How to Make the Most of Online Courses


Online courses are increasingly becoming a real alternative for busy people to build up valuable training and job skills without needing to put their lives completely on hold for four years to attend traditional university.  They can help older workers looking to start fresh in a new industry, as well as helping first-time job seekers get their foot in the door.

 With the new format, however, come new challenges as well: online courses pose unique difficulties compared to their brick-and-mortar analogues.  There are more distractions, communication and feedback are more challenging, and staying on task becomes an effort of will.  Here are five strategies to help you succeed.

  1. Connect With Your Instructors

In an online classroom, you don’t have the back and forth feedback you have in a traditional class.  This makes it more crucial than ever to establish a dialog with your instructor as soon as possible.  Introduce yourself at the beginning of the course and ask about any confusions you may have about the syllabus.  Along with showing a level of initiative, this also makes it easier for you to message them in the future when you have more serious questions about the material.

Many online classes begin with a review of simple material, so don’t allow the classes’ initial easiness to lull you into a false sense of security.  Talk to the teacher sooner rather than later, and make sure to maintain that dialog throughout the semester.

2. Keep Strict Time Management

In online classes, time management is an entirely different beast.  It’s much harder to dedicate time to studying when there is no discrete border between your school life and home life.  Those students who succeed in online classes are those who are most proactive about studying and who take the most initiative in setting aside time to study.

In order to make the most of your academic time, it’s necessary to decide which blocks of the day you can most easily dedicate to your studies.  Pick times when you are awake, but not over-stressed by the rest of your life or tempted by other options or responsibilities.  Stay firm on that time, and try not to give it up for anything.

3. Balance Your School and Home Lives

Often, the reason that students choose to take an online course is because of the sheer level of convenience.  Online courses allow them to pursue a degree without sacrificing the other demands of their lives.  Unfortunately, when the rest of your life becomes more hectic, it’s easy to allow school tasks to fall by the wayside.  It’s crucial that you make sure you always dedicate adequate time to studying.  Do it at four in the morning if you have to.

4. Quarantine Your Study Environment

In human psychology, context is deeply tied to modes of thought and reasoning.  That’s why psychologists suggest you not watch television or engage in strenuous activity in the same bed you sleep in – it mixes your brain’s contextual cues.  The same applies to study environments – set aside a space where you can work without being interrupted or distracted.  Try not to perform non-school tasks there.  A place where you can work fluidly and without interruption allows you to get more work done in far less time.

5. Ask Questions, Early and Often

It can’t be reiterated enough that it is vital to maintain a dialog with your professor.  However, if you have questions, there are a number of other ways to try to seek out answers.  Try online chat rooms, topical forums, Wikipedia, and university websites.  If you can’t find what you’re looking for, don’t hesitate to fire off a quick email to your instructor or TA requesting clarification.  While there is value to finding answers out for yourself, if you run into trouble, there’s no reason to allow that uncertainty to linger.

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