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What Makes a Successful Online Learner?


Two key advantages of online learning are flexibility and convenience. But online learning is a lot more challenging than it may seem.


But first, make sure you're ready to succeed. Online learning can sound so wonderful that some students start with an unrealistic vision. In reality, online courses require just as much, if not more, time and energy as traditional classroom courses. It also requires specific computer skills and learning strategies in order to succeed. Here are a few skills you may want to consider sharpening as we move to online instruction.


Effective Time-Management Skills and Setting a Schedule

You must be able to manage your time well. Flexibility is one of the great benefits of online learning. It can also be a drawback for a student who procrastinates, is unable to stick to a routine study schedule, or is not able to complete assignments without daily reminders from a teacher.


Effective time-management skills don't just happen. They have to be learned. Follow the tips below to develop yours:

  • Review the syllabus for each of your courses. Develop a long-term plan for completing your major assignments.
  • Make a daily "To Do" list. Have fun checking things off the list as you complete them.
  • Set up a manageable study schedule for yourself and stick to it. Students who succeed are those who log in and make progress every day. This is especially important after the novelty of going to school online starts to wear off!
  • Make “homeschooling’ a family affair. Encourage children in your home to join you in studying and completing homework.

START NOW. It takes time to develop good habits, but you'll gain satisfaction from being well-organized and accomplishing your tasks.


Effective and Appropriate Communication Skills

Communication skills are vital in online learning because students must seek help when they need it. Teachers are willing to help students, but they are unable to pick up on non-verbal cues, such as a look of confusion on a student's face.


Use the tools provided by your instructors to communicate and learn new material.


As we move to online instruction this will look different across each program and department as we all have varying levels of training in online instruction. Please be sure to check your emails regularly and respond to invites asking you to join or register as a participant in a course. Your participation and completion of course requirements in these "virtual classrooms" will be critical to learning the content as well as participating in class discussions. Be prepared for varied instruction styles as some instructors will have you join for a live class session, others may provide a recorded PowerPoint, while others may have you do additional reading and assignments. If you need clarification, as to the requirements please do not be afraid to ask!


There are several ways you can communicate with your instructors (will vary by instructor):

  • Email
  • Discussion groups
  • Cell phones/text messaging
  • Google Hangout

Use appropriate style and language for school. When communicating with teachers and other staff, you should write in full, grammatically correct sentences and with a respectful tone. Many students are used to a very informal style of writing in chat rooms, blogs, text messages, and so forth.


Basic Technical Skills

Online learners need basic technical skills to succeed. These include the ability to create new documents, use a word processing program, navigate the Internet, and download software.


If you lack basic computer skills, you may want to find an online tutorial such as the one available through The Library Network.


A Good Study Environment

Another critical component of academic success is a good study environment.

  • Get some peace and quiet. You will need a quiet place to work without distractions from things like television or family.
  • Avoid games. Consider uninstalling any computer games to avoid temptation. Or keep the games on a different computer in the house.
  • Turn off your cell phone. Let friends and family members know the hours that you will be "at" school.
  • Beware surfing the black hole of the Internet. It is easy to lose track of the time as you wander from site to site.
  • Consider ergonomics. Adjust the height of your chair, keyboard, and screen so that you are comfortable. Forearms and thighs should be level and parallel to the floor. Wrists should not be bent while typing.
  • Set up good lighting and comfortable seating. Lighting in the room should be at least as bright as the computer screen to avoid eye strain.