Tips for Taking Online Courses in College

Federal data on higher education enrollment shows that more than one in three students will take at least one class online, while just over 15% of all students in higher education take classes exclusively online. There are many reasons students sign up for remote coursework.

Sometimes it’s because attending classes from the comfort of their homes is their ideal learning style. At other times, students are pushed into the online arena, such as when schools shut down in early 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe.

Fortunately, whether you’re taking classes due to preference or because you have no choice, there are many ways to help you feel more confident as you embark on your online studies.

Understand How to Use Your Supplies

The first thing you should do when preparing for an online course is to ensure that you understand all of the equipment you’ll be using. Before classes begin, take some time to get comfortable with the following:

  • Your textbooks (digital and physical copies).
  • Your laptop and/or tablet.
  • Your headphones and microphone (if needed).
  • Any software that may be required for your course.
  • Miscellaneous tools, such as a calculator, that you may have to use.

As your classes begin, you don’t want to be distracted by figuring out how to use these items. You also don’t want to accidentally compromise your cybersecurity by clicking around on gadgets that you don’t fully understand. Instead, familiarize yourself with your supplies beforehand and make sure you feel comfortable with everything you’re using.

Manage Your Time Effectively

Time management is essential to productivity when schooling online.
You can increase your time management skills by utilizing various time management techniques such as:

  • The Pomodoro technique: Break your day up into chunks (25 minutes each is common) in which you can set achievable goals, with five-minute breaks. This can combat procrastination by rewarding productivity and creating a sense of urgency to use each chunk of time effectively.
  • The 4D system: Sort all tasks into one of four categories to triage your attention and effort for maximum efficiency: “Delete,” meaning you don’t really need to do a given task, such as reading an email or answering the phone; “Delegate,” letting someone else take care of chores or tasks that don’t require your attention but still need doing; “Defer,” postponing non-urgent tasks so you can focus on immediate needs; and “Do,” which is when you tackle priority tasks and focus on getting specific work finished.
  • Pareto Principle or 80/20 Rule: In general, when it comes to your to-do list, the Pareto Principle suggests that out of 10 tasks, two are likely to take more time than the remaining eight, and deserve your attention. In other words, find the 20% of work that will end up consuming 80% of your time, so you can dedicate energy to challenging tasks so the simpler things that won’t take as much time don’t distract you.

Each of these techniques can help to focus your efforts and boost your productivity.

Remain Professional

It can be easy to relax when you attend an online session of school from the comfort of your home, rather than going into a classroom or commuting to a campus. However, it’s important to remember that you’re virtually participating in a professional setting and should treat it as such. You can do this by:

  • Dressing professionally: Be comfortable, but don’t dress like a slob.
  • Interacting with others in a respectful, courteous manner.
  • Avoiding saying anything you wouldn’t say in a classroom setting.

If you engage in your online classes with respect, you’ll also subtly tip off your subconscious to treat the entire event with greater importance.

Create a Routine

Just because you don’t need to get in the car and physically drive to class doesn’t mean all routines should go out the window until 30 seconds before each class begins.

Look for ways to set up routines throughout your remote academic schedule to keep focused. This can be as simple as a series of activities you do before a class starts, such as turning on your computer, getting a drink and stretching. It can also be as complex as carefully structuring your entire day and week.

Regardless of the specifics, your routine should help you concentrate and succeed.

Get to Know Your Professors

Gaining a sense of familiarity with your professors by emailing or otherwise making contact with them can help ameliorate any initial intimidation you may feel. It can also help to keep healthy lines of communication open in an online world that might otherwise make connections difficult.

Developing a rapport with your professors can help you understand what they expect from you throughout your course of study. Often, the way each professor runs their online sessions will vary dramatically depending on the online school you’re attending and how long that school has been operating online.

Create a Positive Workspace

Attending online classes means you have the freedom to set up an ideal study space in your home. You can do this by:

  • Getting rid of clutter and keeping your study space clean and tidy.
  • Tracking down a comfortable chair with good lumbar support.
  • Making sure you have a good internet connection.
  • Setting up in a well-lit, cozy space that encourages study and minimizes distractions.

Rather than treating online classes as a step down from a classroom, use the opportunity to create a superior study space in your home.

Understand the Course Rules

Professors are notorious for having different course rules and expectations, and this applies online as much as in the classroom. This can include things such as:

  • Certain font and size requirements for written assignments.
  • Strict attendance policies for classes.
  • Little to no flexibility about turning in assignments on time.
  • Mandatory participation in group discussions.

Often the course rules also depend on whether a class is asynchronous or synchronous (meaning self-paced or highly interactive, respectively). As you prepare to take your courses, make sure you thoroughly understand what each professor expects.

Organize Your School Work

If you’re taking a full course load online it can be overwhelming keeping track of assignments. To curb this disorienting problem, take the time to organize yourself before and during classes. You can do this by:

  • Keeping track of assignments, tests, projects and deadlines in a universal calendar.
  • Creating a study plan incorporating all required homework and class attendance.
  • Keeping all of your school files and assignments neatly organized in folders on your computer.

If you take the time to stay organized, you’ll save yourself a world of headaches and wasted time.

Take Advantage of Online Resources

Just because you’re attending school remotely doesn’t mean you’re cut off from the various resources that schools traditionally offer.

Everything from online tutors to digital libraries can typically be accessed by currently enrolled students. Take advantage of these resources before you go digging around for information on potentially unreliable online options.

Take Breaks

Finally, remember to take breaks as you go through your studies. Whether you’re a procrastinator or overachiever, taking scheduled breaks to eat, stretch your legs, or go to the bathroom can help you maintain focus and productivity.

As you adjust to your school schedule, look for the best times of the day to take breaks. Then work those breaks right into your schedule.

Last updated: September 2020