Online learning may appeal to students for any number of reasons: the convenience of anytime, anywhere learning; the flexible and self-paced nature of many courses; and the asynchronous type of discussions that allow more time to reflect on an instructor or classmate’s question before responding.

Though the appeal itself may be immediate, students may still need guidance toward making the most of the opportunities that an online course affords them. In FOCUS on College Success, Third Edition, Constance Staley describes the key behaviors that will help them thrive in the online learning environment. Though these eight strategies won’t guarantee an “A,” they will certainly position students toward successful completion of the course, and help them avoid habits that can lead to frustration or failure.

  1. Though you may have more flexibility in an online course, you still need to be as motivated and disciplined — if not more so — as you would for a face-to-face class. You need to “attend” regularly by listening to lectures, participating in discussions, and keeping up with the reading material and other assignments. To reinforce these habits, consider setting a regular time of day devoted to completing the coursework, as you would if you were attending the class in person.
  2. If you need clarification on a particular assignment or portion of the lecture, don’t be afraid to contact your instructor. Reach out via e-mail, instant messaging, the designated section of the discussion board, or by any other method preferred by your instructor.
  3. You won’t have the benefit of fellow students sitting in chairs or desks around you; therefore, build a network by staying in touch via e-mail, discussion board, or other online means of communication. (However, if you can meet with some of your classmates in person, take the steps to do so!)
  4. Make sure your software—especially your antivirus program—is current. Because your computer is your main lifeline to the course, a virus can seriously impede your ability to work on or submit assignments. You may also run the risk of infecting your instructor’s or fellow students’ systems.
  5. Set up your space so that you’re less likely to be distracted or interrupted. You will be more likely to stay focused on your coursework.
  6. Review your progress on a regular basis. For example, if you look back at your work each time you log into the course, you can move on to the next section of material with confidence.
  7. Make a calendar. Account for any assignment due dates, quizzes or tests, scheduled lectures or chats, and group meetings. In addition, set your own deadlines for any assignments (such as discussion posts) that may not have a specific due date, but still need to be completed in order to fulfill the course requirements.
  8. Know what you’ll do in case of computer or network failure. Back up your work onto a thumb drive or “in the cloud” to ensure that if your computer fails, or you’re hit by a virus, you haven’t lost everything. Also, know who to contact for technical help. (pp. 152-153)

Reference: Content adapted from Staley, Constance. 2013. FOCUS on College Success. 3rd ed. Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.