Taking an online class offers great opportunities for access and flexibility—and also presents some unique challenges.
Here are some tips from other students and online instructors to help you hit the ground running. We especially recommend exploring the tutorial on time management in the Goal-Setting and Planning section and the one for note taking in the Organizing Instructional Materials section.
Things you can do to be a successful online student:
Goal-Setting and Planning
As an online learner it is easy to become a procrastinator and feel as though you have all the time to get things done. It becomes even more important to make sure that one sets goals and plans when taking courses in a blended or remote learning environment, where there are both online and live/face-to-face activities to accomplish, and in which to participate.
Successful blended/remote/online learners report that they:
- Focus on careful time management.
- Use traditional goal setting and planning aids such as calendars and organizers to plan the timing of course activities and juggle multiple academic, professional, and personal demands.
- Feel the need to be in the course on almost a daily basis “to see what . . . new things are going on,” to check out responses to their postings.
- Log in into the course at least 4–5 times each week.
- Spend time offline planning what they are going to say.
- Really thinking things out before posting/responding in discussions.
- Plan to spend the first couple of days of the weekly course modules checking the course schedule, printing out needed materials, and doing the required readings.
- Spend the first couple of days of each course module as it opens checking the course schedule, identifying what is due and when, printing out needed materials and doing the required readings.
- Compose responses offline.
- Have a plan for inevitable technical problems, and allot extra time to deal with technology, especially at the beginning of the course, e.g., setting earlier deadlines for assignments to build in a time buffer in case something goes wrong.
- Daily logons.
- Coordination of online and offline work.
- Anticipation and planning for technical problems.
- Using a course calendar for important course dates and assignments.
- Using automated calendaring for important course assignments, events, tasks.
- Use of smartphone features or web apps to assist with time management. (For example, Remember the Milk.)
- Selecting course projects that have immediate real-life relevance.
- 14 Top Time Management Apps for Students
Organizing Instructional Materials
Successful online learners focus on the task and optimize their performance by systematically managing and rearranging their instructional materials to improve their learning. As a learner in a blended or remote/online course it becomes even more important to be organized and develop strategies to manage the materials used and created in both the face-to-face and online environments.
- Create and maintain a folder for each course on your Google or Box drive.
- Use a consistent naming convention for your files to make them easy to locate (for example, MBA 546 Assignment 1.docx.)
- Keep your work! You may find it helpful to refer to it in later courses.
- Print out, sort, and mark up discussions.
- Print out and mark up course materials, readings, and assignments.
- Compose and edit discussion posts offline, or in google docs, so you can auto save, spell check, review and revise more easily, and save a copy to prevent loss of work and save work beyond the end of the course.
- Take notes. Outline. Underline. Summarize in your own words.
- Leverage apps to manage, organize, and optimize instructional material. (For example, Symbaloo, Google drive, etc.)
Structuring Your Learning Environment
In an online course learners are in unconventional settings for “class” – work, home, computer lab, library, etc. Learners in a blended, or remote/online course have both the unconventional and the conventional learning environments to deal with. Successful blended/remote/online learners structure and arrange their settings to make learning easier.
- Create a psychological time and place for the online part of class.
- Create a consistent schedule to attend and work on both the face-to-face and online components of the course.
- Self impose rules on interruptions, breaks, and time frames.
- Set up a quiet area at home to “go to class.”
- Have food/drink available/nearby for breaks.
- Use public computer labs/spaces at times when there are not a lot of people around.
- Find/schedule time on a fast computer and internet connection at work/computer lab.
- Organize your study space.
High achievers are distinguished by their use of their instructors and peers as sources of social support. Learners who use a variety of self-regulated learning strategies tend to seek help more frequently than do other learners. Learners in blended or remote/online courses have a variety of ways to access their instructors and peers for support and to get help. Successful learners in blended/remote/online environments can help themselves by asking for help from instructors and using classmates for support.
- Seek help to clarify expectations on assignments.
- Check on your progress using the online mechanisms of the course, and inquiring with the instructor via their preferred methods (email, phone, etc.).
- Find a study group to work with and develop a support system among your classmates.
- Get feedback on writing drafts from the tutoring center, peers, or family.
- Seek online/offline interaction with your instructor as necessary.
- Get frequent and timely feedback from your instructor, especially if you don't understand how to improve.
- Access technical expertise in a timely way.
- Seek and offer technical assistance from/to classmates.
- Contact peers to reduce loneliness and to keep motivated.
- Use course features designed to facilitate networking and connect with classmates.
- Access peers for help as needed.
- Use web-based help sources.
- Use reputable web sources to clarify concepts and terms from course materials/readings.
- Use peer posts as models.
- Review models of exemplary assignments posted in the course.
- Compare work, or work in progress, with that of your classmates (where appropriate).
- Be sure you fully understand expectations for assignments and how they will be evaluated. If you have any doubt or question, ask for additional clarification from the instructor.
Self-Monitoring and Record-Keeping
Self-monitoring refers to learner-initiated efforts to record events or results. Successful online learners regularly calculate their grades, and keep paper and electronic records of completed assignments. Learners in blended or remote/online courses have both online and offline ways to track grades and assignments.
- Frequently check the online gradebook.
- Take advantage of activity completion checkboxes in Moodle to monitor your progress.
- Check with your instructor if you have any questions regarding expectations, requirements, assignments, grades, or course progress.
- Back up your course submissions, assignments, and discussion posts outside Moodle, for example in your Google or Box drives.
- Save all submissions on your computer, external drive, or to the Cloud.
- Leverage technology and the web to auto save and store coursework.
- Take care and monitor the technical aspects of completing and submitting assignments and posts, e.g., after submitting a file, check to see that it is the correct file and that it was saved correctly to the assignment link.
- Compare the number of posts and replies you make with those made by your classmates.
- Review expectations, due dates, examples, and instructions provided for each course assignment/activity.
- Review feedback on course assignments to determine areas for improvement.
Self-reflection involves evaluating one’s own performance and understanding the actual causes of the outcomes. The result of self-reflection includes level of satisfaction and inferences made about how one needs to alter self-regulated learning strategies in future efforts to learn or perform. In a blended or remote/online learning environment learners have unique access to online peer interactions, and frequent reactions from classmates in discussions, to add input to their own self-reflections, in addition to any face-to-face opportunities for interactions. Successful learners think about how they learn, what they have learned, how they can apply what they have learned in new contexts, and what contributes to or hinders their learning, so they can take actions to improve their outcomes.
- Use assignment self-tests, checklists, and/or rubrics to make judgments about your performance on assignments.
- Use instructor feedback and grades to gauge progress in the course.
- Use self-reflection strategies, such as self-evaluation, and peer feedback to assess your performance.
- Use an audience of peers to shape your discussion postings.
- Use continuous feedback from peers to make judgments about the quality of your own work.
- Use continuous feedback to help make sure you understand and are on the right track.
- Use the number of comments received on a post as a measure of effectiveness.
- Feel pride in contributing something substantive to the discussion.
- Use peers to add incentive for continuous self-evaluation of discussion postings, e.g., taking extra care to reread and edit posts submitted for discussion and thinking about classmates who will read the posts.
- Leverage apps and technologies, such as journals/blogging (using tools like Google Sites, or edublogs), to build self awareness and to keep metacognitive reflections about your online educational experiences, for example, Alicia's Student Blog: Transformation via Online Learning.
Learners that consistently use Self-Regulated Learning (SRL) strategies believe that they are competent, efficacious, and autonomous.
Online learners worry about:
- Potential procrastination.
- Being misunderstood.
- Being seen/heard.
- Access to the instructor.
- Asking and getting extra help or clarification.
- Isolation and missing social contact and interaction.
- Inadequate technical expertise and having technical problems.
- Quality of their writing skills.
- Their ability to be successful in a fully online course.
- Observe others successfully using self-regulated learning strategies.
- Seek helpful feedback on your own strategy use.
- Experience success with particular learning tasks.
- Get early access to tech and tutorial support. Ask for help or where to find it if you need it.
- Experience early success with the technical and writing demands of the course.
- Use course tools and spaces to connect and interact with the instructor and classmates.
- Develop technical and writing competence, so you feel more independent.
- Develop tolerance for technical issues, constructive feedback, and the willingness to revise work.
- Develop the ability to troubleshoot technical problems, and change approaches to improve outcomes/performance.
Goal Orientation, Interests and Attributes
Successful online students tend to focus more on learning progress, than on competitive outcomes – i.e., mastery, rather than performance goals. They are able to relate to and tie their learning and course contributions to real life interests and experiences. And they attribute their success and learning to their level of effort, rather than to a fixed perception of intelligence or ability.
Successful online learners:*
- Organize their time to manage their learning in the course.
- Make plans for how to do the activities in the course.
- Draw pictures or diagrams to help them understand the course topics.
- Make up questions that they try to answer about the course topics.
- When learning something new in the course, they think back to what they already know about it.
- Discuss what they are learning in the course with others.
- Practice things over and over until they know them well in the subject.
- Use tools/technology to support their efforts.
- Think about their learning, to better understand what helps or hinders their understanding.
- Make a note of things that they don’t understand very well in the subject, so that they can follow them up.
- When they don’t understand something in this subject, they go back over it again.
- They ask for help, if they need it. They know where to find help.
- They check their progress, deadlines, and grades regularly.
- When they finish an activity in the course, they look back to see how well they did.
- They use feedback to improve their understanding and performance.
- They endeavor to tie their contributions, projects, and activities in the course to their specific areas of interest, and to their real life.
- They see that their level of effort has a direct impact on their success and learning.
*Adapted from Annie Murphy Paul, Do Students Know Enough Smart Learning Strategies? March 22, 2012.