department menu

Virtual Learning Strategies

In order to be successful  this upcoming semester we want to ensure  you consider the following factors as you prepare for virtual    learning. While many of the learning strategies that you got here will  be similar, there are differences in online learning, and it's important  you take time to prepare prior to the semester beginning.


What's the difference between synchronous, asynchronous, and blended learning?

Synchronous: Synchronous learning is the kind of learning that happens in real time. This means  you will be meeting with your classmates and instructor in a specific virtual place (mostly Zoom) at a specific time and day. Start by reading the syllabus and course announcements for specific information for logging in!  

  • Most importantly, prepare ahead of time and log in 5 minutes early! (You may need to set up internet connection, monitors, headphones, passwords, note taking materials, etc. and that can take a few minutes.)
  • Make sure you are muted.
  • If your camera is on - what is everyone seeing? Be thoughtful about your background surroundings. Note that some instructors expect cameras on as evidence of participation.
  • Troubleshoot ahead of class.
  • Note: Some labs and courses have approval for campus meetings, even if the rest of the class is virtual. It's imperative you check with your instructor for meeting times, safety rules, and class expectations.
  • If the course has a final exam, then a 2-hour final exam will be scheduled during finals week.

Asynchronous: Asynchronous learning happens on your own schedule but requires you to meet specified deadlines for assignments and engagement as explained by your instructor. While your instructor may pre-load lectures or provide materials for reading, you have the ability to access and satisfy these requirements with independence and flexibility.

    • Just because you are not meeting live does not mean your instructor can't help - ask for help or clarity!

    • Each class could be set up differently, logging in early and frequently (every day) can ensure you stay on top of requirements and find the course more managable in regard to time and expectations.

    • It’s common to require that you post answers to questions or discussion prompts within a given time frame.  You may also be expected to comment on the posts of other students during the time frame for that assignment.

If you are not using a planner or calendar, NOW IS THE TIME. Use an app on your phone or google calendar; whatever it is you need to make set blocks of time for studying and assignment completion.

  • It’s common to require that you post answers to questions or discussion prompts within a given time frame.  You may also be expected to comment on the posts of other students during the time frame for that assignment.

Blended Synchronous & Asynchronous: This learning type is a combination of both synchronous and asynchronous modes.  Courses will vary in the amount of each mode employed.  Blended classes have some dates where the class takes place in real time with the instructor and students interacting; other parts of the class take place independently.  Be sure to use your calendar to set the synchronous meeting dates. The class may be meeting synchronously as much as every week (15 or more times during the semester) or it may meet synchronously for only one or more specific dates during the semester. The descriptions above will provide tips for success in each mode. 

Tips & Tricks for Success

  • Make sure you have access to the technology you need.

    • Do you have a laptop, computer, or other mobile device?
    • Do you have internet access?  Will you able to stream live class sessions?
    • Most instructors will be utilizing Cougar Courses to deliver course materials. Did you know you can access this via the CSUSM app?
    • Download the Zoom app and the Teams app to ensure you have access to CSUSM virtual campus on your phone!

    If you expect this to be a barrier for you, please see the Technical Support and Resources page for students. If you are in need of a computer or internet access, please email Test your devices ahead of time if you are using any video- or tele-conferencing software like Zoom or Microsoft Teams

  • Read the syllabus, write down any questions you have and ask!

     It's important that you understand course expectations right away. For example,

    • Is the class meeting regularly every week via Zoom (synchronous) or are you able to complete the course material at your own pace (asynchronous)? 
    • Does the course have an additional lab or live performance requirement? If so, make sure you understand specifically how your lab, discussion or live performance sections will be conducted throughout the semester. 

    Do your best to communicate regularly with your instructor, either through Cougar Courses or directly through email.  Don’t hesitate to ask questions or seek clarification, if you have any difficulty at all with access to course content, contact your instructor immediately. Don't be afraid to ask for help; pride won't help you pass your class!

  • Create and stick with a time management plan.

    • Create a schedule of when you need to attend class or for the time you need to spend logging in to your courses. 
    • Make a plan for when you are going to do your homework, assignments, essays/papers, and studying for exams. 
    • It can be easy to look at the list of all you have to do and get overwhelmed, so try: creating a list of tasks, prioritize them, then start going down the list one task at a time.  With larger tasks and assignments, break them down into smaller chunks: for example, instead of just “write my term paper,” break it down into distinct pieces.

    When you finish a task, reward yourself!  Take a ten minute break, have a snack, take a walk, text a friend, watch netflix, anything that can motivate you to finish each task… and then keep working! 

  • Find somewhere to study!

    In addition to setting a schedule, set up a physical space that maximizes your ability to learn.  This means different things for different students, but for many this means maintaining a clean and organized desk or table on which to work, setting a space apart from distractions like television and video games, and finding either a quiet place or using headphones to block outside noise. 

    Set boundaries and expectations with family or roomates about when you might be in-class or studying. Setting these expectations with each other can deepen the respect and support your family and/or roomates can provide you during this time. 

  • What about accessibility & accomodations?

    Students with concerns regarding the accessibility of online course content should contact their instructors or reach out to Disability Support Services  or email for options. 

  • What do my peers have to say?

    Peer tutors in the Writing Center have been working on their own list of resources for the transition to a virtual learning environment.  They are students just like you, facing the same challenges and learning to adapt.  See what they have to offer on the Writing Center’s website.
  • Additional Links & Video Tips

     Check out the Academic Success Center's website for online tools for academic success. You got this!


    These websites have great study tips for time management, stress management, and online test-taking.

    A few videos that discuss study strategies & time management:

Virtual Tutoring, Supplemental Instruction, and Study Groups !

Don't be afraid to get more support as you navigate these waters by using our free peer-led tutoring, supplemental instruction, and study groups which are available for students through Learning & Tutoring Services.

Fun Fact: Students who take advantage of the learning and tutoring services, get better grades. So, how can you build a visit into your new time management routine