Adjusting to online learning and other things you did not anticipate this year

COVID-19 presents an unprecedented challenge for universities and our students. We’ve all had to change and adjust rapidly. With those changes comes fear, grief and stress.

The first step is to acknowledge these feelings, and then take small but tangible actions to work through them. Here is some practical advice from Dr Kelly-Ann Allen, Monash Educational and Development Psychologist.

Unexpected challenges

If online learning is new for you, then you may have faced some unexpected challenges that you weren’t anticipating (aside, of course, from needing to dodge a deadly airborne respiratory virus infecting thousands of people around the world – no one could have predicted that, right? *Except Bill Gates and Kim Kardashian*).

Some things you didn’t expect may include:

  • Classes delivered online, you thought they’d be face-to-face.
  • You are feeling sad, lonely, disconnected or isolated.
  • You are logging onto the Moodle site earlier than anticipated (you usually wait until Week 12).

You might even be questioning your choice to study this year or whether you will successfully complete the year.These feelings are common and normal and hopefully, with the right kind of support, temporary as well.

It takes time to adjust, so be kind to yourself and your teachers

The online delivery of face-to-face sessions is something there was little time to prepare for. Be kind to your teachers, patient with technology and reach out to the multiple support networks available at Monash if things are not working well from a technological perspective.

  • Make sure you’ve got a good working space and allow time to set it up before your lectures.
  • E-solutions will also assist you with technological issues.
  • Access drop-in online study support sessions via Zoom are to be hosted by Monash Library.

If you are feeling sad, that is normal too

You probably imagined your university year looking a particular way and anticipated the connections you would make. You would have thought about what you wanted to achieve, and got prepared.

The script for 2020 changed and it turned into a weird science fiction movie plot. Only Hollywood script writers could have dreamed this stuff up, and it’s certainly not something any of us would have imagined.

The sense of sadness you feel is no different to the usual loss you may feel when something you had hoped for dissolves. For those who have experienced this before, you know that these feelings will be temporary and fade with time.

If of course they don’t, we suggest you talk to your GP or psychologist, if you have one. There are also a number of helpful resources at Monash.

  • Monash students can access free counselling services online, in person (according to COVID restrictions) and on the telephone. Appointments can be made via 03 9905 3020.
  • And if you are a Monash Education student, you can also access personal support from your Education Success Advisor through Juvo.

If you are feeling lonely or disconnected

Know that you are not alone. Just like in a face-to-face teaching format, your teachers, unit coordinators and course leaders are there to support you. Reach out, say hello, introduce yourself. Do the same things you would usually do. Use the forum, use email and attend those online sessions.

Get to know your classmates. Like, really get to know them. If you have a class Facebook group, make sure you join. If there isn't a group, consider starting one yourself. Be brave and introduce yourself on the forums and threads. Find shared interests and similarities there is certainly one thing you all have in common and we are all living it now.

Stay connected with your friends and family. It might be easy to focus on your studies right now, but your social connection to others has never been more important. Take photos, use FaceTime, connect on social media, pick up the phone or even go old school and write a letter.

Other strategies to cope with COVID-19

Stress management and coping

Think of a time in the past when you have needed to cope with things when they did not go to plan. What did you do then that helped? Did you speak to a professional, did you talk it out with friends, did you engage in an enjoyable activity like art or music, or did you do something relaxing? Thinking of coping resources you have successfully used in the past and applying them to the present situation can be useful in managing your current stress and challenges.

Stave off boredom

Keeping and maintaining hobbies is important during this time. There are many activities that can be accessed remotely for free. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

For something different try a new dance or master your stair shuffling skills. Some of these things may keep you physically active as well.

There are many free online resources, if you choose to look.

Stay motivated with your studies

Use your study timetable planner, study planner or your student diary. Write a to-do list, and also the opposite of this – your ta-dah list of things you have completed. Jot down your goals for the year. Investing your time in your studies could prove to be a helpful distraction and it is also a coping strategy. It's also a great use of time, given you need to be at home anyway.

Reframe the situation

So you have to stay at home? Thinking about this as a choice rather than something you are mandated to do helps your wellbeing. Think about how your own actions and behaviour to stay at home will benefit others in the community, particularly those that are more vulnerable (especially the elderly or those with chronic conditions). Think about how health care professionals and broader society would be grateful for your actions towards flattening the curve.

In respect to online learning, focus on what is working well rather than what is not working at all. What is it about the online environment that could work for you – are you saving time on commuting? Dollars on public transport? Or maybe you won’t need to worry about whether you will find a car space for now. You might even find there are less distractions to be able to do the import work you need to do this year.

Practical things that might help your study environment: do you have good lighting, a comfortable study space, a quiet place to work?

While 2020 might not have kicked off the way you intended, hang in there. Some things cannot be controlled, but plenty of things can and especially those concerned with your health and wellbeing. Be proactive in the way you tackle challenges as they arise and remember that you have multiple pathways of support at Monash.

Eat well, drink water, get enough sleep and wash your hands. Together, we’ve got this!

Additional resources

Monash Education has prepared these FAQs for our students.

An up-to-date COVID-19 fact sheet from Monash University.

Kelly-Ann Allen

Dr Kelly-Ann Allen
Monash Educational and Development Psychologist