  • take responsibility for your learning and hold yourself accountable – use your study timetable and assignment deadlines to stay on top of your work and try your best to stick to it



Your study space

Studying online means you can work anywhere and take your notes with you.

This is great if you work well after a change of scenery or travel a lot – but having a designated study space at home means you can get going quickly, without having to set up your study materials.

Start by deciding where you'll work. Lots of students use desks but you can work at any surface with space for your laptop and notes – such as a table, on your bed or on the floor.

Working online means you have complete control over where you study, as long as you have an internet connection. Find out what works for you, and spend some time getting comfortable.

Figure out what you'll need to study and set up your work station. This may include your laptop, assignment brief, lecture notes, pens, headphones, highlighters, textbooks, and course handbook. Even if you aren't using them right now, they should be within reach so you don't have to interrupt your study session to get them.

It's useful to have a high-speed internet connection, a plug socket to charge your laptop or phone, and a space for a drink and some snacks. Gather any textbooks you need before you get started and install any software you need when you start your course.

Try to reduce distractions when you work – this may mean using headphones, facing away from your window, placing your phone out of reach, or blocking social media apps.



Digital tools and your personal learning environment

You'll use digital tools throughout your studies to research, create work, organise your notes, collaborate with others and more.

The tools you choose to build your personal learning environment will be unique to you and depend on your subject, how you learn, and what you need to do for your course.

Female University of Portsmouth student working in computer lab

Choosing your digital tools

You'll use digital tools to: 

  • write and complete your assignments
  • save, store and backup your work
  • access and use online course materials
  • record and revisit online resources
  • plan your studies
Build your learning environment and using digital tools for students



Online resources

As well as printed textbooks and resources that you can visit in your library or archives, you can use online resources like ebooks, journals, videos and documentaries.

Using online sources and digital textbooks makes them extremely portable – you can access them from your phone, tablet or laptop and pick up your studies anywhere you go.

The internet is full of useful sources. Outside of e-journals and academic research, you can find all kinds of sources online.

Don't be afraid to branch out when looking for digital sources, but do think carefully before you include a source in your assignments – it's easy for anyone to publish something online, so just being published doesn't make it true.

Ask yourself if the website you're using seems reputable and trustworthy, and check any information with other sources where you can.

During your course your university may also give you access to things like recorded lectures, university discussion forums and online lecture notes. Find out what virtual learning environment your university or education provider uses and spend some time learning how to use it at the start of your course.



Staying social and building relationships

Studying online gives you more control over your study timetable. That means you'll be responsible for your independent learning and need to hold yourself accountable – but it doesn't mean you need to work alone.

Getting to know other students on your course can help you feel supported during your studies. Create a study network with other people on your course to help each other. You can work together on assignments, share resources, topic discussions and notes, prepare for exams together, and ask for feedback on your work.

Depending on the type of course you study your lecturer may use interactive resources like discussion forums, quizzes and group calls to facilitate discussion between you and other members of your course.

Introduce yourself to others at the start of your studies and share the best ways for people to get in contact with you. If you're using a private discussion board or call you can share your university email, phone number or social media links.

Create a virtual study group and get the most out of working together by using:

  • group chats – get to know other people on your course and stay up to date with any classes you miss by reaching out to classmates; you can even use the chat during an online classes to share questions and clarify points together
  • social media groups – use Slack, Facebook, or Google Community to share relevant sources and study tips, discuss assignments, or collaborate on work
  • video calls – use free tools like Gmail, Facebook, Skype or Zoom for group video chats to discuss your lectures, analyse texts or catch up between classes
  • discussion forums – organise your discussions into comment threads on particular topics, texts or assessments, and hear others' opinions on your work



University support

You can access many University support services online, including academic and wellbeing support.

If you study with us you can access:

  • Your personal tutor, who can help you adjust to being a student, provide guidance and encouragement, and discuss your academic progress with you
  • Academic support from your lecturers and our Academic Skills Unit
  • Library staff, who can help you refine your research skills, access specific resources, and learn how to reference sources correctly in your work
  • Wellbeing support from the Student Wellbeing Service, Wellbeing Cafe and Students' Union Advice Service
  • IT and Technical Support via email, online chat or over the phone
  • Financial support and advice
  • Disability support

If you're experiencing issues that impact your studies, you should contact your personal tutor. They'll support you and direct you to other University services if necessary.



Staying motivated

Although the freedom to study independently and anywhere is great, you'll need to self-motivate more when you work alone than if you study in a group.

Stay motived while you study: 

  • Take regular breaks and reward yourself for good work
  • Make your study routine work for you   
  • Use study groups and chats to keep up with course mates
  • Use to-do lists and cross off items you've finished to see how much you've achieved

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