How to Be a Successful Online Student—Advice from a Professor

There certainly are some differences between learning in a brick-and-mortar classroom and learning in a virtual one. For example, online courses are touted as more flexible and convenient, which are clear benefits for those challenged to find time to attend in-person sessions. However, the ease and freedom of learning without being bound by weekly class meetings can overshadow the fact that the student’s role is very much the same in any learning environment.

Regardless of whether you’re in a classroom or on a digital device, it requires the same things to be successful. At the core, it entails being engaged in the class and being accountable for one’s work. What exactly does this mean and how can you accomplish these things as an online student? Following are 10 responsibilities that, when fulfilled with enthusiasm, will help you have a successful, enjoyable learning experience.

1) Read the syllabus from start to finish. This may seem like an obvious one, but you would be surprised by how many students neglect to read the syllabus. As a result, they feel a bit lost at the beginning of the semester, unsure about what assignments entail, and how and when to do them. The syllabus has all of those answers and then some. Reading the syllabus is the best way to understand the expectations and requirements of a course. Even if every detail is not in the syllabus, it likely tells you when and/or where on the course site to find more information.

2) Exercise self-control. Just because online learning gives you more flexibility, it doesn’t mean you don’t have to put in a lot of work. It takes increased self-control to stay focused in a world filled with distractions, and to choose to study instead of opting for more tempting opportunities. You may be motivated to do well, but it takes more than motivation. It takes fortitude to persevere when you would rather procrastinate or when you are discouraged by a low grade. Focus on longer-term goals, such as successfully completing the course, earning your degree, and mastering your field. Doing so will help you work hard in the course and choose studying over checking your Facebook account!

3) Apply good organizational skills. Life gets busy, time goes quickly, and before you know it, you have missed an assignment. This can be avoided by recording all your due dates, rather than leaving it up to memory. It is helpful to, at the start of the semester, record all due dates in whatever calendar system you use and set reminders or alerts for them. You may even want to set an alert to go off days prior to the due date, as a way to remind you to be working on whatever is coming due.

4) Plan study times. It is essential that you create your own structure and study times. To truly learn and comprehend material, especially from a distance, it takes exposing yourself to the content multiple times through reading and studying it. It is best to set daily class times during which you read, re-read, and study course material.

5) Learn to study effectively. “I don’t understand what happened. I studied but didn’t do well on the exam.” I have heard this many times before and have found that “studying” means different things to different people. But I can say with confidence that merely reading the chapters and taking a look at the PowerPoints are not it! It takes more time and effort to successfully comprehend and retain material, and study skills resources can help you do just that. Become a stronger studier by using study aid resources, such as these from The Institute for Learning and Teaching at Colorado State University.

6) Learn from your errors. It is not easy to accept a low grade on an exam or written assignment, or to receive constructive criticism about your work. As challenging as it is to do, shake off the negative feelings, persevere, and channel energy into learning from mistakes. Ask yourself, “How can I improve next time?” Use failure as a learning experience to continue to grow. Don’t look at it as an end; it is a means to continue to learn and develop your skills.

7) Be present. Being a student is a job, and part of your job is to show up! To do so, log into the course a minimum of three times each week. This will keep you engaged—which will help you, because it is an effective way to stay abreast of course happenings, activities, due dates, and correspondence from your instructor or classmates.

8) Read communications from your instructor. This is another obvious task, but one that many students neglect to complete. Your instructor may have multiple ways he/she communicates with you, such as through emails, announcements, and the posting of course documents or videos. Whatever methods used and regardless of their specific purpose, ultimately the instructor is communicating with you to help you succeed in the course. As such, it is imperative that you read all communications.

9) Ask questions. The instructor is there to facilitate your learning and wants to help you do well. If you have questions about class material or requirements, the instructor is the person to ask. No, you are not bothering him/her!

10) Have fun and think positively. It is your learning experience, and you will get out of the course what you put into it. Beliefs translate into actions. Thinking positively about the course and your ability to succeed in it will help you be successful!

What are your thoughts about the role of student? Are there other responsibilities you would add to this list?

Discussion

  • Thanks for these very helpful advices, it will make a lot of online students to be more interested and be well inspired to finish their online studies.

  • Abel Journeyman

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