Updated: Apr 28, 2021
By Dr. Ángel L. Reyes-Rodríguez
Adjusting to taking online courses can be challenging—especially if you are taking an online class out of necessity instead of choice. Online courses are different than taking a class in person, even if the class is a broadcast of a lecture.
But, keep this in mind...You can adapt and do well in your online courses!
Online classes offer time flexibility but restrict social cues. Here are a few other key differences...
It is up to you to maximize your e-learning experience! A lot of your performance will depend on how you address the challenges of studying online. Much like graduate school, with e-learning you are given resources and it is up to you to get the most out of them!
Online classes are not "easier" than in-person classes. They have their unique challenges. Online classes have similar academic rigor as in-person classes. Do not expect to be done with your coursework by just watching the lecture or reviewing a PowerPoint online!
The lecture or presentation is the starting point. You need to go beyond the basic requirements and dip deeper. Read the textbook, complete practice problems, research other articles/topics about the subject, and take advantage of other resources online like tutorials, online videos, and connecting with your peers to discuss the topics.
Set up a good work space! Designate a place to study with the following characteristics:
Has enough space for your laptop (or whatever device you are using to access the online course) and a notebook
Has a good internet connection
Is as comfortable as possible
Has access to power
Is free from distractions
Let people in your household know that you are busy and should not be interrupted during the time you are studying.
Familiarize yourself with the technology you'll need:
Find out whether you need any special equipment (e.g. microphone).
Verify that you have access to the appropriate websites.
Figure out if there are available resources you can deploy if you need extra help, like the professor's email address, other websites, remote library access, etc.
Make sure your computer works well:
Do you need to install any additional software?
Is your web browser up to date?
Do you gave access to Blackboard?
Organize electronic files using a system that works for you. For example, organize folders by topic vs. chronological order.
Keep a copy of anything you submit, like emails, forms submitted via a web page, quizzes answered in a box on a web page, and discussions from forums.
It's also important to BACKUP YOUR DATA! Create a backup copy of your assignments so you can recover them in the event of a hard-disk failure. Copies and backups also allow you to access your files from any machine.
Take advantage of online storage to backup your data, such as One Drive, Google Drive, iCloud, Dropbox, etc.
Consider backing up to external (physical) drives.
Consider setting up automatic (and/or constant) syncing of documents or save directly to the online storage.
Continue taking notes while reading your books and watching or reviewing online lecturers. Keep them organized, just as you would in an in-person class.
Try using only one calendar to keep track of your schedule. Anecdotally, people report paper calendars to be more efficient than electronic at simultaneously tracking their schedules, deadlines, appointments, etc. However, use whatever works best for you!
Manage your time intentionally:
Create a reliable schedule for essential activities:
Taking the course
Studying the material
Here are a few tips to better manage your time:
Let your friends and family know you are unavailable during those times.
Avoid distractions such as TV, videos, social media, or podcasts during essential activities.
Start assignments early and keep track of your deadlines.
Interact with your peers and professors:
Create a community with the other students in your course via video study groups, WhatsApp groups, Google Hangouts, etc. You could also take advantage of class forums, if available.
Email your professor, teacher assistant, or tutor.
Ask relevant questions.
Seek study advice.
Make sure you understand what any notification or update means.
Remember: Professors cannot rely on social cues to realize you might be struggling to understand a concept. If you do not understand something, reach out for help.
Write daily and weekly to-do lists based on your workload and the tasks you'd like to accomplish. You’ll feel better prepared knowing what’s ahead and having some sort of game-plan for tackling it.
Additionally, hold yourself accountable:
Stick to your routines.
Meet your deadlines
Maintain proper self-care habits:
Take regular breaks to prevent aches, pains, and exhaustion by getting up to move and stressing.
It's also recommended that you avoid eating at your desk. Use lunch as an opportunity to change your scenery and give yourself a mental break from work/class.
Nourish yourself by engaging in activities that contribute to your physical, emotional, and mental health.
Stay engaged with others:
You might be physically separated from your community, but you are not alone! Avoid isolation by calling, texting, or video chatting family and friends when you are not studying.
Stay engaged with your classmates, even if you do not have course-related questions.