Many students in the United States are suddenly wondering how to be a successful online student now that much of the country has turned to virtual learning this fall. For many, taking classes online is a new experience that introduces additional obstacles to the learning process, including mastering new software, getting access to technology they might not already have, and figuring out how to learn in online classes.
However, taking classes online is not a new concept. University of Phoenix became the first fully-online college in 1989, offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Since then, most colleges have implemented at least some online courses and many hybrid courses (classes that meet in-person part of the time and virtually part of the time). Many students like these courses because they offer flexibility for working adults and they allow students to take courses at a school even if they don’t live nearby the school.
The increase in the number of students taking virtual courses has garnered a lot of attention from teachers and administrators who want to know how to help students be successful in online classes. By conducting surveys and studies, they have learned a lot about how to pass online classes. Below is a list of the best tips to be a successful online student.
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Taking Classes Online Is Not Necessarily Easier
One popular misconception some students have is that online classes are easier than in-person classes. The reality is that they are usually about as hard as traditional classes, but because they often require students to hold themselves accountable, virtual classes can be more challenging for some students. In traditional classes, students are required to meet in a certain place at a certain time. The instructor establishes a schedule for each class meeting and each week and students simply show up and follow along. Often instructors will remind students of upcoming assignments and hold students accountable along the way.
Online classes are different. Sometimes virtual classes meet at a set time using video conferencing software like Skype or Zoom, but other times these classes are asynchronous, meaning students can login to courses at their convenience to access pre-recorded or typed lessons and assignments. “The flexibility of online classes can be extremely helpful to busy students,” explains Hannah Meinke of Collegis Education, “but that same freedom also creates additional pressures on those enrolled. It’s up to you to avoid distractions and keep yourself on track.” Even in classes that meet at a set time, students often receive less face time with instructors. This means students receive fewer reminders from their teacher and often must set at least part of their schedule for themselves. This requires students to be disciplined and hold themselves accountable in ways they might now have before.
The key is to not underestimate how challenging online classes can be. Knowing what your teacher expects from you and developing a plan for how to meet those expectations from the beginning of the course will go a long way in helping you be a successful online student.
Organize Your Schedule Early
Because students often have less interaction with their teachers in online classes, students must be responsible for keeping track of deadlines and assignments. That’s why good organization is essential to passing an online class. One tip many instructors offer is to get a paper calendar or a good calendar app and mark down important deadlines for the course. Once your calendar is set up, get into the routine of checking it at the beginning of each week and mark off assignments as you complete them. This way you won’t risk missing important deadlines.
If you’re looking for a great calendar app, here are a few the TracSoft team likes. All of these are free and available on Android, iOS, and through your favorite browser:
- My Study Life is designed specifically for students and teachers. You can tell the app how your class schedule works and input your school’s calendar, and then the app will populate each class meeting for you. You can even track your progress on assignments. The layout is clean, and it’s available here on Android, iOS, Windows, and web browsers.
- Google Calendar is a great free calendar app that works in your browser or on your iOS or Android device. It allows you to create multiple, color-coded calendars so you can have a different calendar for each different class. It also integrates well with other common applications, including the G Suite.
- Any.do is available through mobile devices, browsers, and your desktop, so you can take it anywhere. Like My Study Life and Google Calendar, you can sort through multiple views, color code events, and set reminders. You can also create to-do lists right in the app. This is a great feature for weekly assignments. Any.do is available here for free, although there is a paid version with more extensive features.
Organize Your Workspace And Materials
Another tip for staying organized is to set up a good workspace. You need an environment that is quiet, distraction-free, and has a reliable internet connection. Many productivity experts claim that you should make your workspace only for work. Don’t play games, socialize, or practice hobbies in your workspace for school if you can help it. If you only do classwork in your workspace, you’re likely to associate that place with doing work. Once your brain makes that association, you’ll be more likely to feel ready to work and get in the zone when you sit down in that place.
Keep your physical materials together and near your workspace. Even if you are not leaving your house for school, keeping your textbooks and notebooks in your bookbag or in a specific drawer will help you avoid losing essential materials. If you have a designated workspace, this can also help you keep up with your materials more efficiently.
Organization doesn’t just apply to your physical surroundings, though. Since much (if not all) of your coursework in online classes will be electronic, be sure to label files and folders carefully. If your teacher tells you to label files a certain way, be sure to do that! When you turn in work through a learning management system (LMS) like Canvas or Desire to Learn, using the wrong name on your file might cause problems with submitting your assignments.
If your teacher does not tell you how to title files, you should still give them specific, descriptive titles. Keep separate files in folders and label your folders with the names of your classes. Also, save all of your files until the end of the year! If your class experiences a serious technology issue then having your files saved and organized will ensure that you get credit for the work you’ve done.
Stay Connected With Instructors—Especially When Taking Online Classes
It’s always important to communicate with your teacher. If you don’t understand a lesson or assignment, it’s up to you to ask for help. If you have serious complications outside of school, you have to be the one to inform your teacher. This is part of being a responsible student.
But communication is especially important in online classes when you have less direct interaction with your teacher. If you want to be a successful online student, you need to stay connected with your instructor, whether that’s through email, text, or messaging through your learning management system. Check your messages each day for updates. Know how your instructor plans to communicate with students. And if you have a problem, reach out early so your teacher has time to help you get back on track.
Contacting a teacher can be uncomfortable, especially if you don’t feel you really know them that well. However, teachers understand that online learning is new for many students and will be willing to work with you if you show that you have made a good effort to meet their expectations for the course. A good effort doesn’t mean emailing your instructor every day to ask about homework when you know the homework is already listed in your online course. But if the homework isn’t listed one day, you experience problems submitting it, or you don’t understand the instructions, those are good reasons to reach out for help.
Learn Technology Early To Avoid Problems Later
Learning new technology for online classes can be intimidating. The good thing is that many companies have online tutorials for their software that can help you learn to make the most of the tools you will use in your virtual classes. Your instructor will also probably provide some typed or video instructions you can refer to.
As Jason Mock of Illinois Online advises, “Figure out as early as possible all of the technologies, websites, and campus resources you may need to use in the course and master them. …If the course will use special tools, test them out early to ensure they work on your system so you can focus your attention on course materials and not be distracted by technology problems.” The more comfortable you become with your online class tools, the better you will be able to make them work for you and the more likely you will be a successful online student.
Everyone (maybe even your teacher) will be learning these new tools together the first few weeks. Take advantage of that time to get familiar with the software you’ll be using. If you need to set up accounts on websites like TurnItIn.com or Kahoot, do that early and make sure your account is set up correctly and you have saved your login information. Setting up your accounts early ensures that if you have problems, you’ll be able to resolve those problems quickly before you fall behind on assignments.
Online Learning: A Challenge You Can Overcome!
No one likes being thrown into an unexpected situation. It can be scary, frustrating, and disorienting. However, while online learning presents new challenges to students who have never taken online classes, there are many ways you can take control of your situation and set yourself up to be a successful online student. By setting reasonable expectations, getting organized, staying in contact with your teachers, and being proactive, you can learn how to pass online classes like a pro.
If you’re having trouble setting up the online tools you need to be successful in your online classes or your business, contact TracSoft. Our IT support team can get you up and running with the technology you need to be successful and secure. Many businesses in the great Columbus, GA metropolitan area have relied on us for over two decades because they know we deliver quality, customized support in a timely fashion. Contact us today to learn how TracSoft can make your workday run smoothly.