Online Learning in a Time of Social Distancing

You and your professors were not prepared to finish your semester online. And yet, here you are, almost 2 weeks in to a "new normal".


I’m writing these tips as a professor who teaches both in person and online. My classes for this semester were already scheduled online and I’ve been teaching this way for several years.


Here are a few tips:

  1. Your professors are human. They are going through many of the same stresses as you are going through and they were expected to get your course up and running with, in some cases, little lead time and assistance.

  2. Communicate your questions and concerns as promptly as you can and put them in writing (via email). In communicating by writing, you create virtual “paper trail” for you and your professor to come back to as you two may need. As a professor, I often will refer back to these questions to ensure that I have responded appropriately and in a timely manner. Additionally, should a student find my answer to be unhelpful, it provides me insight into exactly what I said that wasn’t helpful.

  3. Participate in ANY virtual meetings, lectures, office hours, etc. that are offered to allow full participation and to make sure you are understanding the material. In addition to enabling your professor to know who you are, this will also help you fully comprehend course material. While professors may be grading more or less pass/fail for the time being, your comprehension will be important for your future work. Take advantage of what’s offered. If you cannot participate in the times offered, ask your professor for other options or to post recordings.

  4. Create virtual study groups with your classmates. Again, I cannot stress enough that you make sure you are truly learning the material. And what better way to do this, and to create a little social interaction, than to do it with your classmates. Your online university systems should allow for you to email with your fellow classmates. If it does not do so, ask the professor for a little assistance to reach out to classmates for this very reason.

  5. Actually do the work! It may be tempting to just “half-ass” it without a “real” grade. These last few weeks of the semester are a real opportunity to practice learning for the sake of learning, a true life-skill. And, the semester may provide you with essential skills and knowledge you will need for future semesters.

  6. If you feel that you are not getting enough instruction in the material, speak up and document your requests and needs. I urge you to be reasonable in your requests while considering your education and learning needs. My feeling on asking for help is this-if you ask, the worst-case scenario is someone says “no.”

  7. RELAX! Times are stressful but you can do it! You’ve been through challenges in the past and you have learned from those experiences and built your resilience. Yep, today is different. Reach out for help as you need it from your university, family, friends, classmates, and professionals.

Be well and stay safe. With much respect in your educational endeavors in the pandemic,

Jenny Hoffman, LCSW



Jenny Hoffman is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Private Practice in Creve Coeur and works as a Professor at The Brown School of Social Work at Washington University and Maryville University. Jenny specializes in working with teens and adults with mood and anxiety disorders as well as people working through life’s transitions. Jenny believes in finding the strengths in her individual clients to meet their personal goals. In her personal time, Jenny enjoys reading and traveling and is an avid hockey fan.