Learning Strategies

The words "Learning Online" in white text on a navy blue background

The Academic Resource Center has published a Learning Online guide for students, with suggestions about time management, motivation, and staying active. Get started there!

A few more suggestions:

  • Learning remotely requires time management and dedicated time and space. Some classes will meet synchronously and others will not. For those that do, note down the time slot considering your current time zone. For others, set your own time slot that is at least equal to time in class. In addition, make time for homework and other course assignments.
  • Check in with your instructors. If you do not hear from a faculty member or have any questions about class meetings or assignments, reach out to them. In addition, keep your faculty members in the loop about any situations that limit your ability to participate in class or complete assignments.
  • Treat your online classes like any other classes. That includes setting aside time free from distractions (including unnecessary open tabs in your web browser) to participate in class and complete assignments, and having a dedicated work space. Note that this may require communicating with other household members about what you need to be successful.
  • Stay in touch with your course instructors and maintain your mental health.
  • Ask questions. Remote learning is might be new to you, your classmates, and your course instructors. Thus, you will have questions and should feel comfortable reaching out to faculty members and other units on campus when you have them. 
  • Be patient. Because remote learning is might be new to you, your classmates, and your course instructors, be flexible and understanding about changes to assignments and other issues that may arise.
  • Set reminders. Either through an online calendar or phone app, create reminders about class meeting times and course due dates.
  • Take a break! Without clear designated course schedules, anxiety can crop up. Make sure that you schedule time to take care of yourself. Take a walk, make a good meal, or watch Netflix (just don’t get sucked into binging a show.)
  • Remember that Duke is here for you. Everyone here wants you to succeed.
  • Keep in mind that this is an opportunity to build your time and stress management skills, which will serve you well at Duke and beyond.  

Good Practices

  • Communicate with your instructor early and often. Let your teachers know how the course is going without overwhelming them. Make your comments suggestions and offer to problem-solve. Additionally, instructors are encouraged to hold online office hours each week.  Consider attending one or two sessions to check-in with your instructor and share your experience.
  • In live sessions, use your video camera unless your bandwidth is poor. (Otherwise it’s too easy to check out.)
  • If possible, plug in a headset with a built-in microphone (a phone headset is fine), rather than your laptop’s speakers and microphone. Make sure you’re in a quiet location. Mute your microphone when not speaking. 
  • In live sessions, use the chat function and encourage your peers to respond to each other. Be aware of how much you are contributing to in-class discussions. Try not to silence yourself out of concern for what others will think about what you say. If you have a tendency to contribute often, give others the opportunity to speak. If you tend to stay quiet, challenge yourself to share ideas so others can learn from you. 
  • Listen respectfully. Don’t interrupt, engage in private conversations, or turn to technology while others are speaking. Use attentive, courteous body language. 
  • Speak from your own experiences. When it is your turn to speak, share briefly from your own experiences, using “I” statements. Incorporate others’ comments, acknowledging disagreements. Be careful not to generalize about people or experiences. 
  • Keep in mind that we are all still learning and are bound to make mistakes in this setting, as anyone does when approaching a complex task or exploring new ideas. Be open to changing your mind, and make space for others to do so as well. 
  • Re-read and think before you post in online discussions, since intentions behind a statement might not be clear. We are communicating only through text in the forums, it can be easy to misinterpret what someone is saying since we don’t see facial expressions and body language. Don’t make assumptions and don’t hesitate to ask for clarification if something is unclear. 
  • Be respectful during online discussions and conferences. Learning online is new to all of us and we may be stressed. Be patient and supportive of your colleagues. Treat everyone with respect and keep discussions focused on the activities, course content, and evidence-based debate. 
  • Create study groups. Reach out to students who aren’t in the same time zone and may need to connect with you asynchronously. Look for or suggest a forum where students can post the times they are available (or their time zones) and their own Zoom link so they can virtually get together. Arrange your own peer-to-peer asynchronous and synchronous conversations. 
The words "7 ways to stay focused when studying from home during coronavirus" in orange text

Learn from those who have done this before! Get tips on how to stay focused and accomplish course work from home in this article from our friends at Duke Kunshan University.

Group Work 

  • Take group work seriously. Remember that your peers’ learning partly depends upon your engagement. 
  • Make an effort to get to know others. Introduce yourself to classmates. Refer to them by name.
  • Don’t procrastinate. That group project may be out-of-sight, out-of-mind if you aren’t seeing your group regularly. Resist the urge to put it off. Make daily progress, even if small, and stay in touch.
  • Meet regularly, especially if you usually touch base after class or lab. Consider a quick text on your group chat about progress every couple of days. Ideally, have real conversations over video every week you’re working together. 
  • Set a purpose for meetings and use a shared notes document. Meetings might feel different when using video, even if your team was really good at working informally in the past. Try to set the purpose of your meeting in advance. Take notes in a shared document so you can all contribute and follow along. 
  • Keep videos open when you can. As long as you can see whatever you need to collaborate, aim to keep the video visible on your computer screen. It’ll help you see the expressions of your teammates and stay connected to each other. 
  • Check on each other and ask for backup: If someone has been absent from your group meetings or chat, ask them directly if they’re still able to participate in the project. If you aren’t getting responses within a day or two, let your instructor know. Know it isn’t being petty, it’s your team’s responsibility. 
  • Understand that there are different approaches to solving problems. If you are uncertain about someone else’s approach, ask a question to explore areas of uncertainty. Listen respectfully to how and why the approach could work. 
  • Consider using GroupMe. A class group chat can be an easy way to quickly share announcements, but don’t use GroupMe for assignments or academic discussions.

Need help?

  • Get in touch with your instructors and advisors. 
  • Find resources and answers to frequently asked questions on this site.
  • Email keeplearning@duke.edu if you have questions that your instructors cannot answer and aren’t in the FAQ.
  • If you need a learning consultation or a tutor, the Academic Resource Center is available to you online
  • For technical help with Sakai, Zoom, or Duke email, contact the Duke OIT Service Desk.


Adapted from the University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (http://www.crlt.umich.edu/examples-discussion-guidelines) and the Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning (https://ctl.columbia.edu).