1. Have Correct Expectations
Contrary to popular believe, online courses are typically not “blow-off” classes. They usually have very similar academic rigor to their face-to-face counterparts. Also, many online courses take a full-semester’s worth of content and offer it in half of that time, doubling the pace of the course. Approach your online course with this in mind so that you are not caught off-guard and fall behind.
2. Establish a Good Workspace
In a face-to-face course, you split your time between a classroom and some place outside of the classroom to study and complete assignment. With an online course, all of your time is spent outside of the classroom. Therefore, it’s even more important that you have a good place to do your work. Find a quiet place with a good internet connection, access to power, and freedom from distraction. Ideally, this would be a place you can routinely visit throughout the course so that when you are there, you know it’s time to get down to business.
3. Know Your Resources
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. Ensure your computer is working well, install any needed software, and verify your browser is up-to-date. 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.
4. Stay Organized
As with any course, but especially for an online one, it’s important to stay organized. Organize all of your files in a way that makes sense to you. It’s also wise to keep a copy of anything you submit in the event that a technology problem requires you to resubmit it—even your discussion forum posts. Don’t forget to take good notes while doing your readings or watching online lectures just as you would in any other class.
5. Manage Time Wisely
A part of staying organized that’s so important it deserves to be its own tip is having strong time management skills. Online courses certainly give you a lot of flexibility in terms of when you do your studying, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to study! Just as you might attend a face-to-face lecture at a regular time each week, you need to schedule time (and enough of it) in your personal calendar to study the materials in your online course and complete assignments. Treat those blocks of time as seriously as you would a face-to-face class by sticking to them, letting your friends and family know you are unavailable during those times, and consistently using your workspace during those times. Keep a close eye on assignment due dates as well, adding those to your personal calendar as well.
6. Meet Your Peers and Instructor
Even though you may be the only one huddled around your computer, you are not alone! Just as with a face-to-face course, interactions with your peers and your instructor are critical to you having a rich, engaging experience in the course. Many online courses include early-on an icebreaker activity to help you get to know your classmates. Especially if your online course lacks this, be sure to go out of your way to introduce yourself to others. These are the folks who you will work with throughout the semester and it pays to build strong relationships! Don’t just say “hi” and retreat into seclusion, though—stay in touch!
7. Seek Help When Needed
The online space need not be an isolating one. It’s true that your instructor lacks seeing your body language in class to get a sense of whether you might be struggling. Your instructor is still there to help you, though, even if you never meet him or her in person. In fact, many students in post-course surveys at Illinois report their instructor as being equally or even more available than in face-to-face courses.