5 tips for remote learning

Updated: Aug 5

Frustrated parents, deprived students and digital disruption can make for a gloomy picture. The world is dealing with something unprecedented, not seen in generations. Whilst Hong Kong has the experience in dealing with off the back of a number of epidemics from cholera to H5N1 bird flu and of course, Severe Acute Raspatory Syndrome (SARS). Back then, technology didn’t proliferate as much and the virus was contained locally quite quickly so schools were able to make up for the lost time. However, we are now living in a new world where it’s simply impossible to cover the whole curriculum without focusing on a phenomenon known as remote learning.


No-one said that this would be easy. As one teacher at a Hong Kong secondary school, speaking on condition of anonymity said: “The longer this drags on, the more demanding parents get and more stress is put onto the students.”

This is why it is more important than ever to make the most of the situation and have a solid learning plan moving forward. Today, the spotlight is on schools, teachers, students and parents all working in tandem. We look at some of the ways to not only survive, but thrive in this era of remote online learning.


1. Maintain a routine and structure

One of the hardest things for many students is the disruption to any sense of structure within a school day.

  • Use a one scheduler/ calendar: Whether on your phone or on a paper calendar. Use one master calendar for all your to dos and deadlines so that nothing gets overlooked. Make sure you put everything that is known in there in advance. Most smartphone calendars now have alarms that can be activated as reminders of specific tasks that you know you may forget about. Be sure to keep checking this calendar and at the end of every remote school day go through it and see if any changes need to be made.

  • Account for times to check your email: Communication is key when learning remotely, and we suggest you block a time off in your schedule to do so at least twice daily.

  • Try recreate a learning environment as much as possible: this means sitting upright on a chair (not in your bed) in a quiet environment without the television blasting in the background. Try disable any distractions that can come from social media, YouTube etc. unless it’s necessary for a particular task. This is important for efficiency and quality of work not to get compromised. Find what works best with you as varying learners have different preferences.

  • Take a break: Whether it’s a snack, some fresh air (whilst following social distancing) or a computer break. At the same time, getting enough sleep is still as important so this isn’t an opportunity for an all-night marathon game session.

  • Makes goals for yourself: Making goals for yourself in relations to where you are in the syllabus, what your teacher expects, any skills or aspects that you may need to work on as part of the routine (more on this under point 5, self-directed learning).

Some students may be better than others at the more free-flowing structure, so be honest with yourself in understanding and accepting what works best for you. To keep to these schedules, it sometimes requires you being strict with yourself and know the limits. In the longer term, you’ll be more prepared than any previous cohort for life beyond secondary education, where these scheduling decisions become much more routine.


2. Take Notes

Many teachers are using cloud-based document sharing programs such as Googler Docs that allows multiple parties to make real-time changes. However, the number of notes and hardcopy provided are usually less than a teacher would give in a lesson. Online learning puts a lot more initiative on students and you would need to be aware of the type of learner you are. Are you a visual learner? Ask your teacher if you can record part of the lesson (this must strictly be done with the teacher’s permission) A verbal learner? Take detailed notes, highlight the key points and recite them.

There are lots of neat programs that offers something for everyone when it comes to taking notes:

  • Microsoft Word (part of MS Office suite): Basic and standard but needs a license that you pay for and thus may not be suitable for students whose schools don’t provide the software and want to save a few extra bucks. The most basic substitute of this doing it on a text document.

  • Evernote: Quite a versatile program when it comes to what you can do with it and allows you to just about dump everything in from audio files, videos, text documents etc. It has whiteboard, video note annotation and everything you could imagine. Might take some getting used to due to the selection of choices, but this is one of the most popular choices by students.

  • Microsoft OneNote: Technically part of the Microsoft Office suite, this program is completely free to use. It may have a complex interface but is there for those who love organizing things with tabs and a whole list of features that can facilitate this. It also works well by pulling in external things such as emails, images etc. Available as a desktop, web and mobile app for OS and Android, OneNote is a good software for those on the move or using different devices.

  • Google Docs: Google Docs is part of the Google cloud suite that is completely free to use. The document looks a lot like Microsoft Word and has most of the features. The good thing about Google Docs is that it auto saves any work and you’ll be in no danger of losing it. It’s also great for teachers giving you feedback and comments, as well as collaborated projects as multiple people can be working on the same document simultaneously.

  • Google Keep: A specific note taking software developed by Google. This one is not as complicated to use as OneNote and comes in both desktop and mobile apps. There are great organizational tools such a colour coding, easy and powerful search tools as well as sharing functions to distribute your notes to others. They also allow for audio searches and easy scans of images that make this a solid choice in our book.

  • Simplenote: A very basic type of software and is good for those that don’t want to overcomplicate their brains with complex interfaces and for storing plain text.

  • Pen and pencil: Low tech, but sturdy and reliable. Nothing more needs to be said about this trusted traditional method.

*Supplementary reading: Whilst this may not be a form of taking notes, it does allow students to expand on topics that they may struggling with. Use any extra reading materials that your teacher may recommend or useful sites (point 6 has more details on some recommendations)



3. Communicate with your teachers

Participating in remote lessons can be challenging, with teachers not able to clearly see what students might be struggling on a specific concept or explanation. It is more important than ever to ask teachers what they mean if you find things that are unclear. Don’t be afraid to interrupt the teacher, despite what manners may tell you. Most teachers will intermittently and remember, teachers aren’t going on a holiday on the Maldives, they are stuck at home and have more time to help individual students and clarify any questions. Always question, question, question. Emailing teachers is also a good habit and you will find how willing and eager many are in doing so.

Once you get an assignment, make sure you read all the comments and try and find questions to ask your teachers. One advantage of remote learning is that it actually gives more time and space for students to get a detailed breakdown of things they excelled on and crucially, areas of improvement. Feel free to even take initiative as well, especially if you are in your final year. Do your past papers, revise and challenging topic and then come back with questions that you can email or ask your teacher with.

Remember, teachers are employed to help you, so don’t be afraid or shy because the rewards reaped once you get through that hurdle are immense.



4. Implement self-directed learning

Self-directed learning is basically a way for you to step aside and look at things more holistically and put things into perspective. This is also a useful tool to have there when you plan your time moving forward. Do this periodically, i.e. at the end of every “school” day or at the end of the school week. Some useful questions that can be contemplated are:

  • What did I learn this week?

  • How do I apply what I learnt?

  • How does it fit into the syllabus?

  • What skills have I enhanced?

  • Does this align with the goals that I set? Do I need to revise or add to any of these goals from the back of a particular lesson or assignment?

  • Are there any things that I struggled on and need help/ clarification?

Once this process becomes much more routine, you will find it easier to study in the most effective and comfortable way.



5. Look at resources out there

The great thing about technology and this shift to remote learning, is the exponential amount of external resources that are out there and are around curriculums. Whilst your teacher will probably make their own lesson materials, they may at times take reference from one of the many websites that are there to help you excel.

A good way would be to look at the syllabus and the kinds of topics that are being covered and look for additional resources from there. Some good ones are included in an article coming very soon, where we will give a lo-down on all the great and the good that are out there for international students across a diverse range of curriculums.

These research skills are good to hone in, especially for students moving onto high school (upper secondary) and further education where self-learning and finding resources that work for you will increasingly become part in parcel.

With no clear indication when the resumption of schools will take place, this time of digital disruption can be one of opportunity. As one teacher put it, “this is not something we would have done in a normal world as it is a large shift in the way we teach, but in the longer-term this could have a profound positive impact on lessons.”

Remember, don’t get overly stressed and overwhelmed because you’re not the only one. Solidarity is fundamental for all aspects of this challenging time. If you’re struggling, talk to someone – it’s normal and you won’t be viewed as a weirdo! A lot of the time, it’s the mindset that counts, so be pragmatic and optimistic – the best pathway for success.


Author: Grigory Kravtsov US & UK Test Preparation Specialist - English Language & Literature


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