Tips for Adapting to Virtual Nursing School

Normally, earning a nursing degree meant physically attending in-person classes, labs, and hundreds of clinical hours in the hospitals. Unfortunately, because of the current COVID-19 pandemic, many nursing programs across Canada are being offered in a blended learning delivery. Luckily, nursing is an extremely adaptive profession, and so have been the programs, which means that you will need to become flexible as well. Nursing school is very different from any other program, in the setup, studying, and the atmosphere. Although with many lectures and clinical currently moved to online it is even more so. Finding ‘normal’ during a pandemic has been difficult, but seek your normal rhythm to adapt to online learning, regardless if it is your first or fourth year, but you’ll find your beat with some of these tips.

    1. Manage online courses like you are in-person

    When it comes to online classes, you need to have the discipline to sit down (or stand at a standing desk) and be in the mind frame to complete schoolwork. You can easily sit at your desk all day scrolling through Pinterest finding a cute planner for scheduling, but then you are going to see an advertisement for nurse memes and there goes your day. Even though you can be flexible as to where and sometimes when you do work or listen to lectures, you cannot put it off indefinitely. 

    Manage your online courses the same way you would an in-person class—or, even better, a job—and you will be off to the right start. One of the easiest ways to ensure follow through is to remember that you are paying to take this online course, just as you would for a traditional, in-person class. You must “show up” if you are going to get real worth out of your class.

    1. Practice time management

    Your learning style, personality, and schedule are factors on how you manage your time. Here are a few tips to help you excel in time management: 

        • Read the syllabi at the start of the semester and make note of major assignments, quizzes, and exams. Mark them on a calendar or planner you check regularly so you know what workload is coming in the weeks ahead. Do not forget to factor in prior commitments that may interfere with your regular study schedule, such as family gatherings, so you can give yourself enough extra time to complete assignments.
        • Design a weekly schedule to follow. Slot in specific hours each week to watch lectures (synchronous or asynchronous), reading, studying, and assignments. This will help you incorporate your coursework into your daily and weekly routine habits. Set reminders periodically to keep yourself organized.
        • Try time blocking to allot yourself a certain amount of time for each task, such as assignment research, before moving onto the next one. Setting a timer can also help yourself keep on track to be more accountable.
        • Evaluate yourself periodically throughout the term to review how you are spending your time. Are you regularly underestimating the time it is taking to accomplish daily readings or assignments, then cramming the night before an exam? A little scheduling adjustment can go a long way.

    1. Set goals

    Set yourself goals at the beginning of the semester then check in with yourself weekly for each course. 

        • Process goals are specific actions that are 100% controllable by the individual. An example could be studying for two hours supper every day.
        • Performance goals are based on personal standards and are mostly controllable. An example could be aiming to achieve all As in of your nursing courses.
        • Outcome goals are based on winning but are highly influenced by outside variables, this is what you have ultimately worked towards by the previous two goals. An example could be landing your dream job of being a labour and delivery nurse at a particular hospital that you wanted.

    If you achieve your process goals, you are on track to achieving your performance goals.  Additionally, when your performance goals are achieved you then have a higher probability in successfully achieving your outcome goal. The process, performance, and outcome goals are linked by a linear relationship to help you stay focused and on direction during your nursing degree- and in everyday life.

    1. Stay organized in a regular study space

    Study in a dedicated learning environment that suits your learning needs. By doing this overtime you will establish a routine for schoolwork. Whether your workspace is the corner of your tiny student apartment room, kitchen table, or corner seat in a café (if indoor dining is available during this pandemic), it is important to determine what type of environment works best for your individual needs. You may need to experiment at first for what works best to boost your productivity. Also important to make sure that you have access to high-speed internet especially during synchronous lectures and lab simulations so you can actively participate and stay on top of your coursework.

    Establishing a regular workspace will help keep you on track to achieving your goals. Setting up a regular workspace or office will also help you to stay organized by knowing exactly where your textbooks, important dates, files, and clinical resources are. When you set up your study space, be sure to have the following for a successful nursing degree:

        • High-speed internet connection
        • Required books, materials, and software, and lab kits for the course
        • Headphones with a working microphone for listening to lectures or discussions (especially important in shared spaces)

    1. Eradicate distractions

    Exactly how much and what kind of distractions will prove to be the largest challenges will depend on your own unique personality and situation. From social media to online shopping to dishes piling up in the sink, there are many that can easily derail your studies. The best online students know how to tackle these distractions and set aside time to focus.

    Some students may find that listening to music can help them tune out a noisy household, while others may choose to eliminate their multitasking urges at home at a library or local café (if there is indoor seating available during the pandemic). You will ultimately need to find a strategy that works best for you.

    Regardless of where you choose to work, consider turning your cell phone off to avoid losing focus every time a text message or notification pops up. Another way to help eliminate technological distractions that compete for your time is to use apps such as RescueTime or Freedom that block social apps or websites that tend to compete for your attention, such as Instagram or Facebook. 

    It can be tempting to check your social media or browse other tabs when waiting for the professor to begin a lecture but eradicate that temptation by closing non-productive tabs and putting your phone away.

    1. Figure Out How You Learn Best

    Next, think about how and when you accomplish your best work once you have established where you will learn. If you are a morning person, make your study time first thing. If you are more of a night owl, then set aside an hour or two after supper to your study spot. If you need to give the kids your morning and evening attention, then try to block out a mid-day study session or whenever you need during synchronous lectures and labs. Fill up your favourite water bottle or coffee mug, start your go-to playlist, and do whatever you need to get into the zone and down to business.

    Think about what is your learning type and how you will best grasp new concepts and information. Unfortunately, due to the current pandemic, it is very difficult to be a kinaesthetic learner at this time as most nursing programs are either not running in-person clinical or skills labs. However, make use of your lab kits to practice, especially when you have awesome roommates or family to practice skills on. 

    Not everyone learns the same way, so think about what types of information help you best grasp new concepts and employ relevant study strategies. Print out the PowerPoints before class to review with your assigned readings if you are a visual learner, or auditory learners may do well with simply paying full attention to the synchronous or asynchronous lecture videos, whereas reading/written learners should have a Word document ready to type or lots of paper to hand write their notes from class and readings to achieve their success.

    1. Actively participate

    Help yourself to better understand the course material and engage with colleagues by participating. Some lectures may require you to speak with your video camera on, but other classes you can easily message in the chat section when lectures are live. Even when a lecture is not being presented synchronously, comment on a colleague’s post on a question or assignment discussion board to show support or posting a question about a project you are working on. Read what other students and your professor are saying as you may have a similar question or ask for clarification if needed.

    Check the platform as often as you can. A great feature of online courses is the flexibility, squeezing a discussion post in 30 minutes before supper plans. Set a goal to check in on every class everyday so you do not miss a thing. One of the perks of being online is that it takes anxiety away from asking ‘dumb questions’. The chat box is there for you, so take advantage of it! There is no such thing as a dumb question!

    During virtual skills lab use your lab kit while the lab is live- can’t quite attach a two-piece ostomy bag or draw up medication from an ampule? Then speak up, turn your camera, and microphone on and ask for a demonstration and assistance. Skills lab time, virtual or in-person, may be the only time that you get to use and practice some skills with dedicated learning time.

    But if you do feel yourself falling behind, speak up. Be proactive in asking for help. Do not wait until an assignment is almost due to ask questions or report issues. A 0.5 can make the difference between a B+ or A-.

    1. Leverage your network

    Some days you feel like you are learning on your own without the social aspect of in-person classes, but you are not. Most courses have been adapted around the concept of collaboration with the students actively encouraged by professors and instructors to discuss in discussion boards about assignments or lectures. Your colleagues can be a valuable resource in sending reminders to each other about what is due the coming week, sending pop-exam questions, or asking for feedback on assignments as a virtual study group.


    Emily Sutherland @emilysutherland833 is an advanced standing nursing student at University of New Brunswick. She is an equestrian, loves to run, and keeping active. She also loves to connect with other health care professionals, follow her at @nursingstudent_emily. 


    As often as you can, check the platform.The flexibility of online courses is fantastic; you can fit in a discussion post 30 minutes before your dinner arrangements. To ensure that you don’t miss anything, make it a priority to attend every lesson every day at SweetStudy. One benefit of using the internet is that you may ask “stupid questions” without feeling embarrassed. Use the chat box while it’s available to you. The phrase “stupid question” is untrue!

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