If you are new to online learning, you may find it challenging. If so, you are not alone. In fact, many students who typically do well in traditional classrooms may struggle to adjust to this increasingly popular way of delivering college courses, including continuing education for professionals.
In addition to the study habits you need to succeed in any class, online courses can require you to have a few additional tricks up your sleeve to get the most out of the course and keep your grades up.
Online classes have many benefits, particularly for professionals interested in continuing education to advance their career. They are often more flexible in terms of scheduling, parents appreciate that they can study from home, and you may be able to take courses on subjects that are not otherwise available to you.
Once you implement these 5 study tips for succeeding with online classes, you may even find that you prefer online learning!
#1: Spend Plenty of Time Reviewing the Syllabus
Make time to thoroughly review the course syllabus as soon as you get it, preferably before the course even starts. If you do not understand any aspect of the syllabus, feel free to contact the instructor or professor to get your questions answered so that you can hit the ground running once the class starts.
Be sure you know the answers to these questions before your online class begins:
- Will you be required to join in on live streaming events at a specific day and time each week?
- When are assignments, quizzes, and exams scheduled?
- What additional purchases do you need to make? (This may include textbooks, software, or subscriptions to online services.)
- What are the system requirements and does your computer meet them?
- How can you get in touch with your instructor if you have questions about the material or administration of the course?
- Who should you contact for technical support?
- Does the workload fit your schedule and time constraints?
In most cases there is a period at the beginning of a semester when you can add and drop classes without any penalties. This is the only chance you may have to drop the class without losing your tuition and/or negatively affecting your grade. Taking the time to get to know the syllabus to be sure you will be able to handle the expectations of the instructor is critical to successfully navigate online courses.
#2: Set Up All Required Accounts and Test Software ASAP
The next step to making sure you are set up for success with online learning is to go ahead and set up all of the required accounts and test out the features. Get comfortable moving around on required websites and utilizing any apps and programs that may be required for the course.
Many online learning software systems include tutorials for those new to using them. Taking time to work through tutorials before the class even starts will help you have a smooth transition once the course begins. If you have any problems you can get answers before it is time to start doing required readings, projects, and homework.
For example, if your class will use a virtual conferencing app for class, consider practicing a virtual meeting on the app with a friend before your class starts so you can get used to the interface and tools available to you.
Finally, expect that there will be some technical glitches along the way. That is normal, and even people that have a lot of experience with online learning tools sometimes have issues getting the technology to function smoothly. Don’t let the occasional glitch overwhelm you. Pause, solve the problem, and then move on.
#3: Block Time to Study in Your Schedule
One of the biggest hurdles many students face when adjusting to online learning is self-discipline. There is a tendency to get distracted on our computers; we may choose to fool around on social media rather than reading or completing our homework.
To combat the tendency to be distracted, it is critical to set aside time in your schedule to complete assignments and readings as well as study for quizzes and exams. Consider blocking study time into your schedule and be accountable to using the time wisely. Use a planner (online or paper versions will work well) to not only record when your assignments are due, but also to schedule regular study blocks into each week.
Most people benefit from turning off phones and email during their dedicated study time. Let people in your household know that they can support your online learning by respecting your scheduled study time.
Be prepared to make some shifts in how you schedule your study time once you get rolling in the class itself. Sometimes getting the right rhythm takes a little bit of trial and error.
#4: Create a Dedicated Study Space
Having a dedicated study space can make a big difference for online learners. Not only can it help you avoid distractions, it can also help to improve your focus by associating that space with learning.
In addition to being a quiet space, your study space can be a motivating space. Consider posting affirmations such as “One day closer to my goals!” and “I am investing in my future!” to remind yourself why you are working hard to succeed with your coursework. If you find yourself getting frustrated or overwhelmed while studying, you can put your attention on these affirmations and find the strength you need to persevere.
Consider stashing some healthy snacks near your study space. Many people find that enjoying a small snack such as nuts, fruits, or granola while studying can improve focus. Stock some extra paper, pens, and pencils near your work area as well so getting up to search for these basic items won’t become a distraction.
If your class includes virtual meetings using your computer’s camera, you should also make sure your study space is video ready. That includes good lighting, a background you are comfortable displaying to the rest of the class, and comfortable seating.
#5: Participate in Group Assignments and Discussions
Getting used to speaking up in online environments can be an additional challenge of online classes. It can feel awkward to talk into a microphone in front of other students. However, the sooner you get over your fears the better.
Students who participate actively in class get more out of the coursework. In addition, it lets the instructor know that you are making an effort to take the class seriously. In some cases, participation in class even makes up a portion of your grade.
In addition, many online classes include doing group projects with other students. Try to take advantage of this opportunity to take on a lead role in a team project. The experience will benefit you in the classroom as well as in your professional life by giving you a chance to practice skills that facilitate virtual teamwork, a skillset increasingly in demand in the workforce.