Faculty & Staff Spotlight

Sacred Heart Faculty Shares Online Learning Strategies

Sacred Heart Faculty Shares Online Learning Strategies

Online learners should establish a routine, take breaks and communicate with peers and instructors

Online classes can be difficult, and students of all ages can easily become distracted or succumb to procrastination. Three Sacred Heart University experts—Antoinette Bruciati, associate professor and faculty chair in the Isabelle Farrington College of Education; Steven Michels, associate provost; and Sean Heffron, executive director of student success—are offering strategies and tips to help students dodge those traps.

Routine and Schedule


Find a place to work where there are no distractions, says Bruciati. She encourages students to silence their phones and televisions so they can focus on what they need to accomplish. She suggests they tell family and friends not to disturb them during this time.

Create a Plan

Create a study plan by using a calendar to organize class readings, assignments and study time. Set aside a certain number of hours per day or week and stick to the schedule to avoid falling behind, Bruciati says.

Divide & Conquer

Divide lessons into manageable segments and tasks. For example, a one-hour video lecture can be divided into three 20-minute segments, says Bruciati. Students can write down the stop time from the video player and resume the lecture from the same spot later on.

Study Groups

Form a study group with two or three classmates. Group study sessions through any video teleconferencing platform can be an excellent way to avoid academic and social isolation. Select a group leader who can keep everyone focused and on task.

Countering Common Misconceptions


Communicate more with faculty; online learning does not mean distance from professors, Heffron says. In fact, students should speak with professors more often, since they are not in the physical classroom together. They also should make sure to engage with their classmates. They should be texting and chatting with a handful of students from the class so they can feel part of a learning community, he says

Take a Break

Taking breaks and getting plenty of rest are good ways for online students to stay healthy, Bruciati says. They also can avoid eyestrain from computer use by reducing the amount of ambient light in the room: avoid the use of fluorescent lighting; partially close curtains, shades or blinds; and position computers so windows in the room are off to the side. Adjusting the computer display’s brightness and increasing the text size on the screen also helps reduce eyestrain. Additionally, students should develop the habit of looking away from the computer monitor approximately every 20 minutes.

Learning Online Can be Better

Learning online can be better than classroom lessons, according to research that shows a well-designed online course is just as effective or even more effective than a traditional class setting. “In terms of comparing online learning to on-ground learning, online learning—when done right—can far surpass in-person learning in many areas,” Heffron says.

“Humans are social creatures, so of course young men and women prefer sitting in a classroom and learning together if they can,” Heffron says. “However, when it comes to the learning itself, assessments and examinations designed for online courses engage students in different but more flexible ways.” The world is moving to a remote working environment—especially in times like this—and students who have demonstrated success in working remotely will have an advantage when they look for a job, he adds.

Support & Resources


Frustration happens, and new online learners also can feel anxious or overwhelmed the first time they access their courses, Bruciati says. Students must take some time to become comfortable in the online environment and practice using new technology before beginning lessons. “Students should not hesitate to contact the instructor when they need academic support or assignment clarification,” Bruciati says. “Instructors are eager to help their students succeed. No question is too insignificant to ask.”

Students should understand that frustration is normal, especially considering this global health crisis, says Michels. “It’s a challenging time to be focused and clear-headed. While feeling overwhelmed is not a good sensation, feeling challenged is part of the process. It means that you’re learning something.”

Support at SHU

There is support at SHU for students taking online courses, such as tutorials and other resources available through SHU’s student success center, Heffron says. Success coordinators will work with students one-on-one to teach skills and help organize and manage the workload. “We have tutors for almost every subject who can meet with students face-to-face through the computer. We also offer an online writing lab where students can send papers to be reviewed before submitting them for grades,” he says.

Avoid Technical Issues

Save Your Work

Back up assignments by saving them on a USB drive or external hard drive. Bruciati also recommends uploading assignments to the cloud or emailing them to a school or personal account. Remember to save documents every 10 to 15 minutes while working them. Don’t risk losing them as the result of a computer crash, she says.

Don’t Procrastinate

Submit assignments early to avoid stress. Technical difficulties or unexpected emergencies can occur at any time, and some teachers deduct points when students submit assignments after the due date, Bruciati advises.