Online Learning Strategies

Everyone can be successful in a fully online learning environment! USAHS provides you with a rich, dynamic set of technologies and a learning management system that is your portal to learning, so that you have everything you need to effectively learn online.

We encourage you to take advantage of the multitude of resources available to you, including your faculty, the student services teams, your peers, and the varied and rich set of technologies and learning resources. Being a successful graduate student is all about being proactive and taking responsibility for your own learning experience. Begin thinking of yourself as an active professional member of your discipline, and this will help you start building the framework and day-to-day habits for what your successful professional practice will look like.

Below are some strategies to ensure that you are prepared to learn online. And, be sure to read the Advice from USAHS Peers below!

1. Ensure that your technology set-up is ready to go. 

Review our Technology Requirements, Recommendations, and Troubleshooting for full details. At minimum, you will need:

  • Access to a laptop or desktop computer

  • Broadband Internet access

  • Microphone and speakers (either built-in internal or external)

  • Webcam (either built-in internal or external)

If you have questions or concerns about your technology set up, please reach out to your Instructor and email:

2. Stay abreast of university updates and use Student Services Resources. 

Remember that Blackboard is the central portal for all things learning-related. However, be sure to stay abreast of news, changes, and potential impacts of the University’s COVID-19 response. For the most up to date information, visit the MyUSA Portal.

USAHS has many student services resources available. These resources are also available virtually. Be sure to visit the Student Services pages on the MyUSA portal (login required). This is where you will find comprehensive information about all the services available to you, contacts, forms, and links. 

3. Create a weekly learning schedule. 

Your courses will have a mix of “live” class times (synchronous learning), as well as “on-your -own-time work” (asynchronous learning). A simple strategy to stay organized and on top of your learning is to create a schedule each week for yourself that includes allotted time for activities such as Blackboard login, scheduled livestreaming or chat sessions, discussions, study sessions, assignments / learning activities, examinations, and other elements of your personal learning routine. Be sure to also factor in your personal commitments and give yourself some rest time, too!

Use a planner, your Outlook Calendar, or an app like myHomework, Todoist, Trello, Evernote, or OneNote to get organized. There are numerous applications available – paid and free – so, find a system that work for you and commit to it.

Also, you may want to try some creative study strategies, such as Quizlet, which is a free tool that many students use to create self-quizzes and study aids.

4. Designate a flexible study place and be camera-ready.

Designate a quiet, distraction-free learning space. Since you will be engaging online using audio and video, you will also want to ensure that you have a quiet space with an appropriate background. Dress properly and remember that even online, you are still a professional.

Regardless of where you choose to study, consider how distractions personally affect you. Some people aren’t at all bothered by noise or multi-tasking. However, if you lose focus every time your cell phone dings, or a Facebook notification pops up and it’s hard to resist the temptation to check, you might consider trying a website blocker like Cold Turkey or Freedom. Applications like these can help eliminate distractions by blocking the apps or websites that tend to compete for your attention, such as Facebook and Twitter.

Only you know what space works best for you, so pick a space that is distraction-free, but also boosts your mood and productivity. Also, keep in mind that in some courses, you will be recording yourself performing certain lab skills, so you’ll want to think creatively about how to construct settings with good lighting, minimal noise, and suitable viewing angles for your faculty and peers.   

Practice with yourself or your peers! You can download a free Zoom account, and use it to practice and perfect your audio/video setup. For example, you could launch a meeting with only yourself present and rehearse on your own, or invite a friend or peer to do run-throughs with you.

5. Be honest with yourself, reflect and self-adjust.

Be sure to check in with yourself periodically. Reflect on what is working well for you, where you are challenged, and how you can adjust. For example, ask yourself questions such as: Am I underestimating how much time I need for certain activities? Am I procrastinating? In what aspects of online learning am I the most/least confident? What study strategies have worked best for me in the past? Where can I make adjustments in my daily routine?

VARK.pngUnderstanding your learning style can also be helpful. There are many free learning style inventories online that can help you discover what kind of learner you are, and this will help you take actions in your study plan that work the best for you. One such inventory is the VARK Guide to Learning Preferences. After taking a brief online assessment, you are provided guidance as to whether your learning preference are visual, oral, read/write, or kinesthetic (or a combination). There are free guides at the end of your assessment with strategies and tips for how to apply this knowledge to your daily life and learning plan, or you can purchase additional information and reports. It is important to remember that "learning style" or "learning preference" inventories are only some aids and tools in your arsenal of learning success strategies. And, your learning style and preference can change over time.  

You may want to keep a learning journal to jot down the strategies that work best for you. Honest self-reflection and self-regulation of learning can go a long way in you not only be successful online, but to feel confident and enjoy the experience.

6. Engage, participate and collaborate online. 

If you aren’t already part of a study group, this is a great time to organize, lead, or join one. Your peers are a valuable resource when preparing for exams, practicing or reflecting on lab exercises, and sharing feedback on assignments. Build relationships with other students by introducing yourself, engaging in discussion boards, and joining social media platforms if you are comfortable.

Within individual courses, your faculty may assign groups using the Blackboard Group tool, which will allow you to have a private group file sharing and communication space specific to the course. However, it may also be useful to create a study network across multiple courses. USAHS Student Facebook Pages may be a good place to connect, and you can reach out to your Advisors for information about these pages if you are not already part of one.

Tools that you can use to facilitate groupwork and communication outside of Blackboard include:

  • Google Docs is a free, easy to use suite of tools for communication and collaboration.

  • Microsoft OneDrive and Microsoft Teams are free for you as a USAHS student and come as part of the Microsoft Office Suite. This includes a robust suite of tools for communication and collaboration. Visit the USAHS Tech Support site for information about how to download your Microsoft Office Suite.

  • Use your use email to sign up for a free 40-minute Zoom account, which is a very popular and easy to use videoconferencing platform.

7. Remember the library is open! 

Access thousands of eBooks, journals, and streaming videos available through the library website: Librarians are available to help you via email or chat.

8. Connect often.

For fully online courses, all instruction, including lectures, labs, interactions, and assessments will be delivered online through Blackboard, which will be your main portal to learning. Be sure that you login to Blackboard frequently, and use it as your main portal to your courses. 

Be sure to communicate often with your faculty and ask for help when you need it. Faculty typically are available for virtual office hours. Check your syllabus for details. If you feel as though you are falling behind, reach out early. Your faculty are here to support and help you, but you have to be proactive and ask for help when you need it.

Be sure to participate in your courses’ discussion forums to reflect, engage, and discuss course concepts and stay connected with your peers. Comment on your peers’ posts, ask questions, participate fully in discussion opportunities, and create learning connections. The flexibility of discussion forums means that you can check in often and contribute frequently to keep interactions going.   

Advice from USAHS Peers!

We are collecting advice and tips from USAHS students for how to stay connected and learn online. If you have a tip or advice to contribute, email it to Dr. Maria Puzziferro, Dean of Teaching, Learning and Innovation.

“Take time to do everything you would normally do. Exercise, play with your pets watch Netflix etc. It’s easy to spend a whole day at home and not get any schoolwork done. Make coffee, study for 45 mins, take a break and then get back to it. Set daily goals and find your rhythm.” 

“I like to view the lectures first making sure that I take my time and write down what the lecturer is saying (sometimes rewinding several times) then I go into the book which most times gives me more info on the subject. I develop quizlets in form of questions to challenge if I understand the concepts.” 

“Review your notes and the videos as many times as you can, make sure to actually understand the content and if you need more info, YOU have to look for it or ask a classmate or professor: a lot of times I watch lectures and realize I still have to go back to it and review it.” 

“COMMUNICATE with classmates! They might understand something better than you or you can help them as well. You may have missed something on the video lecture so it’s good to talk to your classmates about it!” 

“…discover what kind of learner you are (social or independent), how you learn best (tactile, auditory, visual), if you find yourself a social learner, partner up with someone who is similar and two pairs who learn differently, but are also social learners and get on Blackboard Collaborate/Zoom/Facebook Messenger/etc. if you are an independent learner, read and do your thing, but try and stay connected.” 

“BE ONLINE AS IF YOU ARE IN CLASS. Set apart time where you are online/ reading/ as if you are in lecture. I wouldn’t be on Instagram/ Tik Tok/ Twitter/ YouTube during lecture, so why would I do it when I am supposed to be online and studying.” 

“FIND THE INTERVAL OF STUDY TIME/ KNOWLEDGE ACQUISITION THAT WORKS BEST. This one is one that I am very stringent with. I have found that I can spend at most 20 minutes of quality studying, before mental distraction. Afterwards I need a 3-5 minute break. I repeat this cycle for my online study / reading time. Similar to exercise, you can workout for hours, but the intensity/ movement quality, and subsequent adaptation, goes through the floor. Similarly, with mental activity.” 

“I am a 4th term DPT-flex student, and one crucial advice I have for my classmates is to dedicate a study space because it can be very distracting when you're comfortable at home (Starbucks was my go-to). Headphones would be the next best option.” 

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