Tips for Succeeding in Online Courses

Whether you are new to online education, or if you have taken a few online courses, you’re probably wondering if there are some specific strategies for being successful in online courses. There are! 

In some ways, online courses are the same as in-person courses: You have a professor, TAs, and classmates. You also have lectures, readings, papers, exams, discussions. And, most importantly, you have deadlines.

In other ways, however, they are different: All of the course materials are online, and you submit all of your work online. All communications with your professor, your TA, or your classmates, will usually be taking place online too. You won’t see them in class every week, but you will read their comments in discussion forums or in other classwork. You may never meet them in person. 

This means that you have to put extra effort into developing relationships! Here are some important tips: 

    • Go to online office hours. Office hours are there for you, so you can talk to the professor, or ask one of the many questions you have about the course or assignments. Your professor and TAs want to talk to you — it’s why they chose a profession in teaching! 
    • Get into the discussion forums. Comment on things you find interesting, or relevant, or confusing. You’ll soon see you’re not the only one. Be helpful when you can — the confidence gained from helping others succeed is a great motivator for success.
    • Find a study partner or group, and keep in touch via email, Google chat, WhatsApp, or however you’d like. They are your community in this course.
    • If there are virtual class sessions on Zoom, show up, turn your video on, and engage in the conversation. (Yes, this means getting out of bed and getting dressed. You are in class, after all.)
    • Ask for help when you need it. 
    • Finally, Learning Support Services offers support for some online courses.

Online courses have due dates and some virtual sessions, but most of the work will be done on your own time. This means you really have to manage your time intentionally and thoughtfully. Five-unit courses, online or in-person, take about 15 hours each week. These tips will help you manage your time: 

  • Schedule time to study, read, do homework, etc., each day of the week. Even if you can only put aside 45 minutes on one day, this will help you stay on track. 
  • Add due dates to your calendar and set reminders.
  • Keep track of the time you’re spending on the course, and make sure to stay on schedule.

It’s also important that you be an active participant in your learning:

  • Take notes when you’re reading or watching lectures. Write down what you don’t understand. With video lectures, you have the advantage of being able to re-watch videos or parts of videos you feel you need to revisit — use it. Re-watch videos as many times as you need.
  • Ask questions in the discussion forums. That’s what the forums are there for.
  • Make your own study materials, like flash cards and drawings of new concepts.
  • Create a distraction-free environment where you can be in your work-mode. Consider turning off your phone and logging off social networks to minimize interruptions and distractions. You may not be physically on campus, but you’re still in class — act that way. 
  • The activities in an online course have points and grades associated with them, and it’s important to keep that in mind, but your goal in an online course (or any course) is learning. You’re taking the course to learn new things, new ways to do things, and new ways to think about things. 

One last difference, and this might be the biggest one: you really have to learn how to use an online course — how to watch video lectures, how to submit assignments, how to take exams, how to move from one module to the next, what’s happening this or next week…All of that information is available in Canvas.

  • Read the syllabus, the instructions for using the library off-campus, the information about disability accommodations.
  • Be on the lookout for announcements from your professor or TA.
  • And, finally, check your email!

Once you have figured out all of the mechanics and logistics, you’ll be in a place where you can fully focus on learning, and thrive as an online student. Best wishes for a successful and rewarding online learning experience!