Online learning has its benefits – it’s a flexible means of getting your education and allows you to save money that you would otherwise spend on room and board at school or transportation costs to commute. Online learning is often more accommodating of the individual learning process, too.
For example, some online courses are highly structured with set times for you to “meet” with your professor and classmates online. Other online college courses take the opposite approach and allow you to work at your own pace through the course material without requiring a set class time.
That doesn’t mean online classes are a walk in the park, though. You need to approach your learning with the same commitment and dedication as you would if you study in a traditional classroom setting.
The ten online college success tips listed below will set you up for success for effective online learning, no matter your learning style, experience taking online classes, or your level of study.
See Also: Financial Aid Tips for Online College
1. Establish a Routine for Online Learning Success
One of the primary enemies of online learners is not “getting into the groove” of taking online classes. This most frequently occurs in the absence of a learning routine. Without a schedule to keep you on track, it’s all too easy to say, “Oh, I’ll do that later.”
To counteract this problem, one of the most effective online learning strategies is to set a weekly schedule for study sessions. Do your best to have the same daily routine as you would if you took traditional on-campus classes.
For example, you might work on one class every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 10-11 am and another class every Tuesday and Thursday from 1-2:30 pm.
Your sessions will most frequently be independent learning that you do as your schedule allows. It’s worth it to form study groups with your fellow classmates, too. Having periodic Zoom meetings with classmates will help you stay focused and on track with your coursework.
Creating a to-do list to stay focused might also be worth it. To-do lists help you prioritize tasks, keep track of due dates, and make large tasks more manageable by breaking them down into smaller to-dos. These kinds of lists offer many other benefits, such as:
- Improved planning to meet future needs and goals
- Better organization and productivity
- Fewer forgotten or missed tasks
- Greater ability for balancing work and online education
- Improved time management (more on that in a bit)
Lists can help increase motivation as well.
On the one hand, a list with nothing checked off can kick you into high gear to get things done. On the other hand, the act of crossing off one to-do after the other can also motivate you to keep your nose to the grindstone. As far as online course productivity hacks go, this is one of the best!
2. Optimize Your Study Environment
Now that you’ve set a daily routine, the next step in improving virtual study skills is to create a learning environment that maximizes your ability to complete assignments and minimize distractions.
When designing a dedicated study space, think of a layout that best suits your needs. For example, if you prefer to study at a desk, have a desk space that’s large enough to accommodate your learning materials – your computer, books, notebooks, and so forth. A comfortable, supportive desk chair will make the hours you spend at your desk more comfortable and productive, too.
Your study space should have adequate light to minimize eye strain, too. Staring at a computer screen for several hours a day can take a toll on you physically, as can sitting in a chair for too long. No matter how comfortable and accommodating your study environment is, take frequent breaks to get your blood flowing and allow your body to move around.
Consider adding plants to your study space, as they help clean the air, and their color can help stimulate improved productivity and creativity. Add aromatherapy to the mix as well – some essential oils like eucalyptus, rosemary, and lavender help improve focus and reduce anxiety.
It also helps to minimize distractions in your dedicated study space. Online learning means interacting with technology, but that technology can also lead to distractions. When doing your coursework, consider using focus apps to block non-essential websites. Consider putting your phone on silent or do not disturb while you’re studying.
If possible, your study space should be as far away from the common areas of your home to reduce noise from your family or roommates. If ambient noise is still a problem, invest in a white noise machine so you aren’t distracted by the random sounds of the day. Just remember to come out of your study cave now and again to take a break and recharge!
3. Connect with Your Online Community
Just because you’re studying online from home doesn’t mean you don’t have a learning community that can help support you. As noted earlier, you can collaborate with other students in study groups to complete assignments and group projects. Online study groups are great for preparing for exams, too.
Many online courses have a discussion component as part of the class requirements. That is, you might have to log in to the class website and participate in live discussions or add your thoughts to discussion threads. Either way, you can share your thoughts, ask questions, and answer other students’ questions, which will help integrate your learning into your memory even more.
Of course, you can also contact instructors for guidance as part of your commitment to the online learning community. Many online college courses have messaging capabilities so you can communicate with your professors quickly and easily. And even if a class doesn’t offer that functionality, your online professors will be reachable via phone and email.
4. Hone Your Time Management Skills
Time management is essential for all college students, but it’s especially important when taking online courses.
Without the benefit of in-person classes with your professors and constant reminders of upcoming assignments, projects, and exams, it’s up to you to use your time wisely. There are several methods for improving time management for online students.
Plan Ahead for Completing Assignments
Consult your class syllabus at the beginning of each online course and add the due dates to your calendar. Set a reminder in your phone for a couple of weeks before the due date to remind you that you have an upcoming assignment.
Give yourself ample time to complete the assignments, too. Be sure to consider your work and social lives when planning your study time.
Use Study Tips to Manage Time Effectively
Time management study tips are as varied as they are common, but not all tips for online learning work for everyone. Building your study sessions will partly be a fact-finding mission. Try different things and see what works or doesn’t work for your situation.
Below are a few tips for remote learning focus to get you started.
Remember that optimizing your study environment by eliminating distractions is critical to your success, but how you do this is up to you. As discussed earlier, you might invest in a white noise machine, put your phone on silent, or use apps to help you maintain focus.
Specify Your Learning Objectives
Break down your study time to address specific learning objectives. Doing so helps you prioritize what you need to do while minimizing the risk of feeling overwhelmed by everything you need to learn or do.
Focus on One Task at a Time
Have your to-do list handy to help you focus on one thing at a time. Don’t worry about what you need to do for your next class until you’ve completed the tasks for your current course. Likewise, minimizing distractions will help you maintain your focus on what’s important.
Take Frequent Breaks
Though you might feel overwhelmed and as though you don’t have time to take breaks, it’s important to do so for your physical and mental health. If you keep pushing and pushing, you’re more likely to lose focus, get aches and pains, and get frustrated.
As discussed earlier, when studying for an online course, make it a point to take frequent breaks to let your mind and body rest. Try to do so every 30 minutes or so for optimal results.
Get in the Groove by Starting With Small Tasks
Your study schedule can be best organized to use your time effectively by working on small tasks first. Doing so gives you a sense of accomplishment as you quickly work through them while building motivation to accomplish more things.
5. Utilize Online Tools and Resources
One of the best parts of online learning is that there are incredible tools and resources to help you work toward your college degree. Though you might spend most of your time studying independently, that doesn’t mean you have to do it alone. You can rely on the tools and resources listed below (and many others) to help you along the way.
Engage With Online Course Materials
Each online class you take will have various tools to enhance your learning. This might include online discussions with your classmates and professors, online study group opportunities, and interactive videos, to name a few.
It’s also worth it to take advantage of online quizzes and flashcards. Online quizzes enable you to test your knowledge and identify your weak areas, that way, you can focus your study time appropriately. Online flashcards serve the same purpose and are particularly helpful in learning terminology and basic facts about your studies.
Furthermore, explore the online college support services your school provides. From individual online tutoring to assistance with writing and editing papers to study tips for online learning, your school likely offers many programs to help you navigate your degree program.
Use Google Tools
Google’s free tools are a great resource for organizing your academic life. You can use Google Docs to take notes, Google Sheets to track to-dos, and Google Slides to make presentations for class projects. Google Calendar is also helpful in syncing due dates across multiple devices.
Tap Into Apps and Other Resources
Online learners like you can use apps and online tools to make studying more organized and productive. Some excellent apps include:
- Grammarly – An AI tool that checks spelling and grammar.
- Duolingo – An interactive app for learning new languages.
- Khan Academy – A great way to brush up on your existing knowledge and learn new skills.
- TED – This app (iOS, Android) is home to TED Talks, which can be useful for your studies, as well as inspiring and enlightening.
- Evernote – An all-in-one app for task management, note-taking, and scheduling.
- myHomework – A digital planner that syncs across your devices and reminds you of upcoming due dates.
- EasyBib – An online tool that automates the process of citing resources. It also has a plagiarism checker.
6. Be an Active Online Learner
Like an in-person class, online learning requires you to participate actively. You can actively participate in online classes by contributing to class discussions, asking questions, and participating in study sessions.
You can also be an active learner when you study online independently. For example, ask questions as you read texts and jot down notes to remind yourself of important details. When you’re done, write down the key points of the reading in your own words so you can reference it later.
It’s also helpful to set clear learning objectives as part of active learning. When you sit down to study or participate in activities for your online classes, establish what you want or need to accomplish by considering the following:
- What you already know.
- What you need to learn.
- What you want to learn.
- What you’re expected to do.
- How you will acquire new knowledge.
- How you will retain new knowledge.
Other virtual class participation tips revolve around going above and beyond to maximize your learning.
In other words, don’t settle for doing the bare minimum. Try not to be satisfied with doing only what’s required to pass. Active online learning involves diving deeper into the content, being curious, and challenging yourself to learn more and make the most of the online instruction provided to you.
7. Foster Self-Motivation and Accountability
To address step six, specifically to go above and beyond what’s required, you need a higher level of motivation and accountability. The question is, how do you do this?
Partner With a Fellow Classmate for Support
Having an accountability partner is one of the best ways of staying motivated in online classes and on track with your studies.
Classmates taking the same course as you understand the struggles of online classes. They know the course requirements and due dates and might have insights into course materials and assignments that you don’t. Likewise, you might have insights they lack!
Additionally, working with other online students gives you an emotional support system that might otherwise be lacking. Sure, your friends and family are valuable resources for help and support, but they don’t fully understand your experience taking online classes like one of your classmates does.
Establish Personal Goals for Academic Success
What do you want to accomplish with online learning? Do you want to gain more knowledge by taking a few classes? Do you want to complete a certificate program? Are you preparing for a certain job by finishing an online degree program? You need to consider these and other questions – and their answers – to establish goals that will help you succeed.
When generating goals for online classes, it’s important to make them manageable – much like the items on your to-do list.
Why? Small goals are more easily achievable. They also help you break down larger goals into smaller chunks, which helps you address each component more thoroughly. Small goals also help you stay motivated – you benefit from the repeated gratification of meeting each small goal, which fuels you to continue working.
8. Adapt to the Online Learning Environment
Online degree programs require that you embrace the unique challenges of online education. The most important of these challenges for most students is learning how to stay motivated and manage time wisely.
We’ve already discussed tips to address these issues in the previous sections, so rather than repeating those, let’s explore a few other tips for adapting to online learning.
A good place to start is to develop new skills for studying online:
- Communication skills – As an online student, you need to communicate clearly in writing. It’s one thing to be able to ask a professor a question in person. It’s another thing to communicate that question online from a remote location. If writing isn’t your forte, it’s time to brush up on those skills.
- Technical skills – Understanding how to use technologies like computers, computer programs, and online learning platforms is essential to your success. In many cases, you might already be proficient with the technologies you’ll use for online learning. But chances are good that you’ll also need to learn new programs for students that learn remotely.
- Typing – Online learning requires a lot of typing – much more than learning in person. Much of your communications with your professors and classmates will be via email, chat rooms, discussion boards, and the like. Likewise, most online programs require a good deal of research and writing. Being a good typist is a significant advantage for furthering your online education.
- Persistence – You’ll need to develop an attitude of persistence if you want to be successful in your online program. You will undoubtedly face technical challenges, personal trials, and frustrations with course material you don’t understand. But overcoming these and other obstacles requires that you stay the course, keep trying, and ask for help when needed.
- Adaptability – You might be a night owl instead of a morning person, but if your studies require you to complete morning assignments, you’ll need to adapt to this new reality. You’ll also need to develop adaptability when managing school tasks, work, and family obligations. Try to go with the flow as much as possible and rely on the tools and tips discussed throughout this article to help you manage your responsibilities.
Online college study techniques will also help you adapt to the online learning experience. As noted earlier, establishing a consistent routine and creating an optimal study session space will go a long way in helping you succeed. Developing a toolkit of online study resources will also help you optimize your time and maximize your opportunities to study.
Moreover, as discussed in section seven above, finding ways to increase your motivation and accountability will improve your ability to maintain good online study habits.
New students to online learning are sometimes really good with the technical aspects of remote learning but could be better in the personal responsibility department. If you’re falling behind because of a lack of motivation or accountability, seek help from classmates, your professors, your school’s academic success department, or other online college support resources.
9. Review and Reflect on Your Learning Progress
Other steps more students should take when learning online is to review and reflect on the process of learning.
Doing so offers a host of benefits, including encoding the information you’ve learned into long-term memory, becoming a more productive student, and becoming a producer of knowledge rather than just a consumer of knowledge.
The question is, how do you review and reflect on your work? Follow these simple steps:
- Regularly review materials from previous classes. Doing so helps you incorporate more recent learning with older learning. Your recent learning can also help you develop new insights into things you might have already learned but forgotten.
- Regularly assess your own learning experience and growth. What have you learned? What skills have you gained? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What would you like to learn that you haven’t yet? Questions like these not only help you evaluate your progress but also help you establish goals for future learning.
- Ask a lot of questions. As noted in the previous point, asking yourself about your academic progress thus far is valuable. But it’s also important to ask your professors and fellow students questions about what they know, how they achieve their academic goals, and seek advice about how you can improve.
- Be inquisitive. Reviewing and reflecting on your progress should include inquiries into adjacent topics that further enhance your learning. For example, if you’re studying to be a teacher, expand your learning beyond what you’re being taught in class by reading relevant texts, joining education-related organizations for students, and participating with other students in a study session. These and other supplementary learning activities will go a long way in helping you understand what you know and what you still need to learn.
- Practice a lot. Becoming reflective isn’t something that happens overnight! It’s a skill that students like you have to develop over time.
See also: Top 30 Easiest PhD online programs
10. Plan for Your Future in Online Education
A final component of maximizing your experience learning online is to have a detailed plan before you begin.
Think of it like going on a trip – if you plan ahead, you will likely have a more successful trip with fewer problems. The same goes for education – you need to know what you want to do, where you want to do it, and what’s required to get it all done.
Online students like you can use the approaches below to plan for your future.
Explore Various Online Degree Programs
Let’s say you want to get your bachelor’s degree in fine arts. The local college offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts, so why not go there?
The local school might be the best choice, but you won’t know if you don’t inquire about other programs, too. Comparing online programs helps you get a clearer picture of the quality of the program, the financial aid opportunities the school offers, and the potential for specializing in your field.
Moreover, not all online programs are made alike. Your local college’s fine arts program might require you to attend virtual classes at specific times that don’t fit in with your schedule. Other online programs might require fine arts majors to participate in an on-campus art show at the program’s end, but if you can’t travel to campus, this is a significant problem!
These issues illustrate the need to do your due diligence when choosing a program. Go beyond the typical factors that students use to narrow down a list of potential colleges (e.g., program availability, cost, reputation) and drill down to a micro level so you understand what each program offers (and doesn’t offer) for your educational experience.
Prepare for the Next Step in Your College Journey
You’re already addressing this part of the planning process because you’re reading guides like this!
Knowing what you might expect as an online student is invaluable for making a smooth transition from in-person learning to learning online. While this and other guides can’t touch on every topic relevant to your experience, they are a good start in laying a solid foundation for your success.
Remember as well that online learning requires traditional and non-traditional academic skills to maximize your success. As noted earlier, non-traditional skills like enhanced written communication, understanding how to use technology, and excellent typing skills are necessary for most online learning situations.
But you also need traditional skills like active participation in class, the ability to take detailed notes, and sound study habits to succeed in online learning.
Stay Informed About New Online Courses and Opportunities
One of the many benefits of learning online is that you can take classes from schools around the world. This allows you to learn about topics of interest to you that your school might not offer.
Whether you officially enroll in a school to take a few courses, sign up for massive open online courses from another school, or something in between, exploring opportunities outside your school can help you supplement your core learning, learn new skills, and spark an interest in new areas of inquiry.
This isn’t to say that the school you choose won’t have a wealth of opportunities for you. Sign up for updates regarding new classes and learning opportunities, so you’re up to date about the topics you can explore in the future.
Making the Most of E-Learning
At the end of the day, your ability to make the most of e-learning starts with a solid foundation. By beginning the planning process now, your ability to find the right program for your needs and flourish in it will be significantly enhanced.
And as noted earlier, preparing yourself is also critical to your success. Take some time to reflect on your strengths and weaknesses as a student and try to address your weaknesses. Identify tools and resources to help you stay organized and on task, and explore programs at your school that help facilitate a better experience.
E-learning is a fantastic way to get an education. With the steps outlined here, you can make it an experience that’s even more productive and beneficial to you.