Online Courses: Tips for Student Success in this “New Normal” Format

Students and Online Courses
Online LearningStudent Success
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Due to COVID-19, many, if not most, college students have been learning fully online, finishing out their semesters or courses from home and in front of the computer. Though the initial transition from on-campus classroom to virtual “classroom” has passed, there’s still a need to keep students motivated and on the path to success—especially as uncertainty surrounds upcoming terms and the likelihood of returning to “normal” campus life.

Though beneficial in a variety of ways, like expanding access, creating more affordable education options, etc., online-only learning presents some challenges to students. When asked how they felt about transitioning to online classes, the students we interviewed voiced concerns like:

“[I’m most worried about] learning in online classes without any student-teacher interactions.”




 “The biggest concerns are that [we] will not be able to properly learn the material that we need to know, and it will be difficult to get assistance when stuck on a topic.”

By recognizing these challenges, educators can better understand their students and offer up the right type of support or resources at the right time.

One helpful tool you can pass along is the following list of student-approved tips and tricks to make online learning a better experience, including tried-and-true strategies for staying motivated, focused and successful in online courses.

Read on to learn what students are doing to overcome obstacles to find success in online courses:


What are some of the best strategies for learning and mastering concepts on my own?


Chunking can be used to break down large concepts to prevent overlearning and strain on your short-term memory. For example, when learning operations on fractions in a Math class, you can chunk it into the following pieces: Adding and subtracting fractions, multiplying fractions, dividing fractions.

The Pomodoro Method

With this technique, you work for 25 minutes on a task, then take a short 5-minute break. You repeat until you’ve worked through four 25-minute “Pomodoro” sessions. After that, you take a 30-minute break. The underlying goal of the method is to avoid procrastination and overlearning by giving yourself a reward for focused, hard work.


How can I stay motived to complete homework?

Only you can motivate you; this is called internal motivation. Try setting SMART goals for each class. Print out a blank transcript and write in your classes and desired grade based upon your goal. Tape the transcript where you can see it daily. In addition, write motivational quotes on Post-it Notes and place them on your bathroom mirror.


How do I know if I’m spending too much time on a certain assignment?

Create a “next actions” list, or to-do list, and be sure to prioritize the items on your list. Many students suggest beginning work on any larger assignments first since you might need to complete several small actions or to-dos in order to finish. Try to break down work to daily tasks alongside smaller, one-off assignments.


What are some strategies for keeping a to-do list from growing more out of control?

Don’t place too many items on your list that you know you can’t complete. This way, you’ll be able to complete your Action List (see previous question).

Also, look closely at the items you’re placing on your list. Are they all school related? Are they related to chores or other non-academic events? It boils down to three things: organize your list, prioritize and execute (take action to complete your list).


Where can I find an online study group?

Start with the current members in your class. You can typically find their email addresses in your course’s Learning Management System (LMS). Reach out and see if anyone is interested in studying “together.” Video chat tools like  Google Hangouts and Skype offer ways to create a virtual study group, too.


What are the best ways to take notes and study for online exams?

There are several ways to take notes as you listen to online lectures or videos. Some options or techniques include Cornell Notes, Concept Mapping and Venn Diagrams. Of course, it depends on the subject matter. Some people prefer informal note taking in the form of bullet points/notes. Whatever method you choose, review your notes within 24-48 hours to fill in the missing points.


How can I interact with my professor since moving completely online?

There are several ways to interact with your professor! If your instructor has not already listed their preferred method of communication, send them an email and ask if they prefer email, Skype, Zoom or online office hours as a way to connect.


I’m missing the company of my classmates. Any suggestions?

You can create study groups via chat rooms, GroupMe apps or Zoom conferencing. Contact your instructor and see if there are opportunities for contacting other classmates. You can also connect with others on discussion boards through your course’s LMS.


How can I keep procrastination in check while at home?

Check out this list of eight tips for beating procrastination; it covers studying techniques, knowing when it’s best to work (and when it’s best to take a break and get some sleep!), tips for setting deadlines and more.

Try creating your own success rules and believe in yourself. Below is an example, but set and follow your own guidelines based on your goals:

  1. I will show up to my online class.
  2. I will turn in my assignments before the due date.
  3. I will participate in online groups and discussion forums.
  4. I will seek joy in learning.


I’m feeling unmotivated and am struggling…help!

Motivation is a tough thing. Try to reconnect with what motivates you and the things that bring you joy. Make sure you’re balancing school life and personal time for yourself.

Spend time journaling and create a list of things that motivate you and things that demotivate you. Gravitate toward the things on that first list—and try to avoid the things on the second.


I can’t stay in my routine, making it hard to concentrate.

Establish a new routine; schedule out time that you can study, take care of daily tasks and make time for yourself. Understand this is temporary and that you can adapt. Start meditation and other exercises to train your brain and attention span. Study in small sessions and take frequent breaks.


How can I enjoy taking classes online?

One approach: develop grit. Angela Duckworth, a leading psychologist and author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, defines grit as “the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals.” Check out these five tips for growing your grit.

So, continue to follow your dreams and goals, and push through your online classes. Also, surround yourself with a good support group of friends.


For additional student-focused webinars, FAQs and more related to student success in online courses, check out the COVID-19 student support page.