7 online homework tips for a successful distance learning experience

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I’ve known plenty of smart, successful people who simply weren’t great at focusing, whether that was during tests, when studying, in class, in meetings, etc. I’ve also known people who loved to talk, but hated classroom discussions, or simply chose their words carefully, and thus were mostly quiet. 

Point being, personal traits don’t always translate how one might think they should. It’s the beauty of us all being different, and in this case, unique learners. 

On top of that, for parents now playing the role of home teacher or second teacher during this pandemic, we might be expecting that our straight-A students fall easily into online learning, and can complete their online homework without issue. I mean, if they can do it when physically at school in the library, cafeteria, etc., or as a part of their normal at-home after-school routine while battling myriad distractions, they should be able to knock homework out of the park when a bit more confined, right?

Unfortunately, it’s just not the case, and in a shaky period forcing everyone to make adjustments, students and new online learners aren’t spared. 

What's different with homework?

Really, it depends, with the homework situation differing from district to district, school to school, and classroom to classroom. And it's not just the homework itself.

Classroom material is different online than what it was in-person, which impacts homework; not to mention the way that material is presented is much different, which again, impacts how students attempt to complete their homework. Add in the fact that it might not be as easy for students to study together or even ask questions in the "classroom," and that the at-home environment has taken on a new life of its own, and homework is getting hit from a number of different angles. 

Online homework tips

So, while there are a number of factors that go into being able to complete online homework fully and accurately, many of them revolve around this one key term:

Focus.

If you can get your kid or teen to simply focus, more than half the battle is won.

The tricky thing is that focus hinders on quite a bit. 

Here are the tips:

  1. Be aware of online learning platform differences
  2. Prepare for learning as kids normally would
  3. Adopt the mindset that everything else can wait
  4. Sleep, exercise, and eat well.
  5. Block distractions with earplugs or headphones
  6. Address the situation if uncomfortable
  7. Don’t focus too much on focusing

#1: Be aware of online learning platform differences.

One of the benefits of non-school online learning is that you’re pretty much free to try new and different opportunities as you please, thanks to shorter-term commitments, and less formality. Meaning, since March, you may have discovered this flexibility, and have been able to supplement your child's education through these different opportunities, from virtual summer camps, to online private tutoring, and more. 

The problem is, while "online learning" may sound pretty straightforward, there are a few key differentiating aspects between the different available options.

For instance, free online learning for kids can offer a drastically different experience than one that has an attached cost or fee. The same goes for traditional online "one-way" platforms versus those that have a face-to-face or two-way, interactive component. 

The point is, your kids may have been learning online in a certain manner for months up until now, and now that the school year is starting again, they have to adapt to a new distance learning scenario. So, if they haven't had homework for a while, that's a big adjustment, and if they haven't been learning from a live teacher or instructor, that's another big adjustment, and so on. 

So, keep that in mind. Your child may have been keeping their brain sharp over with online learning, but the process and experience was different than what they're getting with their schools, and now homework introduces a tricky wrinkle.

Knowing this, the first tip is to try not to assume your kids are "good to go," and take the time to ensure that they are in fact ready to tackle their online homework situation.

#2: Prepare kids to tackle homework as they normally would.

The antidote for many areas we’d all like to improve; the 3ps—preparation, preparation, preparation. 

Those who fail to mentally prepare themselves for an hour of homework will probably spend the first 30 minutes of that hour getting in the groove. 

This includes the little things, and really points to the need for a solid after-school routine—one that obviously includes time carved out for homework, but also time dedicated to ensuring to prep activities like ensuring the homework area is clean and ready to go for the next day, or that headphones are put away and findable.  

Now when it’s homework time, prepared students can relax and let their brains do the thing they are there to do - think - rather than worry and scramble,  and get flustered when they should be sitting and focusing on homework. 

#3. Help kids adopt the mindset that everything else can wait.

One reason many are unable to focus during homework time is the nagging feeling of, “why do I have to waste my time doing this?”

For many kids, learning - and homework in particular - is nothing more than a formality. Thus, they don’t particularly enjoy doing it, don’t look forward to it (and don’t prepare for it), and feel all that’s transpiring is the fact that they’re being kept from doing things they actually want to do.

In order to focus on the task at hand, kids will benefit from remembering that “everything else” will still be there when they’re done with their homework. It's a key piece of time management for kids—the games, the sunshine, the texting; all things they can’t wait to get to will all be there waiting after their sessions.  

So, remind students to try their best to focus on the task at hand, knowing it’s just a speed bump they’ll need to deal with regardless (and probably more so if they can't show they're making progress). 

#4. Instill good sleep, exercise, and eating habits.

Think about how quickly a yawn or thought of “I’m tired” can throw you off the scent of whatever you’re thinking about? 

Same goes for the feeling of sluggishness or low self-esteem, or even a gurgling stomach or indigestion.

But beyond all of that, maintaining a healthy lifestyle increases confidence, endurance, and other areas that are surely beneficial to online learning.

And when do the yawns tend to start? When we are doing something we don't want to be doing. So, while easier said than done, if you're able to keep kids on track with their sleep, exercise, and eating habits, there might be a better chance they stay focused on the homework in front of them.

#5. Block their distractions with earplugs or headphones.

I regularly wear headphones when writing. It doesn’t really matter what kind of music is playing, and honestly, sometimes there isn’t any music playing! But, just having something to block out the extra noise is helpful. 

For those doing homework online with video or audio, headphones are required anyway, but for students simply interacting with on-screen, sound-less text, consider fitting them with headphones, and maybe even go the extra step to restrict peripheral vision if possible. 

This tip could easily be labeled under “utilize a dedicated learning space” but frankly, one benefit of online learning is the ability to move about as one wishes. 

So, kids should definitely still have some sort of learning "base” that removes them from heavily-trafficked home areas, but for the times where they want to do homework from the backyard on a nice night or somewhere else, make sure they’re outfitted with tools to keep their eyes and minds on screen.

#6. If kids are uncomfortable, address the situation.

Just because your home has an office and desk doesn’t mean it’s the best setup for your kid or teen to utilize for their online homework.

Sitting in a rigid seat for prolonged periods of time is enough to make anyone a little stir crazy (I mean, even a bed can be uncomfortable at times). So, if learners are uncomfortable, encourage them to do whatever it is they need to do to get back on track. 

Meaning, if they’re often thirsty, have them prepare and come ready for homework with a glass of water. Head itch from the hat they’re wearing? Shower beforehand and ditch the hat. 

Do whatever they need to do to decrease the chances that those little annoyances will be distracting their brains during their online homework time. 

#7. Don’t focus too much on focusing.

I’ll end by saying paralysis by analysis is very real, and sometimes focusing too much on a single thing can prove even more detrimental.

If you are a parent of a new, struggling online learner, first, talk things out, and act as a sounding board. A situation can appear to be much worse and more dire if internalized and obsessed over without an outlet in place to receive the benefits of encouragement and guidance.

Not to mention that these are weird times, simply put. Days are blurring together, and many of us haven’t seen or experienced the real world for quite some time. Thus, we have to roll with the ups and downs of the adjustment period. 

And for kids and teens looking for supplemental learning, they might welcome a break to do something they want to be doing, with after-school programs and online private tutoring lessons built around Python, Minecraft, Roblox, AI, 3D modeling, and more. Structured sessions where kids can either learn alongside friends and like-minded peers from live instructors, or on their own with a dedicated live tutor.  

A photo of Ryan

Ryan manages blog content at iD Tech, starting with the company in 2008. He earned his MBA from Santa Clara University after obtaining his Bachelor’s degree from Arizona State. Connect on LinkedIn!