Taking in the view along the seawall
September 24, 2020
4 mins read

(Ana)log some offline time while learning online

Navigating Online Learning

However you feel about it, the Internet is a remarkable thing.

Maybe it’s the Luddite in me, but it’s staggering to consider how quickly we’ve been able to transition our society online—it happened pretty much entirely within our parents’ lifetimes

The Internet has allowed us to stay connected, informed, and entertained throughout the COVID-19 outbreak in a way that’s unparalleled in human history (perhaps not alien history, but that’s a question for another day). 

In many aspects, it’s cool that students all over the world can keep learning online while university campuses are closed. There’s no replacement for the experience of being on campus, but if the outbreak had happened even 10 years ago, it would have been a lot harder to keep classes going.

Okay, so technology and the Internet are amazing. What happens when it all starts to feel exhausting?

Fighting screen fatigue

I don’t know about you, but I feel gross after spending an entire day staring at my phone or my computer screen. There’s something about the way a screen can totally absorb me that makes me lose all sense of the actual physical world. When I finally do tear myself away, I sometimes feel disconnected from reality, even if I was just chatting with a friend. 

This might be less of a problem when you’re going to campus every day, walking from class to class, engaging in labs and discussions, and participating in clubs and intramurals. As I’ve been home the past several months, however, I’ve realized that I’m spending upwards of 12 hours a day on my phone or computer when work, FaceTime, and Netflix are all accounted for. This leaves me feeling loopy at the end of the day.

When all your classes are online, you have no choice but to spend a considerable amount of time on the computer. Learning online won’t make the core subject matter of your courses any less interesting, but it’s okay if you find yourself getting tired of watching lectures and completing assignments online. 

Listen to your body, and make sure you take breaks when you need to. Going for a walk can be a great way to memorize terms, or just to give your eyes a rest and enjoy the sights when the weather’s nice. I even find a quick 10-minute nap can help me feel refreshed, and gives my brain a bit of a break to process all the information we take in when we’re online! 

Illustration of shut eyes

Though you have to be online for class, your free time is still yours. Consider putting greater emphasis on spending your free time offline—if you’re anything like me, you’ll find that dedicating even a couple hours a day to being screen-free will help you relax and feel more grounded.

Take the time to go all out and cook a big dinner (it doesn’t have to be expensive), journal by hand instead of on your computer, or go for a walk and listen to an audiobook instead of watching a movie. You could even try substituting TikTok and YouTube with a comic or graphic novel if you need something visual! 

Missing the on-campus experience

Being online so much has made me really miss physical experiences, even the mundane ones. If you had asked me in 2019 whether I would ever miss squeezing onto a packed bus, I would have laughed. 

This includes everything that comes with going to classes in person. Many small rituals we have in classrooms and libraries remind us it’s time to learn. Maybe it’s settling into your favourite seat in a lecture hall, grabbing a coffee with your study buddy before hunkering down at the library, or walking from the bus loop to class.

It’s not going to be the same as actually being on campus, but here are 5 tricks that might help you get a sense of that physical routine we’re all missing:

1. Stay aware of your sleep schedule

I remember waking up 20 minutes before my classes when I lived in residence in first year and feeling like a zombie—now it’s worse, because I can wake up at 8:55 and start “working” at 9:00.

It’s important to keep a regular sleep schedule so you’re refreshed and energized for class, even if it’s online. I’ve started walking to my usual bus stop and back in the morning to trick myself into thinking I’m actually going somewhere. It might feel silly at first, but taking some extra time in the morning makes my whole day more purposeful. 

2. Video call a friend while you’re both studying

Prop up your phone so you and your friend can see each other and pretend you’re at the library together.

3. Consider printing out your notes and readings

If you can, trying switching up your study location too. Even going to your local park with your readings can help put you in a different mindset, and you can imagine you’re hanging out on the Knoll.

Notes in the grass
4. Write assignments or notes by hand, if you can

This might sound small, but writing your notes by hand (rather than on a computer), or printing out and doing assignments with a pen or pencil can help to ground you.

5. Recreate a library atmosphere

If the Koerner Library stacks are where you do your best work, try to bring that vibe into your home. Put your belongings in a backpack and set them by your desk or kitchen table, stack some old books next to you, and put on some ambient library sounds to make it feel like your productivity zone

Stack of books

Though the technology at our fingertips is incredible, it’s understandable that you might get frustrated by online learning sometimes. Remember to take a break from the screen when you need it, and recreate those sensory moments that make learning on campus so special where you can.

Be patient with yourself and your courses—you’re capable of rising to the challenge.