Transitioning to Online Learning

You may be new to studying online or haven't studied for quite some time due to work or life commitments. No matter your study experience, we're here to guide you through your online journey.   

At UNSW Online, we use an intensive calendar where you study one course at a time over a 7-week period (plus an orientation week).

It’s a very focused mode of study that lets you dive deep into the subject matter, and you should expect to spend approximately 25 hours per week on your studies. This means you can balance your studies while continuing to work full-time and graduate with a Masters degree in as little as 2 years.  

As you transition to online study, it’s important that you understand how it differs from studying on-campus, and what you need to do. Read through our tips to help ensure that you continue to succeed in your studies. 

Prepare your home and work life

Make a personal commitment

Studying online can be challenging, especially if this is your first time and you are balancing work, life, and study commitments.

You might occasionally be tempted to cut corners, or stop altogether. To help you stay focused, it's important to keep in mind why you enrolled and what you want to achieve - write this down and display it in a prominent place as an ongoing reminder. 

Set up your study space

Lying on the couch with your laptop while watching Netflix isn’t a great way to study (as tempting as this might be!).

Just as you would attend lectures on campus, you need a dedicated space to go to at home. Going to this space signals to you and others in your home that you're in study mode. You don't need an entire office, but you do need a space that is comfortable, well equipped, and free from distraction. This gives you the best chance of properly engaging with your studies. 

Importantly, make sure you pay attention to ergonomics. The kitchen bench might work in the short term, but it could eventually affect your posture, leading to discomfort, injury and a lack of productivity. 

Set up your equipment

You will need some essential equipment: a fast and reliable computer and internet connection, the latest version of a modern browser (e.g. Chrome or Firefox), a webcam, a reliable way to store your files (either on your computer with regular back ups, or in the cloud e.g. Dropbox), and any specific software that your courses might require.

Make sure that you can access Moodle, your UNSW email, and any other UNSW e-learning applications that you might need. For help, you can contact IT and check out their support tips

Studying well 

Dedicate time

Your studies will take a significant amount of time, and many online students say that time management is one of their biggest challenges.

You should expect to spend at least 20 hours a week on your studies. Set aside blocks each week to dedicate to your study. Use a calendar or a study planner, and highlight important dates, especially assessment due dates.

Allocate time in your calendar for:

  • reading
  • making notes
  • having online discussions
  • preparing assessments (and remember to allocate breaks!).

If you're working, check whether you're eligible for study leave.

Here are some more time management tips to help you along the way. 

Make a daily to-do list

Research suggests that crossing things off a list is motivating.

Make a list of what you plan to achieve each day and cross them off as you complete them. Do the most important things first, when your energy levels are at their peak. The satisfaction of completing these tasks can motivate you for the rest of the day!

Be persistent

It's been said that success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. Persistence will be your key to succeeding with online study.

If you can be resilient, tolerate minor technical problems, seek help when you need it, and persist through challenges, then you'll succeed with online study. You will be demonstrating the attributes of a UNSW graduate that are so highly valued by industry and the professions. 

Stay connected

It's important to stay connected while you study.

Your Program Hub is an excellent way to chat with your peers and discuss topics of interest. You can also organise your own discussion sessions or study groups, using Facebook, WhatsApp, Discord or whatever method suits your group.  

Set up your support network 

It helps to have a support network, such as your friends and family.

Talk to the people in your life about your commitment to your studies and ask for their support. Share your study plan with them so that they can help you stick to it. Your fellow students can also be a good source of support, so connect with them once you start studying. If you're working, check whether your employer can provide a workplace mentor. 

Recognise your learning style  

We all study and learn differently. Successful students are those who recognise and capitalise on this understanding.

If you prefer to listen to information rather than read it, use a text-to-read function in MS Word to listen to your written material. Similarly, when writing assignments, you may like to use the dictation function rather than physically typing. If talking about your course content helps your understanding (and much research suggests it will), FaceTime a fellow student to discuss your thinking.

Even though your material may be presented to you in digital format, consider making handwritten notes as there is evidence to suggest that the physical act of writing notes assists understanding and recall. 

Beware: the multitasking myth 

Despite what we hear and tell ourselves, multitasking is not possible for more than the most basic of tasks.

Complicated tasks, such as watching an online lecture or writing an essay, cannot be done properly while doing something else. At best, we can just switch from one to the other and the effort required to do that drains our energy and concentration, and we end up doing both less well.

These problems can be avoided by: 

  1. Having a work schedule 

  1. Removing all distractions 

  1. Turning off notifications 

  1. Working in short, concentrated bursts 

  1. Taking breaks to maintain energy.

Communicating well 

Write carefully and take care with context

A lot of the communication in an online environment is text-based - you will be writing a lot.

Think carefully before you post anything. Make sure that your words are clear, and that the style is appropriate for your audience and purpose (what's appropriate in a student chat room is very different from what's appropriate in an assessable discussion forum). 

Text-based communication lacks the visual cues that we rely on in face-to-face communication, and your words might easily be misinterpreted, so be careful. Things that seem hilarious when spoken can fall flat when written.  

Maintain a calm demeanour

Treat everyone with courtesy and respect and don’t be tempted to say anything when you are angry or frustrated.

A good rule of thumb is if you wouldn’t say in in person, don’t write it. And if you wouldn’t want to see it published on the front page, definitely don’t write it.

Refer to the Student Code of Conduct for more information. 

Be a responsible live-streamer

When you're not talking, mute your microphone.

When you’re talking, make sure to unmute!

Keep your background noise to a minimum. Be aware of what people can see in your background. While your cat climbing across your screen might be funny at first, it will quickly become a distraction and annoying to your group.

Be aware of things in your background that might be private and will be visible to others when your web camera is on. Some online meeting applications allow you to blur your background - this is a great feature.

Don't be shy to ask for help (more than usual!)

Written communication lacks visual cues, so your lecturer might not know when you're confused, if they haven’t explained something clearly enough, or if you need help.

You’ll need to be far more proactive than usual in asking for help. It might feel awkward to talk with your convenors in this way (and it might be awkward for some of them too!), but don't be shy about using the Moodle tools to communicate.

Maintaining academic integrity  

UNSW expects you to display the same high standards of academic integrity no matter what mode of study you are in; always working responsibly, with honesty and fairness. It's important to understand the UNSW standards and expectations around academic integrity

Since you'll be spending more time online, you might be exposed to more opportunities to cheat. Don't be tempted - UNSW will be monitoring just as diligently, and the same penalties will apply. If you need help with your assessments, don’t forget you can reach out to your teaching team. Make sure you understand the difference between collaboration, which we encourage, and collusion, which is cheating. 

If you need a refresher on the dos and don'ts of plagiarism, collusion, contract cheating, etc., complete the Working with Academic Integrity online module – this is an excellent resource to help you understand how to maintain academic integrity. 

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