Effective Virtual Learning: Tips for Time Management

When it comes to managing your schedule in college—is it possible to keep time on your side?

The University of Vermont Continuing and Distance Education recently hosted three free, informational webinars on Effective Virtual Learning: Student Strategies and Resources to examine how students can make the most of their academic experience during the coronavirus pandemic. In part one, Time Management Strategies, panelists Keith Williams, Tutor Program Administrator for the Tutoring Center | Center for Academic Success, Dr. Nicole Breslend, Lecturer for the Department of Psychological Science, and Megan Faber, a UVM senior majoring in Human Development and Family Studies and a study skills and subject area tutor, discussed how students can harness both university resources and self-awareness to maximize their efficiency during the school year.


How Much Time Do Students Really Have?

Before you can even start figuring out how to manage your time effectively, Williams stated that students must first acknowledge how much they time they actually have to work with—and the breakdown can be eye-opening. There are 168 hours in the week, and if students are achieving the recommended eight hours of sleep per day, taking 15 hours of classes (and doing the recommended two hours of homework per credit hour), blocking off 21 hours for cooking and meals (one hour per meal over the course of the week), seven hours each for a week’s worth of hygiene, travel, and chores, and 14 hours for Netflix and downtime, that leaves only eight hours of free time—and things like working out, social time, full- or part-time jobs, or phone calls to family and friends haven’t even been factored in yet. Without an effective time management system in place, one can imagine that any semblance of “balance” can quickly derail.


Time Management for Remote Learning

“I think the best thing is to figure out what works for you and what’s worked in the past,” Faber said. “This semester does look really different, but if you know that mobile apps work really well for you, try to incorporate those into your schedule. If you know that a paper planner has worked throughout high school and so on, keep using that. And I think, actually using it is the most important part because nobody is telling you what you have to do […] it’s more on you now, so make sure you’re looking at your syllabi ahead of time. I like to make a big list at the beginning of the semester of all my assignments that are due, and then sometimes I break it down by week just to keep myself on track. And I know that if I don’t get it done today, I can get it done tomorrow, so give yourself a little bit of grace with that since we’re all adjusting.”


Recognizing Your Learning “Modes”

Realizing that your openness to learning and goal-reaching may be dependent on time of day (are you a “morning person” or a “night owl”?), whether your energy is driven by caffeine or food, and how your environment determines your ability to accomplish your goals, Williams noted that people’s modes generally fall into three categories and gave examples of how to work depending on how you’re feeling:

  • Go” Mode (energized, alert): write a paper, learn something new, focused reading, create a diagram, etc.
  • Slow” Mode (moderate energy and focus level): review learned material, draft an outline for a paper, create a study guide, prioritize your “to-dos”
  • No” Mode (low energy, easily distracted): create flash cards, organize notes, color coding, highlighting materials, make a to-do list

Recognizing Learning Modes Remote Learning“It does require self-reflection,” Breslend said. “I think, especially if you’re coming from high school, you may have been in go, go, go mode all the time, and maybe you already had a structure in place where we had dinner at this time, we had homework at this time—that’s very different in college—there’s much more independence, which means we may be doing Netflix time when it’s actually a good time for us to be studying.”


Virtual Learning Resources and Strategies for Time Management

When it comes to achieving your school/work/life balance, there’s going to be a period of trial and error. “No one likes to hear this, but this is a highly personal thing and nothing is going to work 100% for every person,” Williams said. “We’re going to have some strategies that are widely useful, but everyone needs to find their own path with this.”


In his experience, Williams finds that students do generally well with some of these suggestions and guidelines:

  • Create routine wherever possible
  • Create an at-a-glance Master Calendar for the semester
    • Assignments, homework
    • Long-term assignment deadlines
    • Exams
    • Optional: important dates (withdrawal deadline, cancelled classes, social events)
  • Get specific about long-term and short-term plans
    • Set specific goals
    • Fine-tune the to-do list
  • Support ongoing reflection
    • Schedule: get specific and know when you’re done (not when you just feel done)
    • Study as you go: 45 minutes of work, 15 minutes review
    • Take breaks! Mini study sessions are much more effective
    • Find your focus: where, when, distractions (phone)
    • Monitor how you’re doing: Zoom in, zoom out (by day, week, month)
    • Don’t work alone: Instructors, peers, TAs, and tutors


In light of this semester’s varied course delivery options and the increased rates of anxiety and depression accompanying the coronavirus pandemic, Breslend, Williams, and Faber all encourage open communication and participation with your professors, TAs, and other valuable university resources, such as the various libraries on campus, free peer tutoring, and the wide variety of clubs to help keep you integrated and connected to your studies and the UVM community.

Associate Director for Student Life, Jerome Budomo explains how students can stay involved while taking remote classes.


“The bottom line is that mental health is the most important thing,” Breslend said. “We’re not robots, right? We all need to have leisure activities, we all need to have a sense of involvement, and that’s actually going to help you feel more energized and motivated to be able to do the other things that you need to do. Making sure that you are feeling connected and involved, even if you are doing your courses remotely, is going to be really important for you to actually succeed in all these other areas.”

Watch the full Effective Virtual Learning Time Management Webinar.

Look for part two and three of our Effective Virtual Learning Series on Creating a Learning Mindset and Holistic Approach to Learning Amidst Uncertainty.