A student’s perspective – tips & tricks for adapting to remote learning

Hello, my name is Dennis Drewnik, a student in the Faculty of Science and I wanted to share my experience with transitioning to remote learning this past semester. As we all know, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Winter 2020 term was unexpectedly shifted to online learning, which brought forth its own set of challenges for students. When classes were initially cancelled to organize online learning, I thought nothing of it and actually enjoyed the little pause in my workload. But when President Bernard addressed students directly regarding the changes, I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy transition. In the past I have taken some online distance education (DE) courses, but I knew this transition would bring different challenges. From my perspective, here are some tips & tricks for adapting to remote learning.


Create a Study Plan

Within the first week of moving online, I quickly made a study schedule for myself. I calculated how many days were left before my exams and made note of any additional assignment deadlines. Then I looked at all my course material and split up what lectures I would review on each specific day leading up to my final exams. That way, I have enough time to cover all the material more than once over. This is always a great strategy whether classes are online or held in lecture. Trust me, the worst feeling is knowing you’re capable of doing well in a course but running out of study time and having to cram tons of information in before the final – it never works well.


Stick to the Plan – Stan!

Setting aside time to make a schedule is incredibly important, but the challenging part is following your own plan. My ideal location to study would be at the university; a conducive learning atmosphere, quiet study spaces, and study groups to help you focus, but due to COVID-19 those comforting university aids quickly disappeared. I had no choice but to study at home, with all the distractions you could possibly imagine. I’m not going to lie, the initial adjustment period was rough, I was behind on my study plan and I needed to quickly change something in my daily routine to prevent this semester from going downhill.

Create a study space

I first changed my study space – it was easier for me to stay focused when I physically separated my studying location from areas of my house that I relaxed in. Even though your bed is comfy, it probably isn’t the best place to get work done. I’d recommend studying at a desk, or at the kitchen table. However, separating spaces can only do so much if you decide to bring distractions in with you. My phone, along with social media in general, always distracts me when I’m studying, whether it be at home or at the university. To prevent distraction, I put my phone in another room, and treated social media as a reward: for every lecture I finished I’d spend 5 to 10 minutes on my phone. This does take discipline, but it gets easier the more you do it. Another large distraction are pets – how can I resist playing with a loving dog who comes to me with play toys. Pets are great company, especially during these times of social isolation, but sometimes, I had to learn to lock my door, and wait to play with them after I was finished.


Make it a routine

Eventually, studying and building a flexible routine became easier as the days went on, and starting early helped me find a routine that worked for me. I quickly learned I was most productive in the mornings and in the evenings; that I would focus better after a 5 P.M. nap and tend to some of my other life responsibilities mid-day. Everyone is going to be different, just make sure to adjust your study schedule according to your work life, volunteer life, family life, and most importantly your mental and physical health.


Take Breaks

There was one other key to my success this past Winter 2020 term, I remembered to take breaks. Now, that doesn’t mean I spent half the day being lazy, but I cleared my mind frequently by going outside and enjoying the fresh air (seriously, it’s like a reset button – more so than a quick kick of caffeine in my opinion). Spending time with family, and virtually with other friends, also made it easier to stay mentally well before and after long study sessions. Just because we are socially distancing does not mean we have to be isolated.

I hope these tips and tricks of mine are helpful to you for semesters to come, as it seems likely that remote learning will continue through the Fall 2020 term. Don’t be afraid of trying new study methods if old ones are no longer working for you. That is the primary reason why there were changes to the UM grading policy, so that we can experiment and adapt with a “safety net”. Stay positive and reach out to the many UM services if you are struggling with remote learning. We are here for you!

Dennis Drewnik, 4th year Biological Sciences Honours



May 26, 2020