Tips for Successful Distance Learning

New to distance learning? No problem!  Empire State University's faculty and staff are committed to providing productive and effective distant learning experiences during this time of transition. Below are some helpful resources and tips to help get started with this flexible, student-centered approach to course completion.

Distance Learning is a mode of learning that includes using technology such as

  • Brightspace, the university online learning system
  • Online meeting tools such as MS Teams or Zoom
  • Phone
  • Email

While the interaction with your instructor may be different, students have been using these tools for years, and you too can be successful with distance learning! As you transition to distance learning, below are several practical recommendations to help you succeed.

Communicate with your Instructor

Whether you have always used some form of distance learning or this is new to you, your instructor is the best source of information for specific course details. If your course is changing from in-person to distance learning, it is natural to have questions. When your instructor contacts you with the distance learning course plan, do not be afraid to ask questions to better understand the new format. In addition, if you later have difficulty with the access, course materials, or format, be sure to ask your instructor for guidance. Faculty understand this is a time of transition and are ready to assist you or refer you to an appropriate resource.

Explore and Familiarize Yourself with any Technology that is new to You

As you move to distance learning, you may be asked to use a technology that is new to you. To prepare, try the tool well before your required meeting or assignment due date. For example, if your instructor provides an online meeting link, you may need to download a quick app to use the tool. By logging in early, you will have plenty of time to complete this step before the meeting begins. In addition, if you have trouble using the tool, you can contact the university’s IT Service Desk for help. They have many resources to share and can often walk you through the steps to help you with any difficulty.

Identify a Study Space

Identifying a consistent study space in your home, office, or local business will help you transition from worker, parent, or spouse to a student who needs to focus. A study space does not need to be a separate room. Oftentimes, a simple table and chair work quite well. Completing your college work in the same place each time creates a focused thinking habit that allows you to more quickly settle into the work that needs to be done. It also signals to other people in your home that you may need some quiet time to work.

Keep Your Class Schedule, Even When you are Home

If you were attending an in person study group or regularly met with an instructor at a location, continue to do your college work at those same times. You have already established a routine, and one of the best things you can do as you transition to distance learning is to keep that routine. In addition, your instructor may wish to use this time to meet by MS Teams or other online meeting tools, so it is important to keep that time free from other personal obligations.

Use a Calendar to Record Assignment Due Dates

If you have not started using a calendar, now is a very important time to do so. With distance learning, time may appear to “fly by” as the term goes forward. Use a calendar to create weekly lists of assignment due dates and tasks you may need to do to complete those assignments. For more specific help with breaking up writing assignments into manageable steps, use the Empire State University Assignment Calculator.

Communicate with your Family and Friends

Changes in school and event schedules may create a new level of activity in your home. It is completely natural to be a bit uncertain as these changes are underway. One important step is to talk with your family and friends regarding the specific impact on you. Explain that you need a quiet, uninterrupted space for some time each week to continue to meet your college goals. By providing a start and stop time to your family and friends, they will know how to support you and will also feel assured that you will be available at other times during the day.

Connect with a SUNY Empire Learning Coach (professional tutor)

Moving from one style of learning to another does require an adjustment in your study approach. Your instructors are aware of this and will work with you during the transition. However, Empire State University Learning Coaches (professional tutors) are available to support you as well. They can help with navigating new technology, specific course content, and general writing and math skills. Learning Coaches regularly work with students online and at a distance so you can schedule an appointment from home or work. For more information and to schedule an appointment go to Tutoring.

Use a Pear Deck Tutor (24/7 Online Tutoring)

SUNY Empire provides free tutoring with Pear Deck Tutor (formerly TutorMe), a 24/7 supplemental service.  Pear Deck Tutor offers tutoring in a broad range of subject areas at hours when SUNY Empire State learning coaches are not available. Your weekly limit resets every Monday at 2:59AM EST.  Access to Pear Deck Tutor is on a desktop, laptop, or tablet.  For more information and access to Pear Deck Tutor go to Tutoring.

Create Family/Friend Reading Hours

With some children also moving to distance learning, there is an opportunity to create a family study space. For example, consider creating a “family reading hour” where all devices are put away, turned off, or silenced. Identify a goal for everyone including yourself. When you are finished, have everyone, including you, share a little bit about what they read. “Teaching” others helps with memory and understanding of reading material. When the hour is complete, do a shared fun activity (play a game, etc.) to reward everyone for meeting their reading goal. If there are no children in your home, this also works well with friends, partners, or spouses. In addition, you can even do this at a distance by connecting online or over the phone with others to share your reading.

Review Academic Support Resources on MySUNYEmpire

The academic support team is here to support you during this transition to distance learning. In addition to meeting with a tutor, there are also many resources that can be accessed 24/7 on the MySUNYEmpire Academic Support page. For example, there are videos on writing papers, using graphs, and more. In addition, there are interactive tools such as the Thesis Generator and Assignment Calculator to support writing assignments.  If you don’t see what you need, simply email for assistance.

Connect with Your Primary Mentor

Throughout these transitions, your Primary Mentor remains an excellent resource for you. If you are unsure of next steps, are experiencing significant difficulty in completing your courses, or have questions regarding enrollment, please do contact your Primary Mentor.  If you are unable to connect with your Primary Mentor, email, and a member of our Student Success team will assist you.

Check out This Resource for More Helpful Tips

Click here to access "Tips for Online Learning/Distance Learning" from other students and online instructors.