Road to College: Optimizing the Online Learning Mindset 

For many of us, March marks almost a full year of online learning. While many schools have taken advantage of hybrid models, virtual instruction has largely remained an important but often challenging component of students’ academic lives. By now, it’s likely that online high school students have formed new habits, attitudes, and approaches to learning, but how can we ensure these online learning mindsets continue to optimize, rather than hinder, student growth? 

As online learning fatigue settles in, students may struggle to maintain previous levels of academic progress or to engage fully in classes and academic activities. The structure of online learning itself presents a hurdle for many students as at-home environments typically allow energy and focus to be more easily diverted. Digital distractions such as texting, TikTok, or video games can quickly redirect student attention and create larger habits of disengagement, leading to a frustrated and often underperforming student. Beyond the student, some educators’ lack of dynamic instruction methods can further limit student involvement and enthusiasm. While the overall goals of optimizing academic outcomes and cultivating a balanced student lifestyle largely remain the same, we must find new ways to deliver and mindfully receive the same education through this nuanced online medium.  

Shifting focus away from the confines and limitations of a digital environment and instead towards its unique challenges can free students from seeing virtual schooling as an insurmountable obstacle. Learning to focus on one’s own performance and journey to success within these new confines, rather than on the confines themselves, can cultivate a more productive, motivated student mindset.   

Tips for parents: be mindful of distractions students have in their room or desk when in online class. Set up ground rules to follow. The biggest threats to academic performance are the phone, followed by video games, which are both especially damaging without boundaries or impulse control skills.  

Tips for teachers: make sure to call on students and engage in more dialogue during class time. Use this time to connect and sample student understanding, and record asynchronous lectures that can be viewed offline and then quizzed about later. This model will increase an understanding of challenges students are facing, and will decrease disengagement.  

Learning to channel effort and attention towards individual needs and goals will help maintain a flexible student mindset in which your child can regularly assess their best path to success. Students should focus less on the difficulties facing them, more on an understanding of what they may require to find personal success within the novel context of any such challenges. With this new attitude, your student can be prepared to adapt and respond effectively to nuances and bumps along the road to college.  

Tony Di Giacomo an educator and founder of Novella Prep. He has 20 years of university experience in admissions, development, teaching, and research. Contact him at 

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About the Author: Tony Di Giacomo, Ph.D.