The pandemic has been difficult for everyone in one way or another. Whether you’re a student in school or college, you’ve probably had to adjust your academic lifestyle. With the majority of classes being online and many teachers implementing asynchronous learning, it’s normal if you’ve found yourself struggling to grasp class content and stay focused. Many of my classes are asynchronous this quarter, which means that my professors record their lectures and give us the option to watch lectures on our own time. We still have to take our exams on certain days and complete assignments before deadlines. This might sound familiar to you, or your classes might have a slightly different structure. 

Adapting to online learning has been quite difficult for me personally. I find myself zoning out during lectures, procrastinating on assignments, and the number of times my classes have been cancelled because of technical difficulties is too many to count. I can totally understand that these problems are minor for some who don’t have access to a computer or the internet in the first place; however, if you’re in the same situation as me and feel like you’re falling behind in school, keep reading. 

  1. Hold yourself accountable.

This is easier said than done, but there are some things you could do to make it possible. Write everything down. At the beginning of the semester/quarter, identify your goals and what you want to achieve. It could be something like getting good grades in your classes or working on your reading speed to prepare for the CARS section of the MCAT. It’s important to always keep your short-term and long-term goals in mind; they’ll keep you going. 

Then make an organized schedule for yourself. When are your classes and discussions? When do you have your extracurricular activities like volunteering, research, and club meetings? When is your personal time that’s reserved for exercise, taking breaks, and working on your hobbies? Planning in advance is always the first step. There’s so many amazing websites for this so get creative and have fun with this. 

A huge part of keeping yourself on track is taking breaks and rewarding yourself after completing tasks; it prevents burnout. Lastly, always take a step back to reflect on your schedule and academic performance. Holding yourself accountable also means acknowledging when things aren’t working out for you. If you feel like you’re not getting the most out of your day, it’s okay to switch things up or even make smaller goals for yourself. 

  1. Seek available resources. 

This quarter, I’m taking a molecular biology lab course that teaches students the fundamentals of working in a molecular biology lab. Unfortunately, the course is online, which means that I don’t actually get to do the lab experiments. Instead, I get to watch my instructor do it, and all I have to do is the writing portion. A huge part of science is the hands-on work, so online learning for a crucial lab course like this one has been tough. If you’re in this situation, you know there’s no way around it. Maybe you could push off taking the course, but that can always be a little risky. 

That’s why it’s so important to proactively get help. Once you fall behind, it’s difficult to get back on track. Attend professor and TA office hours, email them with questions, ask upperclassmen for help, and ask your peers. Your professors understand that online learning isn’t easy, especially during a pandemic, so don’t hesitate to reach out if you’re struggling. Fortunately I was able to intern at a molecular biology lab for two summers, so I’ve been able to ask my mentors for clarification from time to time. That’s always a great option too. 

When it’s more possible, you can always try to find internships or research that give you the opportunity to do more hands-on learning. 

  1. It’s possible to make asynchronous learning synchronous. 

Asynchronous classes can be tough if you really enjoy going to class at a set time, having strict deadlines, and having a structured schedule. I know I sometimes prefer that because it prevents me from procrastinating and falling behind. Realize that you can make your own academic schedule so that it feels more synchronous. Choose days and times of the week where you’ll sit down and watch your professor’s recorded lectures. Some professors might even do live lectures in addition to the recorded ones.  If your professor hasn’t given you hard deadlines, give yourself deadlines on a weekly basis. This goes back to the first point about holding yourself accountable, but depending on your class, it’s definitely possible to add more structure.

Online learning is a challenge that we’ll be dealing with for quite some time. It might not get any easier for some (equity in online learning is another whole issue). If you think, in your case, that it’s just a matter of mindset and changing your approach, some of these tips may help. It’s good to actively think about how you can use this type of learning to your advantage.