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Karen Spiers and Prof. Linda Facchini
Karen Spiers (left) and Prof. Linda Facchini from Seneca’s Teaching & Learning Centre share their top five tips for online learning for both students and faculty.

May 21, 2020

Learning online can present different challenges for different people. How do you stay motivated? How do you navigate technology? How can you remotely interact effectively?

As the summer academic term kicks off this week with virtual classes, two Seneca experts share their top five tips for online learning — one list for students and another for faculty.

Linda Facchini, a PhD in molecular and medical genetics, is a professor of Faculty Development in Seneca’s Teaching & Learning Centre. She works with the Seneca community to support excellence in teaching and learning. Previously a faculty member in the School of Biological Sciences & Applied Chemistry, she has co-created numerous online multimedia resources.

Since Seneca went virtual, Ms. Facchini has been working closely with Karen Spiers, Manager of the Teaching & Learning Centre, to deliver training to faculty on moving courses online. Ms. Spiers manages hybrid and online course development and is the formerly manager of Seneca’s Centre for Flexible Learning, where she oversaw the development of online courses.

Here are their top tips:

1. Separate your “work zone” from your “home zone”

If you are able, create a dedicated study space with few or no distractions. A distraction-free environment will help you stay focused and allow you to better engage in your learning.

2. Approach your online coursework like you would a job

Your learning is your responsibility. Plan for success — find out what you need to do each week. Look ahead and note any upcoming assignments, activities or tests you need to spend extra time on. Use a visual aid like a calendar to map these out so you can see at a glance what you need to work on. Use helpful tools like the Seneca Assignment Calculator to help manage assignments.

3. Develop a study plan

Online learning requires self-discipline. Having a set schedule each day will help you stay focused and on track. Schedule time to complete your readings and prep work for your online classes. Remember to schedule regular breaks — take a walk, get some exercise or grab a healthy snack and make sure you get plenty of rest each night. Visit Learning Online at Seneca to learn about some of the online academic supports available to you.

4. Create an online study group

Learning together is effective but it is also fun and a great way to enhance your learning. Set up regular times to work and study with a group. An online study group will also help you keep each other accountable and stay on track.

5. Reach out for help when you need it

Do not be afraid to ask for help. Whether you are new or a seasoned online learner, make sure you ask questions and get help when you need it. Your professors will post virtual office hours. Make sure you reach out to them early on and regularly if you have questions or need clarification about something. Check out other resources and services that may be helpful to you as well.

1. Consider the learner experience and plan your course from a student’s perspective

If you were taking your course, what would you need to be successful? Do students know what is expected of them and what they can expect from you? Can all your students easily access and navigate through the course materials? Do they know what learning activities and assignments to complete each week and how to complete them?  

2. Maintain an online presence

Let your students know there is a real person behind the course that cares about their learning. Communicate regularly with them through announcements, discussion boards or emails. Reply to questions promptly and provide meaningful feedback.

3. Build an online community

Engage your students and help them connect with you and their classmates through discussion boards, collaboration tools and online activities. Staying connected creates a positive learning environment, motivates students and makes the online experience enjoyable for everyone.

4. Rethink your assessment strategy

Gather evidence of understanding in each lesson. Be creative in how you assess learning by incorporating alternative and authentic assessment methods, such as case studies, projects and presentations, to complement or replace online tests.

5. Be flexible and be open

Give yourself and your students time to adjust to this new style of teaching and learning. Be willing to try something different and be prepared for the occasional challenge.


The Teaching & Learning Centre offers an Online Course Planning Template for faculty. Additional resources, including courses, webinars and tutorials, can be found on the Teaching & Learning Centre website.