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10 Tips for Setting Yourself Up for Success in Your Online Class

Strategies and Tips for Successful Online Teaching

In the final installment of the six-part series, Strategies and Tips for Successful Online Teaching, SAGE author and online education expert Dr. Linda Dale Bloomberg shares 10 tips to help students set themselves up for success in their online course.   


Part 6: Ten Tips for Setting Yourself Up for Success in Your Online Class
A Guide for College Students

Student handout PDF version

Online learning tips

In many ways, learning online, this “new normal”, reverses traditional teacher/student roles, and places different demands on you as a student. Suddenly, you are responsible for planning, organizing, and directing your own learning. In addition, you must now also learn to manage the complex mixture of the learning management system (LMS), courseware, other course materials, your internet access, and your own electronic devices (computer, tablet, phone etc). This is a tall order!  The fundamental nature of the student experience shifts to a greater reliance on your own inner resources to keep going. Let’s look at the top 10 tips to help you stay motivated, on-task, and successful.

1. Create a Physical and Mental Workspace: Find a designated place where you can focus on your academic work. Whether your study space is in your room or at the kitchen table, it helps to tidy up a little before you get started, because visual clutter can be a distraction. Use anti-distraction apps on your phone like Freedom or RescueTime, or better still, turn off your phone and all social media notifications. Let family and friends know when you are "working", as this will help cut down on disturbances. Keep the course syllabus and calendar close at hand for reference, and refer to these as needed throughout the course. Once you have a place to work, and have adopted an “I can do this!” mindset, you are well on your way! 

2. Remember, Online learning is not “alone learning”! Your instructor is here to support your success, as is an entire team on the other side of your screen. So, be sure to let them know how they can help. There are also places in most courses for you to interact with your peers and develop study groups. If you are unsure how to do this, or what technology is required, reach out to your instructor for assistance.  Build your learning network by getting contact details from classmates. In this way you can encourage and support each other when you need help or information, and quickly can help fill in the gaps! 

3. Plan and Manage your Time Wisely: Time management skills are directly tied to staying on track, and successful course completion. A common misconception is that online studies will somehow be less time consuming, so it is easy to slip into the idea that your studies can be “set aside for a while”.  Be clear about what is required to begin your studies in an organized manner. Use a paper or digital calendar to plan out your entire week. A reminder app such as Todoist can alert you about start dates and due dates. Break down assignment tasks into manageable steps so you won't be struggling and cramming at the last minute. If you finish earlier than your deadline, glance at the next week’s assignment, and take the balance of the week to reward yourself and rest your brain.

4. Set Yourself a Routine: Imagine your online course as a face-to-face course and to “attend” on a regular basis. Don’t fall behind! Check in to the course every day, even if there is nothing to upload or complete; you never know when the instructor might post something important. Complete assignments as required by the syllabus, and submit them on time. Give yourself breaks to focus your eyes on something besides a screen. Attend to needed chores and responsibilities when you feel brain tired, and return when you are refreshed. Routinely save your work by using a portable backup, the cloud, or your computer's hard drive. 

5. Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help: Familiarity with the LMS, and integrated technological tools will make your learning experience more enjoyable and productive. Make sure you understand technical requirements, including protocol for submitting assignments, timeliness and grading policies. At the very beginning of a course, and as you move forward, seek support as needed. Let your instructor know when things are not going well or if additional time or learning accommodations are needed. Instructors are willing to help, but they can't figure out a solution if they don't know there is a problem. 

6.  Keep Moving Forward, One Day at a Time: It is difficult to always remain motivated while managing your busy everyday life, and studying online can sometimes leave you feeling isolated and alone. Do you feel pressured to meet all of your personal and professional commitments? Do you sometimes doubt that you will manage to be successful? Keep the momentum going. Multi-task if necessary, but don’t procrastinate or give up!  Adopt an “I can do this” attitude! A constant eye on the end goal will help you stay motivated and on track.

7. Recognize and Appreciate the Value of Collaboration: Engage in all group activities as these arise within your course, including formal or informal (social) opportunities. Make use of the University social media platforms that are available. Frequent interaction with other students combats isolation and increases your own sense of connectedness. Creating study groups will keep you connected and help support one another. The dialogue and critical reflection that occur through peer-to-peer interaction allows you to really engage in the course materials and think more about your own learning and progress. 

8. Communicate Regularly: Remain visible and present! Don’t ever go MIA! Log into your course every day, and constantly and consistently remain visible and available by staying in touch. If things you need extra time, ask for it. If you encounter a problem, let your instructor know immediately so that adjustments can be made if possible. Don't wait until the last minute to make contact! 

9. Participate, Participate, Participate!  You will get much more out of your online course if you are not simply a “spectator”, so stay actively engaged. Attend an online orientation if that is offered. If your instructor sends a welcome letter with an offer to meet with you, seize the opportunity to introduce yourself and ask questions as needed! Enjoy tackling and completing all assignments.  By participating with your peers in academic activities you will learn from them as well as teach them with your own experiences and ideas.

10. Give Yourself Credit! You did this! You moved from a regular classroom to online learning, and rather quickly too!  Be proud of your achievements and accomplishments. It is not easy to be a student and attend to all the requirements and expectations that are imposed on you. Know that you also cannot always be perfect, and there are some challenges that may seem insurmountable. Continue to try your best, but also forgive yourself! Kudos to you, and wishing you much success!