• What Makes a Successful Online Learner

  • Are you considering taking one or more online courses?

    Excellent!  But first, make sure you are ready.  It is very common for students to sign up for online classes with an unrealistic vision of what will be required to be successful.

    In many ways, learning online is similar to learning in the classroom. Your instructor will provide quality readings, exercises, assignments, discussions and quizzes.  However, as with regular classes, what you get out of it is related to how much you put into it.  Expect to spend the same amount of time and energy or more in an online class compared to on-campus classes.

    Attendance and Participation:

    Your instructor will assess your attendance and participation in an online class in the same way they do in a face-to-face course; you need to be present on a regular basis, you need to contribute frequently, and your contributions should add substance to class interactions. You are expected to participate in online course activities on a regular basis, which means it is not an option to wait until the end of a term before completing online activities. It is up to you to decide which days, and what time of day you would like to dedicate to your course work, just be sure to check the course calendar for quiz dates and assignment deadlines. Effective online students will participate in some form of online activity several times a week.

    Time Management:

    Flexibility and convenience are two of the great benefits of online learning, however students have to have discipline enough to make time to study, complete coursework, and participate in discussions and groups.  Learners need to plan to commit 6 – 9 hours per week per three-credit class.  If you tend to procrastinate, have trouble sticking to a routine study schedule or need reminders for completing assignments, you may want to consider taking on-campus courses.


    To be successful, an online student has to want to succeed.  Online learning requires independence, internal motivation, and responsibility.

    Effective Learning Styles:

    • Online learning is best for those who learn by reading and writing; if you learn better by hearing lectures or making presentations, an on-campus class might be a better fit.
    • Enjoy communicating in writing and reading the writing of others
    • Be able to work with others via email and chat to complete projects
    • “Speak up” to their instructors when problems arise

    Basic Technical Skills:

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

    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, family, or roommates.
    • 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 of Internet surfing 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. 

    Reading and Writing Skills:

    Reading and writing are the main ways you'll communicate in an online class. Although some hard copies of textbooks might be required, you should be comfortable reading a lot of documents on a computer screen.

    Some tests and quizzes have multiple choice questions, but many of your assignments will involve writing short or long answers.
    If you feel your reading and writing skills are not strong, try taking a course first to prepare you for online learning.


    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. Follow these tips:

    • Use the tools provided by the school to communicate with your teachers. Many online schools and programs provide several ways for students to communicate with teachers and staff. These might include e-mail, discussion groups, chat room office hours, cell phones, and even text messaging. Teachers and staff want to help you to succeed in your classes and will answer your questions. It may feel awkward to talk with your teachers this way, but don't worry. If your teacher has chat room or cell phone office hours, don't be shy about using those tools to communicate.
    • Use appropriate style and language for school. When communicating with teachers and other students, you should write in full, grammatically correct sentences and have correct spelling. Many students are used to a very informal style of writing in chat rooms, blogs, text messages, and so forth.
    • Consider how your communication “sounds” to others.  Remember they cannot hear the infliction in your voice or see your expression.  Show others the same amount of respect you want from them.


    Some online classes require proctored exams that must be completed at a specific location. Proctored exams can occur on campus or at an approved testing location near you. 

    Successful Students:

    • Log in regularly to their classes usually a minimum of three times per week
    • Have good time management skills
    • Plan to ensure enough time to study and complete assignments
    • Commit 6 – 9 hours per week per three-credit class
    • Log in and make progress each day
    • Persists through challenges
    • Take notes as they study
    • Have basic computer skills
    • Know how to use technology properly
    • Read and write well.
    • Have excellent communication skills
    • Seek help when needed.  Online learning students need to be assertive in order to make their needs known.
    • Have solid research skills, including how to effectively use the Internet.
    • Have the ability to work well cooperatively, even when your communication is restricted to email or online
    • Are active learners who are willing to take responsibility for their own learning
    • Are visual learners able to learn easily from reading and writing online.  If you learn best by hearing the instructor, you may want to consider an on-campus class.