Online learning provides students with many benefits. Students are often drawn to online learning due to the flexible nature of the courses, or the ability to balance school with other work and family commitments. Students are increasingly opting for online learning opportunities as well. Being a successful online student is entirely achievable, especially when students follow some basic strategies.

Confirm Course Requirements Early On

Once you are enrolled in your online course, there are several steps you can take right away to set yourself up for success. First, make sure you are familiar with WPI's Learning Management System (LMS) - Canvas. Most online instructors will utilize Canvas for their online course materials. Get comfortable navigating the online classroom space in Canvas, and make sure you can access your materials. Review the syllabus and determine if your course has any specific technical requirements such as software programs, or hardware tools such as a webcam and microphone. Additionally, if you need to order any textbooks for the course, do so as soon as possible so you aren't missing any important information while you wait for your books to be shipped. 

Be Self-Motivated and Self-Disciplined

Successful online students take responsibility for their own learning and are committed to keeping up with their coursework. One way for online students to stay organized is to set goals. An asynchronous course allows you flexibility and freedom to complete the class work on your own schedule. Since online students can enter the online classrooms whenever it is most convenient, they must be self-disciplined and sufficiently motivated to engage in the class site, discussion forums, and course materials.

While as an online student you can work on your classwork at times of your own choosing, there may still be course dates and deadlines to meet. Your course material will be presented in weekly modules, with relevant readings, lecture videos, assignments, and discussions. Online courses move quickly, and it can be challenging to catch up with the class if you fall behind or miss class deadlines.  In order to keep up with the pace of the course make note of the weekly schedule, due dates, and deadlines. Set aside specific blocks of time to work on your online class. 

Determine Study Habits and Learning Preferences

It is important that online learners take time to reflect on how they learn best. Before starting your online class, think about how and when you accomplish your best academic work. Are you a morning person? If so, aim to carve out time to study first thing in the morning. If you are more of a night owl, make sure to set aside enough time to work on classwork before bed each night. 

Additionally, consider your own learning preferences and what kinds of information you need to help you understand new concepts or ideas. Many courses at WPI employ video lectures which appeal to both auditory and visual learning preferences, and the lecture slides and transcripts are often available to download if you prefer to read the content. 

Practice Good Time Management

Practice Good Time Management 

Flexibility is one of the biggest factors that make online courses so appealing to students. This is especially true for students who are also balancing work and family obligations. But the freedom to create your own schedule can be detrimental if you do not practice good time management skills. Often, faculty are organizing their courses with the expectation that students will spend between 10-15 hours working on their online course each week. 

At the beginning of the course, review the syllabus and make not of all the major assignments and due dates, and mark important course dates on a calendar so you remember. Review the expectations for the course each week, determine what you need to accomplish, and how long it will take. Create a schedule for yourself each week, setting aside time to work on your classwork. Be sure to factor in other commitments such as work and vacations when planning your schedule. Try to pace yourself throughout the week. It can be really challenging to cram 10 hours of work into a single day. Plan to work on your classwork on different days throughout the course week, setting aside a certain amount of time for each task, and hold yourself accountable. 

Create a Regular Study Space and Eliminate Distractions

Create a Regular Study Space and Eliminate Distractions

One of the challenges of online courses is the lack of a dedicated space for learning. In face-to-face courses, we have classrooms where we convene with the purpose of teaching and learning. When taking an online class, try to set up a dedicated environment for studying. It is also helpful to determine which type of environment works best for you - whether it is a quiet desk in the library, your kitchen table, or the comfy booth at the coffee shop. Try to return to that space regularly and establish a routine for studying and working on your course. If the space is outside your home, be sure you have access to a high speed internet connection, and remember to take all necessary materials with you, including any texts, materials, software, and headphones for listening to video lectures. 

Successful online students are careful to eliminate any distractions when working on their course. When it is time to sit down and study, try to focus on the task at hand, and avoid multi-tasking that might get you off-track, leading to lost time and productivity.