How to be a Successful Online Learner

As a student enrolled in an online course, you will need to utilize new skills and strengthen others in order to be successful and get the most out of your online experience. This document outlines some of the most important skills of successful online learners, and spells out some of the expectations your online instructor will have of you. Review this handout periodically during the course, as it will help you to keep these points in mind.

Manage Your Time Wisely. Be self-motivated and self-disciplined. Although this is always good advice, it is especially important when taking an online course. Because you have so much freedom and flexibility with online courses, it is easy to put off course activities and assignments and fall seriously behind without even realizing it. Discipline yourself to plan ahead and to dedicate regular time and effort to your course.

Dedicate Enough Time to the Course. Most students find that online courses are actually more time consuming than face-to-face courses. Ideally you should log into your course and check your email every day; at a minimum, log in 5 days a week. An online class doesn’t necessarily meet at any specific time; it meets all the time. Think of it as an ongoing community. If you let too many days go by, you’ll find it very difficult to catch up, you won’t be able to actively participate in discussions, and you may miss important timely announcements.

Keep an open mind. Embrace new ways of learning and interacting. The new content formats and communication styles will become more familiar and easier to use as the course progresses. In addition, there may be times when technologies don’t work, or behave unexpectedly. Be flexible and learn to work around any problems.

Speak up if problems arise. Don’t want too long to try to solve problems that arise as part of the course. If you’re having troubles accessing the course, downloading materials, or participating in online activities, ask for help! Remember that your instructor can't see you; he or she won't know that you’re experiencing difficulties unless you say so. You must take responsibility for bringing up problems and working through them with your instructor.

Participate. What you put into the class is what you will get out of it. Don’t be intimidated by your classmates; everyone has something to offer, so share your ideas and experiences. Actively contribute to discussions and group activities. Student-to-student and student-to-instructor interaction is a key component of online learning.

Hone your communication skills. Become an effective online "listener." Carefully read what others have said before you respond. Learn to communicate clearly through writing. Many of the assignments and discussions will center around the written word, so learn to form your responses carefully and concisely.

Develop your technology skills. The more comfortable you are with the technology you need to use, the easier the practical aspects of online learning will be. Don't let technology be a barrier to learning. Make sure you are comfortable with the technologies you will be using, and if possible practice using them before you begin an online course. Learn basic terminology as well, as this will be useful if you encounter problems and need assistance.

Set aside a private space specifically for studying. This will help you focus on your coursework and avoid distractions. Make sure your family knows that when you're there, you shouldn't be disturbed.

Be polite and respectful of others. Just because you and your classmates are fairly anonymous, don't forget that those are real people out there you're interacting with. Don’t write things you wouldn't say to someone in person. Be open-minded, and when discussing issues, stick to logical arguments and avoid belittling others and their ideas.

Apply what you learn. Whenever possible, take what you learn and think about how it applies to your own situation and workplace. Make connections and use what you are learning immediately. This will make your coursework immediately relevant, and will solidify your long-term understanding.