Many colleges will remain online this fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These six tips will teach students who are new to online education how to succeed.

6 Essential Tips for Students Taking Online Courses This Fall

According to Davidson College's database of universities' fall 2020 plans, more than 1,400 schools intend to stay fully online, go primarily online, or offer a hybrid option for students. Only 73 schools plan to reconvene for fully in-person classes. This means that a lot of students will be studying online this fall — perhaps for the first time ever.

If your college is conducting classes online this semester — and many schools are still waiting to announce their plans — you might feel a little anxious about the situation. What does it take to be successful as an online student? Studying online is different from studying on campus, and it requires a unique set of skills and habits.

Here are six tips for making the most of online education this term.

1. Stay Motivated

Online learning is independent learning. While you'll likely encounter group projects and other opportunities to collaborate with your classmates, it's up to you to make sure you stay on track with course requirements each week. You must take the initiative if you hope to be an active participant in your classes.

Discipline is part of staying motivated in an online course. Committing to the process and prioritizing school above all else will help you move forward. Florida Tech also recommends "aim[ing] for balance" and "stay[ing] positive" to help keep your motivation up.

Pro Tip:

Always remember your goals. Why did you decide to enroll in a degree program? Though the experience may be different than what you anticipated when you enrolled, reflecting on your long-term goals can help you remain focused.

2. Manage Your Time Well

Are you prone to procrastination? How well do you handle interruptions? These are just two time-management challenges that can negatively impact your ability to study online. Time management is a critical skill for online learning, and one you can develop with practice and specific strategies.

MindTools' "How Good Is Your Time Management?" quiz can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses. This tool also offers strategies for improving weak areas based on your responses.

Students new to online classes often ask how much time they should expect to spend studying. Every online class will differ due to varying assignments and live session requirements, but there are some basic guidelines you can follow. The University of North Carolina at Greensboro suggests planning for eight hours per class each week for undergraduate courses, and 12 hours per class each week for graduate courses.

Pro Tip:

Establish a study routine. If you're like many online students, you're adding coursework to an already busy schedule. Block out time each week to work on class assignments and activities, such as essays, projects, and readings. Calendar apps can help you stay organized.

3. Communicate Effectively

In an online class, most communication takes place in writing. You can expect to participate in threaded discussion forums, write papers, and work on collaborative writing projects with your peers. You'll also use email to speak with your professors and support services offices.

You may be able to practice your oral communication skills as well. For example, in live, online class meetings, you may be asked to participate in discussions or give presentations. You'll also likely have team meetings with your peers when working on group projects.

Pro Tip:

Be respectful. Consider your classes, as well as your interactions with professors and peers, a professional environment. Arizona State University shares some handy do's and don'ts for online student communication. One tip is to "treat people as if you were in a face-to-face situation."

4. Ask Questions

When you don't see your instructors in person several times a week, it can be a challenge to know when and where to ask questions. Explore the array of support services your school offers online students. Many people are available to assist you and are committed to ensuring your academic success — but you'll need to initiate those conversations first.

Ideally, you'll be able to connect remotely with the offices and resources you'd typically find on campus. Some of the online student services you should reach out to are the campus library, the bookstore, the technical help desk, your academic advisor, and the career center. Also, look for assistance you may need from disability services offices, tutoring and writing centers, and physical and mental health counseling centers.

Pro Tip:

Attend your professors' office hours. Instructors are a great place to start when you're not sure where to go for help or to get a question answered. Drop into your professor's virtual office hours session — often held weekly — to get started. Be sure to check your class syllabus for your instructor's guidelines. UNC-Chapel Hill shares useful tips for getting the most out of office hours.

5. Find a Place to Study

Access to common study spaces like libraries and coffee shops is limited these days, so you'll need to get creative. Think about your overall schedule and what your study routine will be like. You'll need a quiet place to read, work on class assignments, and take online exams.

If you don't have the room or resources to establish a permanent study space, identify multiple temporary options so you can use what's available to you when you need it. It's important to set clear boundaries and let others in your house know what you require for a specific time frame.

Don't forget that you can also study outside if the weather permits and internet access is available.

Pro Tip:

Limit distractions. If possible, choose a room where you can close the door and that's away from the TV and other activities that could interrupt your studying. You can make this space even more quiet and comfortable by adding an extra lamp or putting on headphones.

6. Be Open-Minded

North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University reminds us that learning online "takes some getting used to and requires an open mind." If you aren't sure about online classes, and are enrolled because of campus closures, this semester might not be exactly what you planned. But it can still be a rewarding experience.

Embrace the opportunity to progress toward graduation in an online format. You can continue to build your professional network, even though you're online, by making solid connections with your classmates and instructors. You'll also have the opportunity to develop a variety of digital skills that are transferable across a number of industries.

Pro Tip:

Hone your job skills. Employers shifting to longer-term remote working arrangements will appreciate your ability to communicate and collaborate via technology. Saint Leo University lists some important job skills you can learn as an online student, such as problem-solving and time management.

Start Honing Your Online Skills Now

This spring's emergency shift to remote learning was stressful for students and professors alike. Colleges and universities continue to work on improving the online educational experience and aim to provide a more robust online course schedule this fall.

For students new to online education, now is the time to prepare for the experience that lies ahead. Take time to explore your school's plans and reach out to your instructors with any initial questions you may have. Flexibility and open communication will be critical as we move into an unprecedented — and in many ways unpredictable — semester.


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