How to make the most of your study space for online learning at university

student sitting on bed and working at laptop

TSR members share their tips for making sure you're fully prepared for online learning

Most UK universities have decided to offer blended learning this term – and possibly beyond – because of Covid-19. This means that lots of students will be taking a combination of online classes and in-person tutorials.

You might be feeling a bit worried about the logistics of online learning, especially if your room isn’t very spacious. We’ve gathered together some tips from TSR members to help you get the most out of your virtual lectures and classes.

More like this: what will Freshers Week be like this year?

university student working on laptop on top of their bed

Get mentally prepared for online learning

2020 has been an unusual year, and if you were meant to be taking A-level exams this summer, you might be feeling concerned about getting back into the swing of academic life on top of wondering how the logistics of online lectures will actually work.

It’s worth remembering that the universities know that this year’s intake will have had a longer gap than usual after finishing school or college, and most will have plans to help support you through this.

Take a look at our article that covers eight specific scenarios around starting university in 2020 that you may be feeling anxious or unsure about, along with tips to help you feel better.

We also have an article about what university will be like when the new term starts, as well as expert tips to help students prepare for university after this year’s school closures.

In addition, TSR members who are university students shared their experiences of what learning online was like last term with us here.

student working at desk

Choose your study space

You may not have too many spaces to choose from if you’re living in halls, but it’s still worth thinking your options through.

Picking one main dedicated study space makes sense because, as TSR member doodle_333 says, it “helps cut distractions and is good for differentiating study time and chill time as you’re in different places”.

Your room is probably going to be the most obvious choice. If there’s no desk in there and space is limited, an anonymous TSR member suggests “a foldable wall desk – it saves a lot of space if your room is too small”.

Alternatively, minimarshmallow comments that “when I didn't have room for a desk in my bedroom… I used to sit on my bedroom floor using an upside storage box as a desk... it was better than nothing.”

Make sure you have all your essentials packed with our checklist of everything you need to take to uni.

tidy desk with stationery in pots and a small plant

Make your space appealing

Even if your space is limited, you can still make it look appealing, with little touches like your favourite pens or a small houseplant.

TSR member Caledonia says that they like having “lots of stationary, so [having a study space] is nice for the part of me that loves a good aesthetic”.

“You can re-use old jam jars for stationary and things; if you make a fabric covering for the top this can look very stylish,” comments najabri.

Some TSR members like to decorate their study space with colourful mindmaps or immersive walls of Post-it notes. If you have all of the key points you need to remember up on your walls, you won’t have to keep rifling back through your notes, after all.

More like this: find out more about what kind of study space you are.

colourful stationary on a desk

Beware of your bed, but take advantage of being able to get cosy

It might seem tempting to crawl under the covers and make your bed your study space. Some, like BritGirl, think that “reading in bed is fine but you need to be seated at a desk to do any written stuff”.

Iammelissa, on the other hand, says that “whenever I tried to study on my bed, I felt like I was getting relaxed and lazy. I can get in the mood, focused and ready to work when I’m at my table only.”

And hideNfreak warns “word of advice – do not do your work on your bed as you'll just fall asleep (talking from experience).”

On the other hand, there are also advantages to online learning that you may as well make the most of – “I can wake up five mins before my video call sessions and wear pyjamas during it and nobody will know,” shares 1secondsofvamps

More like this: how to make friends during Freshers Week

student working on laptop at desk in their bedroom

Keep the clutter away

The less clutter you’re surrounded by, the fewer distractions you risk being tempted by. Sophie507 says “I find that when my room’s tidy, it help me focus more.”

Block out distracting sounds

One of the most annoying things about studying from home may be the sheer amount of noise your housemates manage to make.

TSR member Abigail R Brown advises having a word and asking them to keep the noise down: “I learnt from experience to find a quiet space to study and to let those you live with know when you are taking time to study so they can avoid being too distracting".

And if that doesn’t do the trick, TSR members have a few different techniques they use to block out distracting sounds. Revolver72 recommends “a good set of noise cancellation headphones, playing quiet ambient sounds.”

applepie_11 finds that “what helps me is to sit somewhere, anywhere alone, and put in headphones and listen to classical music.”

“I listen to songs I’ve listened to a lot so that I’m not concentrating too much on the words or music,” says becmusic12.

“If you need silence to work but headphone are too loud, look into earplugs,” suggests TooNocturnal. “Some earplugs can muffle or completely remove sound, while some can just lower noise (kinda like lowering the volume on the world).”

More like this: the ultimate guide to surviving your first year of uni

teen studying at night

Change your routine

If you’re really struggling to find a quiet spot to work, you could consider mixing up your usual schedule and either working late at night or early in the morning when the rest of your housemates are sleeping.

“You could change when you study,” says ForestShadow, by either “sleeping later or waking earlier and studying while they sleep.”

More like this: Freshers Week 2020: The Guide

Keep in touch with your lecturers and classmates

One obvious downside of online learning is that you might have to make a bit more of an effort to get to know your coursemates and keep in touch with your tutors if you’re worried about slipping behind – but it’s still very doable.

“Make sure you keep in contact with your lecturers, let them know if you are struggling. They are there to help you be the best you can be. Speak to student support if you have one as well because they may be able to offer extensions or help as well,” comments TSR member Abigail R Brown.

And when it comes to virtual bonding with your coursemates, they suggest using “online lectures, forums and emails to keep in contact”.

“Social media is also a great way to keep in touch. My cohort has a WhatsApp group, which is not just all about uni things but we support each other through the good and the bad that is happening in our lives, offering each other advice as well as having a laugh with each other.

“We have even done a couple of Zoom coffee afternoons. Research whether the university has any online societies or things like that. If not and you feel able why not set one up?” finishes Abigail R Brown.

Any tips we’ve missed out that you’d like to share? Pop them in the comments below!

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