Tips and Strategies for the Successful Online Student

by Randy Accetta, Ph.D.
Tips and Strategies for the Successful Online Student

Thinking about attending an online university? Online learning is a rapidly growing form of education, and the tools and technologies are constantly evolving. Although online learning has become a common way to take professional education courses, and is increasingly accepted for undergraduate and graduate degrees, not everyone is well-suited to it. Answer these questions to see if online learning is for you.

Is your free time important to you?

Online learning allows you to maximize your time. No travel time or cost. No time out of office or away from family. Instead of spending valuable time commuting to a campus, you log onto the Internet at your convenience, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Learn the necessary specialized knowledge and stay at home -- without the expense and hassle of travel.

Are you a decent writer?

Because most online learning takes place in writing, it helps to be comfortable with the written word. Perfect grammar isn't necessary, but the ability to read and write easily is especially helpful.

Do you want to actively learn material and apply it at your job?

Not only does online learning allow you to interact directly with your professional peers from across the country, you'll aslo be able to apply course material directly to your professional situation during case studies and other classroom activities.

Do you want to passively be given information?

If you want to sit and watch someone talk, then the online learning classroom may not be for you. But if you want to think about and then apply the topic at hand, you will appreciate online learning methods.

Do you find yourself juggling a number of responsibilities?

If you are busy with multiple responsibilities (work, family, outside organizations), then you are especially suited to the convenience of online learning. E-learners report that they participate at all times of the day-some prefer early in the morning over a cup of coffee, others late at night after the work day is done and the kids are asleep, and still others prefer to work during lunch or a slow time at the office.

Do you have a job and are you over 25 years old?

Academic studies show that the most successful e-learners are working adults over 25. Such folks have the motivation to learn and are mature enough to handle the freedom of online learning.

Are you self-disciplined?

Academic studies also show that successful e-learners are self-starters who motivate themselves to accomplish tasks. If you procrastinate or need someone to hold your hand to accomplish a task, then online learning will not be an enjoyable experience. However, if you are motivated, organized, and self-disciplined, you should learn more in an online learning course than in a site-based course.

A Checklist for Online Learning Success

  • Find the time of the day when you work best online.
    Some students are productive doing their online learning during their regularly scheduled lunch breaks at work, while others are most productive early in the morning before their family wakes up or late at night when family responsibilities are over. Experiment, and find the time that works best for you.
  • Meet the course deadlines.
    Students who fall behind have a more difficult time completing the course material.
  • Be prepared to apply yourself.
    Students who don't succeed report that they viewed the online classroom as an "easy course." However, most online courses are as demanding (if not more so) than classroom courses.
  • Become familiar with the online classroom system as quickly as possible.
    Give yourself time to learn the online learning system of your online classes so that you can more efficiently concentrate on the course content.
  • Log into the course at least once a day during the duration of the course.
    Students who participate consistently report a much higher level of satisfaction with the online learning experience.
  • Download and print documents that you wish to study in more depth.
  • Save your work on disks.
    Sometimes computers do bad things, so it is wise to back up your material.
  • Interact with the instructor.
    Be certain to stay in regular contact with the instructor. Ask questions. Ask for help. Offer ideas. But stay in touch with the instructor!
  • Create a classroom buddy system.
    Much like a regular classroom, students who team up with another student or other students succeed.
  • Create a schedule for yourself.
    Although this course material can be done at any time of the day that you choose, many students find it best to create a standard schedule that they keep to. Utilize the course calendar or some other system so that you know when assignments are due. Staying on top of the course material will ensure that you complete the course segments in a timely fashion.
  • Tolerate change.
    Online instruction is still a new field, and successful students (and instructors) need to recognize that technology can be recalcitrant and that systems may fall apart. To successfully handle the challenges inherent in online instruction, we must be willing to learn while doing.

Randy Accetta, Ph.D., has worked as the Director of Professional Education for, a leading provider of instructor-led, online learning. He is currently an e-learning consultant at Accetta Enterprises and on the faculty of theMcGuire Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Arizona.

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