Top Canadian instructors offer their tips for making the most of remote learning

Until recently, taking advantage of technologies that allow students to learn new skills from the comfort of their home was simply an option. For the time being, however, it’s become a necessity.

Amid the spread of COVID-19 and social distancing measures in place across Canada, schools of every kind have had to quickly adapt their programs in whatever way they can to deliver them remotely.

It’s not simply the educational providers who have had to adapt, of course. Students who may have been taking courses part time on evening or on weekends are now having to juggle their careers at home and in some cases home-school their own children.

CourseCompare recently reached out to some of Canada’s top educational providers for their suggestions on how to ease this transition to remote learning and stay inspired during challenging times.

Set yourself up for success

“First, make sure your camera is on,” says Trevor Martin, senior manager of growth and a lead instructor at Brainstation. Many people doing their jobs remotely have had to switch from simple e-mail communications to team meetings using tools like Zoom and WebEx in order to see each other. Learning requires a similar sense of connection, Martin says. “It sounds trivial but just ensuring your camera is on really adds to the classroom environment, which in turn, keeps you more engaged and involved.”

John Hurley, global brand CX director at the Digital Marketing Institute, recommends starting the shift to remote learning with a “good housekeeping” approach to setting up your space and managing time.

Learning-from-home hours, like working from home don’t necessarily equal office hours,” he says. “Manage email time slots and communication to work colleagues and stakeholders to deadlines you are both happy with, especially your boss or client. This avoids losing focus while you learn.”

While most courses have clear learning objectives and expected outcomes, CareerFoundry’s director of product Megan Mulholland says students learning remotely may need to personalize what they’re hoping to achieve within a specific time frame.

“Set yourself goals, both short-term and long-term. These can be goals for the week, like, ‘I’ll finish the first two lessons of my course by Friday at 12,” and goals for the whole course,” she says. “There are lots of frameworks that can help, like SMART [Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timebound]. The key is to make them specific enough to be doable and measurable, and to have a specific timeframe for the goal.”

Learning remotely, much like all the other adjustments people have had to make recently, requires being more deliberate and intentional about self-care. Heather Payne, CEO at Juno College, says that begins with feeling rested and alert.

“Get a good night’s sleep. Everything is harder if you haven’t slept well,” she says. “I use a Whoop armband to track my sleep because it makes hitting sleep performance goals super tangible.”

Remote learners should still be active learners

Next, make sure you’re fully present. That not only means avoiding distractions (Payne says she turns her phone off and doesn’t turn it back on until a break), but treating remote learning as a participatory activity.

“Push yourself to ask questions. Even in physical classrooms, educators may not be able to notice if you’re having trouble with something, and that’s even truer online,” she says. “To stay motivated, make it a point to ask questions about the things that you’re not completely certain of; not only will it solidify learnings for you, it will also often provide a benefit to the entire class.”

Mulholland agrees.

“It’s easy to feel isolated when learning online since you don’t have other students around you. Make a habit of reaching out to others. If you can contact other students or your instructor, do so,” she says. “If not, try reaching out to friends or family.”

These relationships can go beyond simply keeping in touch or maintaining a sense of community, suggests Suzette McCanny, an instructor at Juno.

“Have ‘accountability buddies’ in your class and check in with them in the morning, tell them what you are working on that day,” she says. “It makes you say it out loud and think about it.”

Several educators pointed out the need for consistency, given that staying at home could easily lead to bad habits.

“It should go without saying, but a good way to stay motivated is to stay on top of the classwork,” Martin says. “If you start to fall behind, the course will be much more challenging to complete, making it even harder to stay motivated. To help this, try to do a bit every day to avoid marathon sessions of ‘catch-up.’”

When you’re not studying, Hurley recommends following social media accounts that reinforce positivity. This could include group chats, ‘aperi-videos’, virtual tours of exhibitions, group calls, fun memes and even digital book clubs.

“Act fast, be agile, learn from what happened here, and adapt to change,” he says. “This time will pass and we could have a completely different situation in a few weeks or a few months.”

Check out Canada’s top-rated online coding bootcamps to learn more about how you can learn in-demand digital skills remotely.