Learning Online: Tips for getting started

Egyptology - Tips for online learners: Getting started

For the purpose of this guide, I will base my tips on my learning experience with the University of Manchester's online Egyptology courses which have been delivered exclusively online for many years. I began learning online in 2011 and will (hopefully) complete my Masters in Egyptology in 2021.

These are just examples of one way to approach your studies, pick and choose what you think might work for you and enjoy your adventure!

Once you've chosen and enrolled in your online course, what next?

Logging in
Tip: Record your course login details and keep them safe!

You will be using your credentials often. Consider adding them to autofill on your device as long as you feel confident it is secure. If you are starting at an institution like Manchester at an entry level course, your login details will be used throughout your study with the University. They will also provide you with access to your student email, internal/external library services and access to journals and other scholarly websites and repositories eg JSTOR. 

Download all the course handbooks and administrative information and file them
It's also a good idea to check back from time to time to make sure that you have the most recent copy, as sometimes circumstances change and tweaks need to be made to the documentation. 

Needless to say you should read this documentation carefully, it will tell you exactly what tasks you have to do, when they are due, their weightings and so on. Spend some time looking at the marking criteria so you have a sense of what is expected of you.

Watch and read introductory presentations
Whether you are an experienced learner or just starting out, these are really handy in highlighting how things like the learning platform BlackBoard work and what tools are available to help you on your way.

Turbo charge your browser
If you use Chrome, the UoM has a "Library Access" extension to notify you if they have access to library resources on the topic you are searching for, so consider adding it. Basically it compares what you are looking at to a database and offers you a popup if a related text is available. There is also an extension for Google Scholar so that you can look at other available texts online (use your discretion here as some are unsuitable).

Tip: Make bookmark folders for Egyptology in your browser so you can find great museum collections and other resources easily

Set up your filing system - in the Clouds
I'm not a fan of filing, but setting up your system before you start really saves you time in the long run.
Decide where you are going to put your work and how it will be labelled, this doesn't have to be fancy so long as you know where it is and what it means.
I strongly advise using a cloud server to save your work and resources. 

I use Dropbox - the benefit of this is I can access my work on my devices and in the case of something going very wrong with hardware, the information is all there and accessible at all times, and, speaking as someone who knows the shock of an unexpected complete hard drive failure, I'd also recommend a regular back up of your entire hard drive to an external of your choice (thankfully I didn't lose much because of the strategies I've described here).

Example file hierarchy:

I set up folders for each course I have done, which is then broken down into:
  1. Course documentation - Administration documents: Course handbooks, referencing guides, misadventure forms, major task descriptions
  2. Year - Weekly tasks/activities, essays. In this folder it's a good idea to have separate folders for Semester 1 and 2, weekly and other tasks, you can also save pdfs of lecture slides here.
  3. Special course documents - in the example below I've set up a Masters Dissertation folder because I had to start this task process in Year 1.
  4. Resources/Journals - this is where I put all my pdfs of everything I think might be useful to me. The benefit is it's all in one place and you can search to see if you have already got a book or article you need without having to locate it again. Also handy for those "I know I read somewhere that... but I can't remember where..." moments!
  5. I also have a Submitted written task folder where I put the pdfs for my formal tasks - this helps ensure you have actually exported your work correctly and puts your finished tasks in one place for future reference.
You might want to add your own folders for things like maps and photos, do what makes sense to you.

Tip: Labelling - be consistent
Labels need not be long, but label your content consistently, it makes it so much easier to find! Calling something 'Activity' might seem like a good idea but you once you've done weekly activities for 3 subjects for a semester you will have no idea what your files are.

Remember you can duplicate and rename your documents to save time for example you could use the course code, Week number and document type:
CAHE66122 Week 9 Activity Read and Review

It's not all digital
It's really important to take notes of lectures, podcasts and vlogs on paper. 
Numerous studies have shown that we learn better by writing things down, so if you can write, then do it. You don't need to write every word, use keywords, museum object numbers, labels, dot points and diagrams, print out maps and paste them in your book. You might want to have separate books to take notes for your assignments in order to keep them together according to relevance.

Tip: Have a scribble book to write down notes of things that occur to you as you are working.

Decide how you will lay out your information - for example, you might want to write dates in the margins. 

If you are like me and make a lot of mistakes, consider using a good quality mechanical pencil (2B) and a soft eraser or an erasable pen.

For my work I have always used A4 note books with moveable subject dividers if I can get them. Spiral bound books are great because you can fold them over completely to save space and they are easy to manage. Try to get ones with sturdy covers and thicker paper. Document pouches are also helpful. 

Tip: use postit notes on your desk and in books so you don't forget important dates, things to do and information (like course titles)

Consider printing out important documents including your finished work and putting it in plastic sleeves in a ring binder. You can record your marks here too.

Colour coding your notes with highlighters works really well to help you locate specific information quickly, especially if you are a visual learner. Remember to use a key so your highlighting is consistent.

Example criteria for colour coding and the colours I use:
Date/time period [orange]
Person - historical figures, authors, Egyptologists, scholars [yellow]
Places [green]
Texts - eg Plutarch's Life of Alexander, Amherst Papyrus, Biography of Harkuf [blue]
Important point [pink]
Admin or course related [purple]

Tip: If colour isn't your thing use your own symbols and underlining to organise your work. Your notes are for YOU.

For weekly tasks, I printed the task description out then took notes on it and then typed those notes up for submission.

Tip: Print out the learning outcomes and paste them in my book at the start of each Week/Unit, highlighting the key words and save the screenshot to the Year/week folder for future reference.

Spend some time thinking about how you will fit your studies into your everyday life, responsibilities, activities, entertainment and so on. Learning online offers you great flexibility, but making some guidelines for yourself can be helpful such as setting days/times to:
  • View lectures, listen to podcasts - accessing taught content
  • Researching for board postings
  • Posting to the boards
  • Reading and responding to others
  • Working on major tasks
Don't be afraid to shuffle your routine around. Thinking about what you have done, reflecting on your learning and planning all counts as 'work'. 

Take frequent breaks - you can use timers to remind you to get up and move about, and be sure to take care of yourself while studying. If you've hit a wall with your writing or researching, I cannot stress this enough: Stop. Take a break, go outside or do some housework, do something completely different, sleep on it. If you are pressed for time, work on a different task. One of the most important things I heard said by one of our fabulous teachers was how important it is to give yourself time to think. 

Create your space
It's important to have a space to work and study. It might be ok to browse a museum website while sitting on the couch watching TV but it's probably not a great environment for writing an essay.

Different people learn in different ways. Some can learn while listening to music, others require silence. Some people can read and assimilate information easily, others benefit from having their computer or someone read to them, or may need to listen to an auditory text several times, others might need to magnify text in order to read it. 

Some people require a lot of structural guidance, others work best in a free form environment where they can be more creative. There is no right or wrong way to study, it's more a case of studying in a way that you will be able to produce your best results.

Understanding how you learn best will make things easier for you, so do spend some time thinking about this and working out how to create an environment that works best for you. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses can help you get the best out of yourself and your studies.

Use the Boards
Once you are settled in you will be allocated tutorial groups just like face to face classes. You can interact with your tutorial/course and faculty/school groups by using the discussion boards. This means, for example, that a person starting out doing a Certificate in Egyptology can ask students in the Masters course for their impressions.

Discussion boards are there for a variety of reasons - to discuss formal tasks to give and receive feedback, and some are for general discussion and are more social.

Choose the correct board and post appropriately, be polite and consider people in different timezones who speak other languages. Boards aren't social media so keep discussions on topic and relevant - by all means chat and socialise with your peers but consider if the discussion might be better conducted in another forum such as via email or elsewhere.

Tip: If you are studying at Manchester you will be expected to use British spelling

You may or may not be able to Edit your posts so do take care to proof them carefully. It's ok to make mistakes on your posts, you can reply to yourself, and threads can be read by all concerned.

Tip: Post pdfs to the boards which can be read in a new tab rather than Word documents which must be downloaded and may cause problems. Not everyone uses Word, and not everyone wants a copy of your work on their computer (think about the implications of that for a moment!).

If you aren't sure about things, ask! There are no 'stupid' questions, everyone is learning together and chances are someone has the same question as you, or didn't realise they did until you asked it. People do appreciate it to see the answers, and by asking you are helping your fellow students.

If you don't feel confident to publicly post your question, email your tutors who will be happy to help, they want you to succeed and have your best interests at heart.

Tip: Follow the accounts of Egyptologists and your University on social media for interesting discussions and news

I hope these tips are useful in getting your started in your big adventure!

Learn more about the online Egyptology courses at Manchester: alc.manchester.ac.uk/egyptology/
Edit 28/07/20: Minor corrections to formatting and grammar, a few more tips added.


  1. Some great tips there for studying online! The only other suggestion I would have would be to use a password manager, such as LastPass, instead of using autofill for your credentials, to keep your passwords both complicated and safe.

  2. Very helpful thank you. Can you give me an idea of the current Cert course required reading? Thanks

    1. So sorry for the late reply, I don't recall there being any set list of readings for the Certificate when I started out but there will be readings on the boards and access to the university library when you start.


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