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Welcome to The Virtual Classroom

Five ways to make the most of remote learning

Many of us around the globe have been or are currently living in various stages of "lockdown" or "quarantine" due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic. The pre-pandemic ways of learning and communicating, including in-person meetings and large scale workshops, have become less common and just plain unsafe due to concerns of person-to-person transmission. For this reason, the remote education (sometimes called distance learning) has quickly become standard. As much as many of us would like, it is unlikely that our education and ways of conducting business will ever return to "normal." The process of moving from the old in-person, brick-and-mortar school model to a new remote model may seem like sudden change to many learners, parents and guardians, and educators. However, this movement began years before this pandemic. As soon as the World Wide Web was invented by British scientist Tim Berners-LEe at CERN in Switzerland in 1989, the stones of the path towards remote learning were laid (1).

Changing from in-person, one-on-one lessons to FaceTime or from a 30-person class to Zoom may seem intimidating for everyone involved. If you are an educator, you may wonder how you can communicate effectively in the virtual space. And, if you are a learner, you may have a difficult time recalling material your teacher shared with you during an online lesson. Yet, remote learning does not to be scary or overwhelming. Remote learning technology (whether it's a multimedia lesson that includes an interactive activities such as games or quizzes, video and/or audio lectures, or in real-time virtual instruction) is an educational tool like a good method book (2), a marker board, or an ergonomic desk that when used well facilitates learning. In fact, many of the study habits that make for a successful traditional educational experience apply to remote learning as well. However, there are some differences to keep in mind as well. Let's consider five ways we can make the most our of our remote learning experiences.

Have specific goals.

Having goals is a crucial piece to any learning, whether it is online or in a brick-and-mortar classroom or studio. Goals usually start with a dream or aspiration. Since this is a music education site, we will focus on building goals that take us to accomplishing our musical aspirations. For example, maybe you imagine yourself singing a song you wrote while strumming an acoustic guitar at a local coffeeshop for an audience of 10 or playing a bass guitar solo in front of a 10,000 seat arena sometime in the future. Or, maybe you envision yourself scoring movies or video games professionally. Or, maybe you have always wanted to perform Chopin's touching Prélude in E minor for your own enjoyment. Dreams are often dismissed as frivolous fantasy, however, they are the first step to creating real-life goals.

If you have a vague idea where you want to go but are unclear on the specifics. You may want to write our your vision in a journal or create a vision board containing the unclear images and feelings that flash through your mind. I discussed the Power of Journaling for artists and students of the arts back in 2018 in this blog, and I offer some guidebooks for aspiring journals in my personal blog as well in my article, Ready, Set 2018.

Once you have a dream in mind. Your instructor will help you devise a step-by-step plan of specific mini-goals and activities that will help make your dreams come true in real life. It is important to always have goals as they direct your student and practice. But, it is important that they remain flexible. You may find that your goals change and how you reach them may end up being different than you initially planned. In fact, remaining flexible in your thinking is just as important as being physically flexible. According to noted psychologist and Freud contemporary Arthur Adler, mentally healthy people use goals to meet social needs, achieve personal significance in their lives, and overcome personal difficulties(3).

“No man can think, feel, will, nor even dream, without everything being defined, conditioned, limited, directed by a goal which floats before him.” –Arthur Adler

Set aside regular practice time.

There's a reason why athletes must go to "practice." And, a reason why professions such as medical doctors, lawyers, and psychologists like Adler have a "practice." Practice is not a place we go or drudgery that we have to get-through, it is what we do to perform our skill or career. And, as musicians and artists, we all know we must practice.

The axiom "Practice makes perfect" is not how ww should view our regular practice time. When we are practicing we are not doing busy works before the real work begins, we are doing the real work. As musicians and artists, our work is our practice and when you practice think of it as such. Make your scales beautiful, create melodies with your vocal warm ups, and turn your I-IV-V-I cadences into songs. (If you don't know where to start or what any of these mean, feel free to ask questions!) Whether you are sight-reading a new piece or playing through an old standard that you have played 1,000 times before do not expect it to be "perfect" but allow yourself to make the experience as musical as possible.

Although it may be easy to become distracted by computers and smart devices always sending us alerts and offering new and exciting diversions, the world of computers and smart devices can benefit our practice as well. Use your calendar app to block off your regular practice time and set it to "busy." Turning off your notifications, except for the most important, during your practice time will cut down on the temptation to see the latest updates. Use a timer app and set it for the minimum amount of time you want your session to be and do not look at it until that time is done and add time (or don't) to your session. Use a virtual tuner to check the tuning of your instrument or voice during sessions as well. Sometimes you can see things you might not be able to hear. Record your practice sessions with your camera or audio recorder. Allow the record to run uninterrupted throughout the whole session. Then you can go back and see how you did and what you would like to change next time. Recording your practice and noting trouble spots to share with your teacher is also a way for your teacher (and/or other students) to assist your as well.

Pre-Troubleshoot your technology before class starts.

As it is easy to become distracted by technology, it is easy to become bogged down by small but not significant technical problems. You camera might not turn on when starting the video app or your microphone may be muted, or your screen sharing might not be functioning properly. The best way to avoid these annoyances is to get acquainted with the technology you will be using before class starts. If you are having trouble setting up, you may be able to get pointers from your teacher or other teacher or students before class. If you are my student, I am happy to do my best to answer your technical questions that you send me via email,, if they are at least 24-hours before our session. You may need to contact the developers or manufacturers for some problems and it is best to give them as much time as possible to get back to you, so test your tech as soon as you know you will be using it for remote learning.

Be an active learner during remote learning sessions.

In the case of remote learning, it may feel like you are "watching" your teacher like they are a video clip during real-time sessions. However, real-time remote learning is just as active as in-person learning. It's just as important to ask questions at appropriate times during remote learning as it is during in-person learning. Your teacher does not know what you do not know or need clarification on if you don't share. Sometimes students may be afraid to ask questions due to fear of appearing foolish. However, there are no dumb questions, only dumb (in this case meaning those who are not speaking up) people. Your teacher is there to facilitate your learning and wants to help you grow, asking questions is an important part of that process.

Another way to stay engaged during remote learning sessions is to physically (on paper) during it. Studies have shown that writing down, rather than typing or recording, increases our mental retention. Reading physical books, as oppoased to eBooks, is also a way to increase learning (4).

Engage online with your peers as well as with experts [this includes your teacher(s)] outside class.

As it is important to practice regularly and be an active participant in remote learning session, it is important to engage with your peers and experts outside of class time. Make sure you have your the appropriate contact information for your teacher and know when (and if) they accept student questions outside of class. If your teacher or school offers a message board make sure that you are a regular participant.

Your teacher may know of relevant forums for students. Some of the ones I recommend include or pianists, and for producers and composers, and for vocalists. There are many more great online communities out there who are willing to share their experiences and insights. Or, you may wish to become involved in virtual open mics, professional conferences or workshops. Finding a support community is an important part of growth. Feel free to share in the comments or with me via email,, those you discover.

“The world is so empty if one thinks only of mountains, rivers and cities; but to know someone who thinks and feels with us, and who, though distant, is close to us in spirit, this makes the earth for us an inhabited garden.”–Goethe

Remote learning enables us to work towards our goals.

Although it's implementation may seem sudden to some, remote learning is here to stay. In fact, it's essential to building a sustainable future and enables us to work towards our goals from wherever we may be. How have you used remote learning in your day-to-day life? Have you tried a new recipe you watched a chef create or tackled home repairs you watched on YouTube? Or, have you followed a Pinterest board full of craft ideas? Remember that tutorials can only take you so far. Read my Jan. 2018 article, Why is a teacher better than a tutorial?, to learn how an expert instructor can guide you—whether in-person or —to help you bloom. Feel free to contact via email,, with your questions. And, check out the Back-to-School/Fall 2020 Remote Learning Special and save an addtional 20% off a four-lesson remote learning package.

Further Reading Notes:

(1) Read about the beginning of the web at CERN here.

(2) See some of my recommendations here.

(3) See this Psychology Today article offers more insight into goals here.

(4) See the research summed up here.


Janae J. Almen is a professional music instructor, composer, sound artist, and writer. She has a BA in Music/Education from Judson University and a MM in Computer Music/Composition from the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University. She is the founder of Perennial Music and Arts and is passionate about sharing her love of music and arts.



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