Study Guide: Five Steps to Success in Online Learning

School is a challenge, no matter what age.  But, factor in work and family – and suddenly it’s a juggling act as well.  Online learning has certainly helped add a bit more balance into the life of the working and parenting student, but in some ways it adds to the challenge because – in addition to going back to school – you’re also learning in a completely new medium.  Here are the five tips we think will help you make the most of your onine learning experience.
  1. Take Responsibility.  Even though you don’t see instructors and classmates – taking classes via the Web is still going to school.  You need to take online courses as seriously as you would any traditional learning programs.  Remember, too, that instructors can’t read your facial expressions as they would in a traditional setting.  If you’re struggling, you need to let your instructor know right away so he or she can get you the help you need.
  2. Set Goals.  These can be as simple as logging into your classes every day (or at least five times a week) to check message boards and announcements, to starting assignments the day after they are posted, to setting aside a regular time every day or every week when you’ll study.  Once you’ve set your goals, stick to them.  After a time, they will simply become a part of your every day actions and habits.
  3. Participate.  Since there is no face-to-face interaction with instructors and classmates, you need to be proactive.  Join in on chat sessions, post messages on discussion boards and start one-on-one email discussions.  One of the greatest benefits of online learning is anonymity – so there’s no need to be intimated – say or ask what you need to in order to keep learning. 
  4. Print Lectures and Reading Materials.  This piece of advice goes a bit against the purpose of online, but it’s not realistic to think that you can read lectures on the computer screen and really learn the material in any practical way.  It’s much easier on the eyes (and the brain) to print pages posted online, highlighting and making notes just as you would in any traditional text.
  5. Apply What You’ve Learned.  You’ll be able to retain information if you can apply it immediately to your real life, whether that falls into home or work. You can do this by talking to peers and supervisors about what you’ve learned, as well as actually using practical knowledge like computer-related training or proper business communication tactics.

 Additional Resources

Although written specifically for IT professionals, the eight tips to success in “Successful Online Learning” are relevant to any online and working students.

Read the “Dos” ( and “Don’ts” ( to get the most out of your online learning experience, as suggested by San Diego State University.

The Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium has put together a short list of “What Online Students Want to Tell New Online Students.”

 Some titles you can find online or at your local bookstore include: 

  • “How to Be a Successful Online Student” by Sara Dulaney Gilbert.
  • “The Online Student:  Making the Grade on the Internet” by Randy Reddick, Elliot King and Elliott King.

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