Tips for Taking an Online Class

Published: Tues., Jan. 13, 2015; by Grace Troupe

Grace Troupe portrait

“With great freedom comes great responsibility.” Ok, so I tweaked that Spider Man quote a bit, but this is a summary of how I feel about online classes.  The freedom and flexibility of an online class allow for endless possibilities, but taking an online class takes a good dose of self-discipline and self-motivation. In order to navigate this delicate balance, I’ve provided some tips below based on my experience as an online student and as a TA for online courses.

Create a schedule. On-campus classes require you to be at a certain place at a certain time. This creates a structure, expectations, and a good rhythm for making progress through the content. Online classes often provide various deadlines, but rely on you to create your own structure. I can hardly emphasize this next point enough: Schedule your online course into your week as if it were a resident course. Block off time on your calendar and set reminders on your phone so you can be sure to create your own “class time.”Create a study space. Once you’ve blocked off your class time, pick a location for your class. Try to pick a place that minimizes distractions and gets you into your study mode.

Grace works at a cafe
My online “classroom” of choice is a coffee shop near where I live.
Photo taken by Craig Chandler

Do not push deadlines. If you have a technical issue or a question on your assignment before handing it in, you’re usually dependent on an e-mail reply. If you make a habit of completing assignments at least a day before the deadline, you’ll have room to send questions to your professor and receive a response if necessary. (Tip #1 will help you avoid pushing deadlines!)

Do an attitude check. Many students sign up for an online class believing it will be easier than other courses. This often isn’t the case. As an online student you must be a very active consumer of information. This often surprises students, since they find themselves spending as much time on their online class as their other courses. So, as you look at your semester, make sure you’ve allotted as much time for your online course as you would for a resident course with in-class and study time considered.

Ask your instructor for help. Sometimes online students feel distanced from their teacher and reluctant to ask for help. There are two important things you need to remember as a student:  1. Your professor is a human; 2. Your professor is invested in your success. Online instructors usually LOVE helping their students and get excited when you want to dig into the subject they’re teaching. So, don’t wait until you’re struggling or even failing the class to ask for help. Be sure to find out your professor’s preferred method of communication and USE IT! Some are willing to Skype or talk on the phone if e-mail proves to be a difficult way to receive help. If you happen to be on campus, setting up meetings with the professor is a great way to get help and get to know your professor better.