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Learning online: Home

everything you need to get you started

When learning remotely, you will find you may have to learn through live-streamed lectures and seminars, or through lecture recordings or other views.

This guides covers everything you need to get started.

University of Southampton students share their top tips for learning online:

With most of your lectures being delivered as video or Panopto recordings, we give you some tips on how to make the most of these as learning experiences.


When and where to watch

Work in Bed iconThe first thing to point out is that working from recordings means you actually have a lot more choice about when and where to watch your lectures. Embrace the difference! It is not better or worse, just different.

For most people it will be best to watch your lectures during allocated 'work time' in a distraction-free 'work space' in order to bring some structure to your day.

Be distraction free

Home Office iconKeep your concentration and focus on the content by making your workspace as distraction-free as possible. The fact that you can pause the recording means that you are more likely to respond to a phone call or a notification than you would be at a live lecture.

Take breaks

Relax iconDon't watch back-to-back lectures. Take breaks after each one to stretch your legs and grab a drink or a snack. Staring at a computer for a long period of time can also strain your eyes so make sure you take breaks from looking at your screen to change your focal length and flex your eye muscles as well as your aching back.


Preparing to watch

Reading iconThere may be less opportunities to ask immediate questions, so give yourself a head-start and do a bit of preparation beforehand. There may be the opportunity to ask questions via the conversation box in Teams or Blackboard Collaborate. The best way is to read something related to the lecture topic before you watch the recording. Check to see if there are book chapters or articles that are relevant. Look back at your notes from the previous lecture too - this lecture may build on that one.


Making notes

Create Document iconMake notes just like you would at a live lecture. There are more details about this and other methods on this interactive tutorial on making notes during lectures (UoS login required).  See also the section on Creating Digital Notes within this guide.

Try something new

Bang iconTry a method of notemaking you don’t usually use, perhaps because it normally takes too long – maybe something more visual like a mind map. Being able to pause recordings means you can have more time to keep up as you create these.

If you are taking notes digitally, consider including some screen shots of particularly important slides that you can then annotate.

Use time stamps

Stopwatch iconIncorporate time-stamps into your notes (this just means noting how far the video is through when a particular topic is discussed). This will make it easier to go back and re-watch specific parts of it if you need to later.


Asking and answering questions

Can you answer your own question?

Ask Question icon When watching a lecture recording you are usually sat at a computer or using a smart device and you have a world of information at your fingertips. If there are things you don't understand, write the question in your notes (perhaps with a big question mark before it so you can locate it easily afterwards).  You can research anything you still don't understand afterwards. 

You could pause the recording and immediately look it up, but this is not really recommended as it can interrupt your concentration and the lecturer may explain it later anyway. Only do this if you think your lack of understanding is interfering with your ability to understand other parts of the lecture.

Use forums

FAQ iconMany modules will have chat forums set up within their Blackboard site. You can use this to ask questions of both your lecturer and other people on the module. This can be a great way of keeping in touch with your peers. Consider visiting such forums regularly even if you are not looking for answers - you may be able to give them. 

Contact your lecturer

Email iconIf you still do not understand something or have follow up questions about the topic of the lecture, your lecturer is happy to answer these via email. Do not feel you are 'bothering' them. Some may have designated online 'office hours' where they guarantee to be online and monitoring their emails or any forums they have set up. If you need to ask a question, go ahead and contact them. We have a tab on Contacting lecturers within this guide for more advice.


After watching

Do something with your notes the next day

Arrow iconIf you don't revisit your notes within a day or two you will forget much of the content. Look over them and highlight key phrases, illustrate them with pictures, fill in any gaps, convert linear notes into a mindmap: anything that gets you thinking actively about them rather than just reading them.

Check for related material

Checklist iconWhilst it is still fairly fresh in your mind, why not do some reading around the topic? Your reading list may have links to ebooks, digitised chapters of books, or related journal articles.


With a lot of teaching now taking place using live online sessions, this page hopes to help you make the most of this form of instruction and collaboration.

What is expected of you in a Live online teaching session?

These can be divided up into two types: those where you can talk (and perhaps share video via your webcam) and those where you can't. 

Sessions where you can talk

Hand iconIn smaller group sessions, you may be given the option to enable your microphone and webcam and therefore be able to participate verbally. Some platforms have a hands up button that you can click on to show that you would like to contribute and whoever is hosting the session can give you the 'floor'.

You can also participate by typing into chat windows. These are the place to ask questions, share short thoughts and often links to web pages and documents. They are not automatically opened by some platforms - so look for the word 'chat' or an icon of a speech bubble or something similar.

Sessions where you cannot talk

Mute Unmute iconFor larger sessions, it becomes unwieldy if everyone has the ability to participate verbally and therefore this option may not be available. If this is the case, then your main way of contributing is via a chat window. As mentioned above, some platforms do not automatically display their chat windows so look out for the word 'chat' or an icon of a speech bubble or something similar.

The presenter may ask you for answers to particular questions which you need to type into the chat window, or you may want to use it to ask questions of the presenter.

If the presenter wants your opinion on something they could ask you to vote in a poll. These are usually anonymous.


Getting the most from a live online teaching session

Chat iconParticipate: It seems obvious but the whole point of a live session rather than a lecture recording is that you can get involved. So ask and answer questions and speak if you can.

Documents iconPrepare: Make sure you do any pre-reading. Even if you are not given anything specific, it may be worth checking reading lists or going online to see what you can find out about the topic.

Wait iconWait: There is often a time-lag or the presenter may be concentrating on something else, so if you ask a question in the chat window don't worry if there is a slight delay in it being answered.

Go Back iconWatch back: Many live sessions are recorded meaning you can watch them again. This can be a better time for taking notes as you are not being required to participate.

Ball Point Pen iconTake notes: As mentioned above, this can be easiest when you are looking back at a recording of the teaching session.   Watch this note-taking tutorial for tips (UoS login required).

Your course lecturers are here to help you. They are working hard to move teaching online and ensure you can still meet all the necessary learning objectives. If you have any issues or problems, we urge you get in touch.

University of Southampton students share their tips on finding support from staff and other students:


Communicate iconContacting lecturers directly

If you have any problems or issues with a module or assessment, then it is important to get in touch with your lecturer. You can contact them directly via email.

If you are unsure of the contact details for your lecturer - check the relevant Blackboard module.


Google Groups iconContacting peers

Blackboard's discussion boards (described below) are a great way of keeping in touch with your peers (the other people on your module). We also have a dedicated guide to Collaborating online.


Classroom iconTools your lecturers may use

The University provides several tools that your lecturers may use to get in touch with you and other people in a module. If you cannot see these tools, this may be because your lecturer has not enabled them. They may have a good reason for this, but feel free to get in touch and ask them. 

Blackboard Discussion Board

This works just like any other community forum or bulletin board. If enabled, it allows everyone to start a discussion thread that other students can then reply to. There are lots of ways this can be used in Blackboard, including structured discussions, Q&A and assessments.   Students can create threads within each discussion forum which enables them to discuss topics with both their lecturers and their peers.

Live online teaching sessions (Panopto Live, Microsoft Teams, Blackboard Collaborate etc.)

Live teaching session are often interactive, allowing you to post chat messages, ask questions and participate in discussions.  Tips on how to get the best out of these sessions can be found in the Learning from Webinars section of this guide.

‘Notetaking’ should actually be thought as ‘note creating’ or 'note making'. This is because good notes are unique creations that represent your thinking, learning, understanding and questioning – all of which are active processes. In contrast, ‘taking notes’ that represent exactly what you have heard or have read are actually poor for learning as they are developed passively and this does not require much thought.

Paper Plane iconDigital vs paper

This short film considers which is best for note-taking.


Note iconIf you currently use the traditional pen and paper method for creating notes, then you might like to consider the powerful benefits of using digital devices for note-taking

  • Audio recording: the more popular note-taking apps allow users to playback their own notes, which is a great tool if you prefer to learn audibly.  Additionally you can record sound bites from your lectures, or even the entire lecture, to back up your notes.  Some allow you to simultaneously take notes which sync with the audio recording - so you can replay sections of the lecture when reviewing your notes.
  • Simplified sharing: If you are involved in group work then digital note-taking simplifies the sharing process and means that you can't lose shared material.  Notes can be shared with the click of a button, and as long as they are saved or backed up it's pretty difficult to lose them.
  • Search functionality: Many note-taking apps enable you to search for keywords and phrases to quickly find information.  Some note-taking apps even allow you to search your handwriting.

Today Apps icon

Apps for note creation


OneNote: Microsoft OneNote gathers users’ notes (handwritten or typed), drawings, screen clippings and audio commentaries. Notes can be shared with other OneNote users over the Internet or a network. OneNote is available for free to all University of Southampton students through Office 365.   More details on how to sign up for Office 365 can be found on the Using technology section of this guide.

Google Keep: Google Keep allows users to make text notes, audio recordings, sketches, to-do-lists, and save images.

Keep is downloaded on Android devices by default (except on Huawei) and is also available on iOS and online.

It is completely free to use and syncs across platforms; notes can easily be categorised, searched, and pinned.

Notability: if you want to combine the features of note-taking via keyboard apps with the inking capability of a sketch app, you might like to try Notability (available on the iPad, iPhone and Mac).

Evernote: Evernote allows you to create a note which can be a piece of formatted text, a full webpage or webpage except, a photograph, a voice memo, or a handwritten "ink" note. Notes can also have file attachments. Notes can be sorted into folders, tagged, annotated, edited, given comments, searched, and exported as part of a notebook.

Evernote supports a number of operating system platforms (including Mac, iOS, Chrome OS, Android, and Microsoft Windows) and also offers online synchronisation and backup services.

It is available in a paid version or a more restricted free version. Use of the online service is free up to a certain monthly usage limit, with additional monthly use reserved for Plus subscribers, and unlimited monthly use for Premium customers.

Acknowledgement (click to read more...)

Creative Commons License  'Skills for studying online'. Our pages are a derivative of  Remote learning SkillsGuide available at licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. We thank the generosity of the University of Hull Library for providing a CC BY-NC-SA licence and under the terms provide the same licence for our pages.

Related resources:

Should you take your notes on a computer? - College Info Geek

Study Tips to Succeed as an Online Student

Tips from an Online University Student

Strategies for Learning - interactive tutorial with tips on how to personalise and improve your learning



How to create a productive study space - a Campus Well visual guide to creating a productive study space

Tips to study online or remotely - A UCAS and Open University guide to staying focused and productive, as well as maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Studying Online Ebook PDF by Skills for Study