Digital Learning

How to Avoid Falling Behind: Tips for Success in Online Courses

As many veteran online students will attest, if you fall behind in a course, it is difficult, if not impossible, to catch up. If you put off assignments with the intention of catching up later, you’ll find that many instructors will impose a window for submission that closes after a brief period of time. We don’t do this out of spite or malice, but ultimately, you are responsible for your own success in online courses. If you wait too long to complete an assignment, you may find that you won’t get an opportunity to make it up.

Leave Yourself Time
It is essential to set aside time each week to complete and upload your assignments. Leave enough time before each deadline to carefully proof and edit your work. An hour set aside before a deadline is enough time to proof your assignment for obvious spelling, word use, and grammatical problems. Finding and fixing these errors will often raise your assignment grade substantially. It was maddening in an online writing course that I taught last year to see words underlined in students’ documents with red and green squiggly lines that indicated obvious spelling and grammatical errors. If I can see these errors so easily, it indicates that the student was slamming the assignment right at the deadline without any final review.

Consider Your Alternatives
For students who fall behind in the first few weeks of an online course, I have a standard email that I send to everyone in the class about the importance of keeping up and meeting all the assignment deadlines. If it looks like work or family demands will preclude devoting enough time to complete your assignments on schedule, consider dropping or withdrawing from the course and then re-enrolling when you have more time for your classes. Pay attention to the add-drop deadlines posted on your school’s academic calendar.

Plan Ahead
Often, students know weeks in advance about a work-related assignment that may require travel or overtime. If you let your instructor know about these types of things as soon as possible (and don’t wait until the due date), many of us will work with you to arrange alternate assignment deadlines and submission pathways. Be proactive about communicating these needs as soon as you learn about them. We make these work/life accommodations for students on campus, and we’ll do it for online students as well, as long as they don’t wait too long to make the inquiry.

Communicate Regularly
Above all else, communicate with your instructor if you are having problems keeping up in a course. The Internet is the greatest tool ever created for human communication at a distance. Email, text, Skype/Facetime, or perhaps even call your instructor (yes, we still have office phones) and talk over the issues. I am much more receptive to working with students to catch up in a course if they have made an effort to communicate with me about their problems, whether they are academic, work-related, or personal.

Remember, being an online student requires a bit of extra self-discipline.  It can be difficult to stay on schedule when you don’t have someone standing in front of you reminding you of deadlines, but if you follow these tips, you will be more likely to find success in online courses.

Have you ever fallen behind in a course? What did you do to get back on track? Let us know in the comments below.

1 thought on “How to Avoid Falling Behind: Tips for Success in Online Courses”

  1. Abel Journeyman

    Thanks a lot for suggesting the factors that can enhance one’s success rate in online courses. Online courses do require some extra initiative from students. To succeed, you need to develop the ability to be organized and stay motivated.

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