Office of Academic Support

Division of Student Life

Study Skills and Distance Learning Resources (Spring 2020)

The resources on this page are intended to help you develop study- and time-management strategies that will serve you in all your classes, regardless of the topic. In light of the shift to online courses in Spring 2020, we’ve also noted some specific strategies, set off by bullet points, that you may find helpful with regard to distance learning. You may also find this article from an HCC counselor to contain information and strategies useful to you as you study remotely. 

Right now, maybe more than ever, communication with your faculty is key! Don't hesitate to reach out with questions or concerns when they come up. We're all navigating these changes together and your faculty want to help. 

Individualized academic coaching also remains available through the spring semester!  Academic Support staff can help you develop a plan for implementing some or all of these suggestions, or just support you with check-ins and accountability. Check out our coaching page for more information!  

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All effective study skills are, ultimately, habits of working. Keep in mind that if you find any of the strategies below hard to adopt, that might be because it would represent a new habit for you. Habits take time and effort to build, but they can be built, and once you develop the habit it is likely to take much less effort to continue using it. Everyone works differently and has unique learning needs. Take the time to figure out what strategies work for you.
 
If you find yourself not able to stick to your strategies on any given day, acknowledge that fact, but treat yourself kindly and with forgiveness, and let go of any self-recrimination you might feel. Accept that developing new habits is challenging, and recommit to your plans for the next day. Above all, be patient with yourself.


 

Getting started and minimizing procrastination
 
Recent research has suggested that for some people, procrastination is a problem of emotional regulation; that is, we put off doing a task because we think it will make us feel bad, and we do something that makes us feel good immediately instead. However, the procrastination itself generates a negative feeling in the longer term.
 
If you’re inclined to procrastinate for that reason, try a brief mindfulness-based intervention: for 30 seconds, imagine how you will feel in the future if you have not already worked on the project. Will you actually feel better later? Then imagine how you will feel in the future if you have worked on it. Would you feel better if that was the case?
 
Other experiences of procrastination are related to difficulty getting started working. If this is your experience, challenge yourself to start working just for five or ten minutes. You may find that to be enough to jump-start your work process. Many students find the “Pomodoro method,” involving cycles of working for 25 minutes with a 5-minute break, very helpful in getting started and staying engaged with their work.

  • One Task: When working on an online course, avoid multitasking. Focus on one task at a time with your full attention. If you have many tasks you are working on at the same time, it takes a while for your brain to reorient, focus and tackle the work. The lag time in switching from one task to another can make it difficult to get into a flow state with your work. Research shows that switching tasks and the cognitive load may be relatively small, but can add up to a large amount of time lost - as much as 40 percent of someone’s productive time. 

 

Time Management
 
Developing a plan to manage your time is key to academic success. You may find that using a calendar (such as Google Calendar or a printable calendar page) to map out your work goals for each day, whether in broad strokes or hour-by-hour, is a good place to start. Consider whether you will find it more effective to be specific about what you will do in each period of working, or if you find it more useful to decide what you will work on at the time you sit down to work.

Check out these blank calendars you can download:

Some students find that calendaring does not work well for them, but making a daily to-do list does.
 
Regardless of the time management method you opt for, remember to make time for activities that are fun and relaxing; breaks from work are important not only to your work/life balance, but also help your mind absorb the information you have been studying.
  • Set an amount of time you would like to work - 15 to 30 minutes - and for every segment of time you work, take a short break - 1 to 3 minutes - to step away from your work. You may want to stretch, do a household chore, or check in with a friend or relative.
  • Take regular movement breaks, such as walking or stretching. Regular movement results in improved health and well-being.
  • The lack of a break may lead to decision fatigue, which is result of having to make too many decisions, and might lead to simplistic decision making and procrastination.
  • During a time that you're learning remotely, setting up a personal schedule to organize your time might help you develop structure for your day and stay motivated. You can adapt a template like the one below to your own needs (adapted from a University of Michigan guide under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (CC-BY 4.0, ©2020, Regents of the University of Michigan)):

    Image of a table with three columns and a row for each hour of the day. The columns are labeled "scheduled activity," "course tasks," and "personal/self-care" (from left to right). Examples of activities are in several cells: "shower, breakfast" appears in the row for 8 a.m. under the "personal/self-care" column, and "call in for remote lecture" appears in the row for 9 a.m. in the "scheduled activity" column.


 
Active Learning
 
Researchers have demonstrated that active learning strategies are more effective for retaining and absorbing new information. As you progress through your courses, consider building your study practice around strategies such as retrieval practice, elaboration, and dual coding. Spaced practice and interleaving different types of work have also been shown to contribute to effective learning.
 
A regular and full sleep schedule is also an essential active-learning strategy! Sleep helps your mind consolidate what it has learned in the day.
  • Distance learning can feel passive and less novel. Make learning active and engaging by using the following strategies to think creatively:
    • One-Minute Paper: Take a long reading or recorded lecture, break into smaller parts, and write out the main points in the information you read or heard. For additional challenge, you can write the information on index cards to keep your notes succinct. According to cognitive studies, using retrieval practices such as one-minute paper helps you remember the material. Even if you don’t remember everything, the frequency of use helps to recall more information - and makes the time studying more effective.
    • Concept Map: When reading or listening to a lecture, draw a concept map with the theme in the center and connecting ideas branching out from the theme. You can use small pictures or diagrams as part of your concept map. Research shows that dual-coding - using words and visuals together - aids memory, sparks connection and improves retention of material.
    • Self-Assess: As you read, create questions from the reading that you can ask yourself and see how well you can answer those questions. Challenge yourself to make your answers clear and brief. How would you explain the information to someone unfamiliar with the topic? Research shows that elaborating - asking yourself questions on what you are studying - is helpful in making connections between different ideas.

 
Breaking projects into steps
 
Breaking tasks down into individual steps can be helpful regardless of whether you are working on a 1-page paper, a research project, or preparing for a test.
 
For each task or project, make a list of all the steps you will need to take to complete the project; be as specific as possible: consider even steps that might feel “invisible” in your process, such as selecting which prompt you will respond to from a list of choices, to meeting with a librarian, or writing individual pages or paragraphs of a paper.
 
With the due date for the project in mind, identify a target date/time to complete each step you have identified.
 

 

Creating a study space and minimizing distractions
 
Consider the environment(s) that help you work best. Where and when do you find it easiest/most productive to read? To write? To work on your problem sets?
 
You will likely find that you do different types of work (reading, writing, research, etc.) more effectively in different locations and at different times of day. As you make your schedule for the week, consider these factors in planning when and where you will do the various tasks on your agenda.
 
If you find yourself distracted during an online class, you can try using various applications to reduce your ability to browse other webpages (see the list of resources below), turn off your phone and other electronics, disable your notifications, or use headphones to quiet ambient distractions.

Some students find it helpful to create an alternate user profile on their computer, which only has the documents and tools related to their courses or projects. 

  • Social Media: When taking an online class, step away from social media. Research on the effect of social media and its effect on academic performance shows that students on average spend thirty minutes to three hours on social media - and report that the use of social media negatively impacts their academic performance.
    • Take steps to separate yourself from social media - not forever, just a little while. Consider putting your phone on airplane mode.
  • HCC counseling staff have also offered some useful tips on creating an effective study space in the final 4 paragraphs of the linked article. 

 
Resources for Distraction-Free Online Work
 
Google Calendar (Android, iOS, Web)
Schedule blocks of time on your calendar for studying. Color-code different blocks of time a separate color designated for each class. Planning to have regular, smaller chunks of time for studying is better than one large block of time.

Google Tasks (Android, iOS)
Create a to-do before you begin studying that breaks down your studying time into smaller goals. This can make your studying more focused and goal-oriented. Google Tasks allows you to create tasks that repeat on a set schedule - use this feature to schedule topics to review for spaced repetition.

Quizlet (Android, iOS, Web)
Create flashcards that you can carry with you, practice and improve your memory through retrieval practice. Quizlet allows you to create digital flashcards that syncs with your phone, play games with your flashcards, and with the feature, Quizlet Learn, you can create a plan based on a deadline - with regular progress monitoring and reminders to study areas of weakness

Habitica (Android, iOS, Web)
Forming new habits can be difficult. Habitica is a tool that helps you to form habits with a gamified twist to motivate you to complete your tasks. Whether it is to practice a language, complete problem sets or practice self-care, by making completing our habits more fun makes us likely to be consistent with them.
 
Tide (Android, iOS, Chrome) and Forest (Android, iOS)
Timers can help us focus - however, they can be mundane and stressful. Tide and Forest are unique timers that use the pomodoro method - a period of work with a short break - and focuses your attention away from your phone. They come with music and white noise to help you tune in to your task and tune out distractions.
 
Mindful Browsing (Chrome)
This free Chrome extension allows you to identify sites that distract you, and enter a few words about what you’d rather do than visit it. Then, on future attempts to visit the site(s), Mindful Browsing will give you a gentle reminder of what you said you’d rather do than visit the site.
 
LeechBlock (Chrome, Firefox)
A free extension for Firefox and Chrome, which lets you specify which sites to block, when, and for how long. LeechBlock's also offers a timer feature, which allows you to access certain sites for set amounts of time per day.

Self-Control (macOS)
Self-Control is a free, open-source Mac app that lets users block (or allow) websites for set amounts of time. Users cannot end a timed session without rebooting their computers entirely.
 
Freedom.to (Chrome, Firefox, iOS, macOS, Opera, Windows)
This paid application will allow you to block you from accessing as many websites as you like (or all of them!), either entirely or for set times of the day. Freedom also has a Locked Mode, which prevents you from changing the settings in the middle of a session.