The online learning experience has unique benefits as compared to a “traditional” classroom education including greater flexibility, focus, and independence. With these unique benefits also comes unique stressors. In addition to the information we provided on the general graduate student page, here are a few potential challenges and helpful information on how to manage them:
It can be difficult to manage your time without having frequent in-person contact from professors and other students. Distance learning can allow you greater flexibility with pacing yourself, but also can require greater responsibility in creating and following through with a work/study plan. With these challenges comes new opportunity to gain a sense of autonomy, mastery, and independence in your ability to plan and adhere to a work schedule that best suits your needs and helps you to accomplish your goals. Here are some suggestions for how to work towards the task of best managing your time.
- Come up with a study/work plan after you receive your syllabus. Ask yourself, is this a specific plan that I can realistically adhere to? Do I have clear times allotted throughout the week to study/work? Is there enough flexibility in my plan to allow for reasonable shifts in the plan in case I fall behind and/or something unexpected comes up?
- Reward yourself for adhering to the plan! Share your success with others or let yourself have a “treat” at the end of the week or day if you stick with your plan.
- If you fall behind, don’t beat yourself up because that can make it harder for you to get back on track. Be kind to yourself and focus on what you can do now as opposed to what you “should” have done in the past.
Staying on task in an online learning environment can be tricky. Getting yourself to your desk to start the class or staying on task once you are online can be a challenge. Here are some suggestions to help you manage distractions and stay focused.
- Log out of Facebook, Instagram, twitter, or other social media outlets. Also, turn off your phone to prevent yourself from checking these sites while on the computer.
- Play soothing music. Studies have found that playing lower level calming music while you work can have a beneficial impact on concentration.
- Take regular short breaks. We recommend a 5-10 minute break every hour to help with productivity. It is most helpful to step away from your computer and move around to feel refreshed when you get back to your computer.
- Stay hydrated and comfortable. It will be difficult to work if you are uncomfortable so try to plan ahead and make sure you have water on hand. Feel free to do some jumping jacks or stretch if you are having a hard time staying focused.
- Change locations if possible. Having a monotonous routine can make you dread getting up in the morning to do exactly what you did yesterday. If you are feeling stagnate, mix it up and find a new designated work zone separate from your relaxing space if possible!
- Tell family and friends. Make sure you have a quiet space to work and that your family and friends know not to distract you.
Sometimes technology can be frustrating as glitches and problems can occur.
- Remember to remain patient while troubleshooting. You will be more likely to be successful if you can remain relatively calm.
- If possible, test out your technology in advance. This will reduce the chances that you encounter difficulties in “live time” and will help to minimize your level of stress.
- Contact Loyola’s Department of Technology Services (410-617-5555) to see if they can assist in remediating your difficulties.
Less Face-to-Face Interactions
Although you will still get to meet other students/instructors in an online setting, you will likely have less in person day-to-day interactions with others. This is an adjustment, and you may have to put a different sort of effort forth into establishing and feeling connected to a network of colleagues. Here are some suggestions for how to get and stay connected to your community.
- Utilize the opportunity to engage in online communication with students and teachers. Remember, every interaction may lead to a greater connection so stay engaged in the process of learning from others.
- Ask questions. Not only does this help you to stay alert and engaged, it will increase the likelihood that you make useful connections to students and instructors.
- Consider starting an in-person study group with other students who are located nearby.
- If you notice that you are feeling generally disconnected, make plans with colleagues or friends that you already know. The happier you are, the more likely you are to be focused and feel ready to take on new challenges.
Efforts and Rewards
You may find that there is less opportunity to share your successes with fellow students and instructors. Here are some suggestions for how to create opportunities for positive feedback.
- Make sure to share your successes with friends and family. Don’t be bashful – it feels good to get some reinforcement for your efforts and successes! Also, research shows that this may help you to stay motivated.
- Reward yourself for BOTH your accomplishments AND your efforts. If you have engaged in the learning process in a meaningful way, you are learning how to learn and that is a transferable skill worth celebrating. Think about your rewards ahead of time and be mindful of what is specifically rewarding to you.
It is important to remember that it is normal to encounter some stress and challenges in your educational experience as with most other experiences in life. We hope this information and the following resources will help you to better navigate and grow from any challenges you might encounter.
- REACT is an online, interactive program about how to help yourself or someone you care about cope in healthy ways after a distressing life event (such as a trauma, assault, or loss).
- RELAX Online provides guided relaxation videos featuring soothing visuals and music, narrated by Counseling Center staff.
- Counseling Pamphlets – This site is maintained by the University of Chicago Counseling Center. It provides information on a broad array of psychological and emotional topics.
In addition, the Counseling Center, common located on the Evergreen Campus, offers to full-time graduate students free, confidential, short-term individual counseling. Full-time and part-time graduate students are also eligible for therapy groups, in addition some referral and online services. If you are not local or wish to locate counseling resources on your own, here are some helpful suggestions:
- Check with trusted friends or family members. They may be able to offer suggestions for therapists they have worked with. Such recommendations may lead directly to a good therapist for you or to someone from whom you could obtain additional referrals.
- Ask your primary care/family doctor. He or she may be able to offer local referral options.
- Contact your insurance company. A customer service representative can provide referral options either by phone or website. Contact information is located on the back of your card.
- Contact colleges/universities local to you. Often college/university counseling centers, like Loyola, maintain a list of local mental health providers who have experience working with both undergraduate and graduate students.
- Review the following external websites:
- Psychology Today
- Find a Social Worker
- Psychologist Locator
While these resources are helpful, it is important to verify information obtained via the web or other referral sources, such as accepted insurance plans and fees, with therapists before deciding to begin services.
For more information or assistance, please contact the Counseling Center at 410-617-CARE (2273). We wish you much success!