Peer learning consultant shares tips to focus during online quarter

Jan. 20, 2021, 8:58 p.m.

When undergraduate peer learning consultant Melissa Santos ’21 asked students what the most challenging part about online learning has been, students repeated four phrases: Zoom fatigue, distractions, no motivation and too many classes. 

The challenges mentioned during Tuesday’s workshop hosted by the Stanford Center for Teaching and Learning align with difficulties that many students are facing due to the shift to online learning. 

How can students focus better in their online classes? According to Santos, students should limit distractions, engage with class materials and create a daily routine. 

To limit distractions, Santos recommended closing tabs that are no longer in use, turning off notifications while in class, putting cell phones and other devices in a place where they cannot be seen and using headphones to block out ambient noise. 

Specific Zoom features can help students limit distractions while in class, Santos said. She added that setting Zoom to “side by side mode: speaker view” when a professor is screen sharing will split the screen between the content and the professor’s face, helping to limit distractions and mimicking the lecture hall experience.  

Additionally, Santos recommended hiding the self-view on Zoom to avoid being distracted by your appearance during lectures, sections and meetings.

The workshop’s second recommendation for staying focused during class was to engage with class materials by skimming through materials before lecture to aid in “goal-directed listening.” According to Santos, bringing specific goals and questions to lecture after skimming through material helps to establish what you want to get out of the class session. 

Connecting course material to something you are interested in is also helpful when trying to stay focused both in the online setting and in-person, according to Santos. She recommended “doing some careful reflection on why you’re in the classes that you’re in” to maintain motivation throughout the quarter.

For classes that are heavy on problem sets, Santos recommended skimming through notes within 24 hours of lecture to retain information. She also advised trying out problem sets without resources first, seeking help from teacher’s assistants and office hours as well as collaboratively studying with other students to make sure you understand the material.

For lecture based classes, Santos recommended associating something different with each online class, whether that be sitting in a different corner of the room or drinking a different drink for each class. Stretching as often as possible can also help maintain focus. To retain content, Santos recommended writing six-word summaries of readings to make sure you understand what you read.

Santos’ final recommendation is to create a daily routine. Why routines? According to Santos, “it helps us become more motivated and less distracted.”

In addition to helping to improve productivity, Santos said that routines “ensure that we gift ourselves plenty of time for breaks and self-care.” As opposed to only putting school and work-related action items in routines, Santos recommended also including time for breaks, exercise, sleep and other forms of self-care.

“I definitely believe the tips brought up are useful,” said attendee Ximena Sanchez Martinez ’23. “I actually started using headphones for lecture today, and it made me feel more engaged.”

When making these changes to your life, Santos said tracking successes and failures, having an accountability partner and rewarding yourself are key.  The Center for Teaching and Learning is launching an Accountability Partner Program on Thursday, which will match interested students with another student so that they can work together and hold each other accountable. The program will close for enrollment on Jan. 27.

A time management drop-in session will take place on Thursday, where students can plan out their week and or quarter with Peer Learning Consultants. 

For more information about events, workshops, virtual study halls and tips for remote learning through the Center for Teaching and Learning, visit

Contact Malaysia Atwater at matwater ‘at’

Malaysia Atwater '23 is a senior staff writer and former Vol. 260/261 managing editor in the News section. She is a political science major from Centennial, Colorado, and she enjoys dancing and re-watching Grey's Anatomy in her free time. Contact her at matwater 'at'

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