These 21 learning tips and strategies come from online college students from across America, Australia, and other countries.
We ran an international competition for students to tell us how to achieve success in online classes. The entries were used to build the list below, which shows:
- 101 edited quotes from the best 63 entries into the essay competition
- the top 21 study tips identified by college students.
Many students commented that you need to be organized and self-motivated for online study success. They told us the strategies they use to help them be model students. Online classes are not easy but, by following these techniques, you have a great chance of being successful.
1. Set a Major Goal
My most important tip for anyone attending or considering an online degree is to stay on task. It’s understandable that sometimes things happen in life that are unforeseen and pull us away from our studies. But you must keep your primary goal in mind.
When you set goals that are personally important, you’re more likely to manage your time in a way to accomplish them.
For online study to be a successful experience, you need to be passionate about your chosen course of study. This passion will drive you to be disciplined and to persevere when deadlines are looming.
Focus on the big picture and remember why you chose to study in the first place. Take one step at a time and, before you know it, you’ll be closer to achieving your dreams.
Keep in mind why you are seeking this degree. Just having the mindset that I’m doing this for my family, or I’m doing this for a better career, or just doing it to say “hey I did it” is enough encouragement to keep your mind on your studies.
Keep the end goal in mind. When I have been stressed about a deadline, or my thoughts are diverted from my studies, I like to take a 5-minute break and visualize where I want to be. My end goal is to be a social worker in the hospital, because my children both have a rare disease and the social worker has been a great influence to me during our many hospital stays. I visualize myself helping other parents during their difficult times, and it helps me get back on track.
Want it! Want it bad enough to obtain it through any means necessary. It’s imperative to read more, listen closely, collaborate and keep in close contact with online teams, professors and peers.
Constantly remind yourself why you are going to school. Online school is completely self-driven and reminding yourself why you started in the first place can boost your drive and help you achieve your goal of a diploma!
That desire to attain dreams and become a student must always be with you, through every course, and for every goal you wish to accomplish. You must approach assignments with conviction, whether it be taking notes on a 2-minute educational video or doing research for a thesis.
2. Treat Study Like a Job
Always remember, study is your work. Consciously choose to show up, absorb wonderful content available to you, schedule in assessments, lectures, tasks, and really set and keep those boundaries. Have a success mindset. Implement firm boundaries. Keep a schedule like your depends on it.
I plan to treat my online classes like a job. Setting daily goals and making checklists can help me succeed in each course and project, allowing me to prove that I can work efficiently and independently. Accomplishing small goals each day and creating a portfolio will help motivate me to keep working.
Make school your top priority every day and you can’t fail!
Some online classes ask you to post a picture of yourself that your classmates can see on your online class. I have seen some doozies, including shots that almost look pornographic. Please remember that your online class is not a model shoot where you get to show off your assets. Oh, and that also includes posting a picture of your dog’s face instead of yours.
3. Make a Study Plan
Make a study plan! At the beginning of each term I take the time to plan readings and work on assignments. Although I regularly adjust the plan if necessary, it keeps me on track.
Set out a clear and achievable study plan and stick to it to it 95% of the time, allowing yourself some room and respite for the unexpected.
Be organized and set a certain amount of hours per day or week into your schedule for studying.
Write out a weekly schedule with dates and times. Make sure to set aside enough time to focus only on school with no distractions. That’s important.
Have a planner for school only. In my planner I can organize my daily tasks or assignments that need to be completed. I will write down how many times I will have to be involved in discussion. I will also schedule my study sessions and which topic I will be working on for that day. This really helps me to stay on top of due dates and keeps me on track to be successful in my classes.
Plan ahead! When it comes to online school, you don’t have a set time to sit around and do your work. You must always plan a time specifically on your own to do your work.
I strongly recommend creating a semester plan, study plan, and time management strategy according to the prescribed study hours per week. These should be made a few days before the semester starts.
4. Manage Time Carefully
Set a schedule and stick with it to keep you structured. People generally do better in a structured environment. So why not make it even easier for yourself? If you know what time block you devote to school, you are more apt to be consistent, avoid late assignments and put study first.
I used to wait until the last minute to complete and submit my assignments. That does nothing but add more stress. I have come to realize that, if I pace myself and stay proactive in my classes, I feel better about my assignments. If I mess up on something, I still have time to go back and fix it.
Estimate how much time you will need for study. Set up a schedule and inform your family / housemates. It’s imperative to have the support of the people you live with. They can’t help you succeed if you don’t give them a chance.
Success in online study boils down to one skill that can be applied to everything you do in life: Time Management. Make a schedule that you can quickly check to see what you need to accomplish and when those tasks need to be complete. Set aside time for yourself and for your studies. During your dedicated study time, try to disconnect from distractions like social media, your phone, or television so that you are able to focus on what you really need to get done. And when you finish the assignments ahead of schedule like the rock star you are? Look ahead and get a jump on future work. Trust me, you’ll thank yourself later.
Make a weekly plan the day before a new week starts so you know what you are going to do as far as homework and research. Divide everything up during the week so you know what to complete on a daily basis. Review materials in small portions so you’re not cramming everything into one day, stressing out, and trying to hurry and get everything done at the last minute.
5. Have Dedicated Study Blocks
First and foremost, there needs to be time set aside each day, without interruptions, to fully focus on your work.
Make time for your schooling. No matter how busy you are, you’re going to have to cut time out of your life to focus on school. Sacrifices will have to be made – deal with it. If I have a kickboxing tournament the same night as an exam, guess what? Exam it is!
It is best to have a scheduled time to study. I have two hours a night set aside for my studies. When my boys were younger, this was after they went to bed, so I had from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. every night for my studies. Now we do homework/studies together at night.
What has been incredibly helpful to me is setting aside ‘school time’. This has been essentially my savings grace. I treat my online classes as if they are a traditional classroom setting. Three times a week I ‘go to school’. I literally block off a two hour window to complete homework, participate in online discussions with my classmates, and also study. I don’t allow myself to be ‘late’ to school or to reschedule class time in light of social events, activities, or anything else that could easily become a diversion.
Your education is important so scheduling the right time each day to focus on it can really make a difference. This schedule allows you to get everything done without feeling like you neglected anything.
Set aside a time. I prefer early morning. I run into office earlier (usually 1 hour earlier) and dedicate this to study. I lock myself in my room. Morning is best, because you are still fresh and have not yet had any work related stress issues have been brought to your desk.
Dedicate a specific amount of time each day or each week to studying and commit to it. A lot can come up in life, and there will always be many distractions. If you are a morning person, then wake up an hour earlier and spend some time studying. If you are a night owl, then dedicate some of that Facebook and Instagram time on an evening to studying.
Personally, I tend to enjoy (and benefit) the most from my courses when I deliberately schedule blocks of time in advance to devote to school work. This helps me to prioritize school and meet my deadlines, while still allowing me to have an otherwise busy, active life.
6. Find a Quiet Space
Pick a time throughout the day when either everyone is away from home, pick a corner of the house where you can relax and study.
Create a space of peace. You need to designate an area that is free of distraction. When diversions are present, it may reflect in poor quality of work; hindering your education. Discussing your “quiet zone” with your family or friends may be beneficial as well so they understand that your time is crucial to your academic success.
Make sure the kids are not around or are sleeping. I have found that a quiet house is much more conducive to quality study time.
Tell your family or roommates that you need quiet time and to not be disturbed. This works because if you are not disturbed you are not likely to lose train of thought or get distracted.
7. Eliminate Distractions
Dedicate a specified time for school work each day and isolate yourself from distractions. When I was enrolled in my online Spanish class during the summer in high school, I made it a point to work at least 2 hours a day on the course directly after lunch. If it is routine, then it will be easy to maintain. I also placed myself at the table with only the computer so that nothing else could gain my attention.
I’ve found that it’s important to have a designated study area free from outside noises and distractions. Turn off mobile phones and TV. Some background music can help you to relax, but it’s important that it’s not too loud to become a distraction.
Cut off all electronics or put them on silent. A distraction-free environment slows your thinking down and helps you feel more at ease because you are no longer concentrating about everyone else. It overcomes the problem of not being able to concentrate when you try to study.
Allow quiet time to focus. My time is in the morning before the kids wake up is when my mind is awake, fresh to new ideas and most creative. I believe that creativity is an important asset for completing assignments.
8. Limit Social Media
Sure, it’s fun to get lost in the black hole of Facebook, but when it comes to getting a college degree, that blue and white “thumbs up” gets shoved to the wayside for studying!
One way that I stay focused on my studies is by logging off of all my social media accounts. There are enough distractions around me in the real world. I don’t need to add more in the virtual world. It’s easy to lose track of time scrolling through your friend’s vacation photos or reading all of your favorite comedian’s hilarious tweets.
Since the computer screen is an online student’s classroom, it may be difficult to resist the temptation to see how many Likes my latest post received, but by logging off and not having my social media pages up, I’m able to focus more on what I’m reading or on the assignment I’m working on.
When I have a big project due… I go off the grid. I will literally disable my Facebook account I will utilize my phone settings such as do not disturb mode so I won’t be tempted to chat instead of work.
9. Use Online Resources
Use any of the student resources that are available. For instance, your college has an online library which offers sources for assignments. Another resource that is sometimes available is a writing center. If you need your paper fixed or just have a question on formatting, the writing center can help.
I would assume that most online colleges have resources available to help with your studies. The college that I attend has a virtual Math tutor. I also have an excellent writing center. One program checks plagiarism another check for grammar and spelling errors.
My tip for succeeding at online study is to make sure you learn how to navigate around your classroom home tabs. This is where you will find your weekly assignments and activities. You will also find your teacher info and fellow classmates for if you have questions. Learn your school website so you know how to access your library, upcoming classes, website info, technical support, and more. Also make sure you know how to contact your school, teachers, and other people when you have a question or concern. Take time to click on each tab on the school website to see what they all do and mean before you get started.
10. Break Down Tasks
Having a detailed calendar of what you will accomplish each day will definitely give you the base to achieve your goals.
I have found the best way to study is to break the information down. It is easier to retain small amounts of information at a time and is not as time consuming. You do not feel as though you are “cramming”. I can divide my time up on each section which ultimately puts me in control of what I am studying and prevents the studying from taking over me. Small breaks in between sections allow me to refresh my brain and give me the extra boost to continue on.
Create a timetable which breaks your study schedule up into 1-hour study blocks with 15 minute breaks in between. This style of studying will seem less daunting and allow for you to keep on top of your work. By studying in small blocks, your brain is also better able to consolidate and understand the information – thus facilitating an enriched learning experience, as opposed to rote learning, where you essentially forget all the information after or even during the assessment.
Each study session should have a specific goal.
11. Be Mentally Engaged
I like to quiz myself on whatever I am studying. This helps me to check my knowledge, and feel more confident when it is time for the real exam.
Go back and either watch the video or read the chapter again. If you do not understand it, do not just keep going and hope it makes sense. Going back and doing it again and again always makes it stick.
A good strategy for success is to turn off all distractions. Turn off the TV, radio and phone and focus on the work. This will help you to better concentrate on the task at hand (and without the distractions that social media can provide). When you allow yourself to become absorbed in study, learning improves.
12. Take Notes
Write down important points. Just like in a traditional classroom setting, taking notes may make it easier to remember the important pieces of information you will need to retain.
When I first started studying online, I found it difficult to listen to videos 3 hours straight and remember everything. Take breaks! Also, you could record teaching videos if they are only streamed online. Divide the video into several parts, depending on topics and sub-topics. Give the file a name (Psychology: An Introduction) and a date (27.09.2015) so it is easier to find at a later point. Write down in bullet points what you can hear (Psychology is…) in each section and put the time (01:35 or 00:57-2:13) behind it.
All of my books through my college are eBooks, and I use digital text for reading. I sit at my computer and use my headphones to listen to the book as I follow along, highlighting important points. When finished, I go over it and write all the important points in outline format using pen and paper. This helps me retain the information. Doing this has been vital for my study time.
Keep notes on a regular Word document and click on the “Ctrl” & “F” key to find information. This has been a tremendous help when taking online quizzes and exams. Your notes are all available on the same document and easier to find when needed, rather than having your information scattered in various areas.
13. Browse Intelligently
You have the entire world at your fingertips. You can research entire events from history in color, or have a renowned mathematician take your hand and work you through a problem, or a scientist explain to you how exactly your solar system works. Use your time and resources wisely.
To keep my research organized, I created an online flashcards account and keep the tab open while online. I created a folder for each class and made a set of cards for the various study topics. When I find interesting content, I copy the data to a flashcard and include a link back to the source. Because the flashcards are stored online, they can be accessed at any time, even when I am reading online material using my phone.
14. Make Study Enjoyable
Playing happy music keeps me alert and in a good mood. Keeping good vibes going while I study, make the studying go by faster, and much more enjoyable.
Play mellow music. When I study, the music helps me remember what I studied and I tend to turn it in to a song.
My tip is coffee, coffee, coffee and more coffee. Well, OK, that’s just for me. And, if you don’t have a quiet room because you have noisy children who do not come with a volume control, try noise cancelling headphones (joke).
I like to study with coffee. Coffee is my treat for myself when I need to study hard. By starting my studying with something I enjoy, it makes my entire study session better.
Have fun. It is exciting and rewarding to be in school and learning about new topics that interest you. It is too easy to get stressed out when going to school online but, if done correctly, the schooling can be very rewarding.
Above all else, enjoy the process, the opportunities and unique experience that online study can provide!
15. Take Breaks
Take frequent, short breaks. My mind becomes a little bit numb after an hour of looking at the computer screen, so I have found that stepping away and taking a few minutes to myself is a way to rejuvenate my brain.
Maintain regular breaks to avoid strain (and make sure your study space is set up correctly). A quick break and walk outside can really revitalize you to continue studies. And don’t force it. Do the work when you are in the right frame of mind (online studies are more flexible so you can do this).
Schedule breaks of 5 or ten minutes between study time. It helps you get a breather and grab a snack or use bathroom. You stay on track while also getting a few minutes of peace and relief.
Decide on a task, set a timer for 25 minutes, and work! If a distraction pops into your head, write it down, but get back to the task. When the bell rings, have a small break. Go for a walk, make a cup of tea, or find a dog to cuddle. This legitimately stops me from getting square eyes. Mum would be proud.
16. Stay Healthy
Stay healthy! “Mens sana in corpore sano: A healthy mind in a healthy body”. Our brain can only work to its fullest if our body is well. Have regular breaks that involve exercise and fresh air and eat good food! Preparing a healthy meal or going for a run is not wasting your time. I usually come up with my best ideas during a mountain jog.
Eating well, getting plenty of sleep and taking regular breaks for 10-15 mins to stretch the arms and legs helps keep focus and avoids eye strain from computer monitors.
Eat healthy and stay hydrated. While running around doing everything, I was forgetting to eat right and not drinking enough fluids. So guess what happened? I became ill. That really placed a huge stone in my educational road. You can’t study online when you’re in hospital, so think about you.
The important thing is sleep. We as human adults need seven to eight hours of sleep to function. I understand that the need to cram all knowledge before a quiz is a well-known idea of college but studying is key. I am not talking about studying the night before, but possibly the month before. The night before a quiz should be dedicated to a good meal and sleep. When the brain is asleep, the mind can think clearly and go over past studying tips.
Getting rest is a must. I find my papers sound less insane if I have had a decent night’s sleep.
Don’t overdo it. Remember to spend time with friends and family. It is good to have some balance. It’s good for your overall happiness, sanity and for the preservation of relationships.
17. Connect with Others
Connect with others! Online portals, discussion boards and Facebook can help to find students in the same course, maybe even in your local area. Connect with peers and team up for group assessments, stay in touch, and help each other with proof-reading, tips and exchange of resources. Talking to other students opens my mind and keeps me motivated.
An important part of the online classroom is classroom participation and discussion. Posts that engage others in a back and forth repartee aid in the conceptualization of research papers and slide presentations that are assigned as homework. Although class participation does not amount to a large percentage of my grade, it does guide my though processes for the entire class. It accounts for the A-grade point average that I’ve maintained throughout the course of my online study.
Engage! Don’t disengage simply because it is online learning. Interact with your classmates and lecturer as though you were doing in-class learning to gain the ultimate benefits.
Communication with other students is vital. People may think that online schooling is a way to avoid talking to other students. However, this is not true. In order to fully comprehend certain material, it is sometime necessary to see another person’s point of view on the subject matter. Talking to other students by messaging or posting comments can sometimes open a student’s mind to other opinions or help them understand an assignment. Students learn from each other and cooperative learning is the same online as it is in any traditional college.
Stay proactive in your class as well as with your classmates. Ask questions and participate as much as you can. There are so many great opportunities as an online learner because the students in your class are usually from all over the United States. As a student, you are able to draw information and gain more knowledge and different perspectives than you may in a face-to-face classroom setting.
Communication is the number one thing that will make online learning a positive experience. Email your professor, post in the forums, text your classmates – use every communication skill you have to make sure you are getting what you need from the course. Getting to know your classmates as much as possible is a positive aspect of online learning. You never know when you will make a new friend!
I am new to online courses and realized rather quickly that just responding to the professor’s posts was not enough. To get a better grasp of the idea or concept being taught in a group discussion, we must ask questions among ourselves and respond in a positive manner to ideas that would be considered “Thinking outside the box”.
Email etiquette is essential and extremely important as it is the only form of communication many online programs partake in. A simple “Good Morning”, “I hope this email reaches you well”, “Thank you”, “Please” or “You are greatly appreciated” matters a lot. Warm gestures go a long way and I’m constantly reminded that it makes a huge difference.
18. Join a Study Team
Create a team of virtual friends, 2-3, maybe more and have regular discussions. Meet up like once a fortnight to pick each other’s brains, see how far each is with the assignments, and also any challenges anyone is facing. This can be through WhatsApp or Facebook.
Build relationships with fellow students. I’ve made some wonderful friendships that are based on a mutual passion for the nursing profession and providing support and encouragement for each other through the highs and lows that can come with study.
One of the best ways to be successful is to group together with some study buddies. The friends I have made have been invaluable for surviving and passing online courses. We are there for each other to bounce ideas, work out task requirements, cram for exams and offload when stressed. We are encouraging and remind one another that it will all be worth it.
We all struggled in the same ways, with the same assignments and readings and, once we discovered this, were able to assist each other. Everyone is fighting for the same goal.
19. Ask Questions
It’s important if you’re struggling with a topic to be proactive and seek out help. Many online courses have great teachers just waiting to assist you.
Ask questions as soon as you have them. There’s nothing worse than convincing yourself that you will eventually learn the subject and find out a week later that you still do not understand the topic. Generally with online classes, one week is built off the knowledge of the past week. If you do not understand week 1, you will have greater difficulty in week 2, and so on.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you don’t understand, just ask. The professors are there to help. Failure to ask may cost you a good grade on an assignment.
If you are confused about a course or have questions about an assignment, do not hesitate to ask your instructor. They are there to guide students in the learning process. They want to help students succeed.
20. Beat Deadlines
Set a strict guideline on assignments. If an assignment is due on a Monday, do not wait to do it until Sunday night. It creates unnecessary stress and anxiety.
Most students find themselves putting in a lot of work on the day an assignment is due. I like to pretend that everything is due one day early, giving me a little extra time if needed.
For bigger assignments, such as outlines and essays, it is beneficial to set a personal deadline to finish 2 days before the actual deadline. Two days is an ideal time to do extra revision and editing to any work. It allows 1 day for rest and 1 day to revisit the work with clear eyes. That one day could mean catching errors in grammar that were missed in the original revision process and making a satisfactory grade into an excellent one.
Save your work when you are finished and come back them next day and read it aloud. You will find more mistakes that way and possibly see a better way to write something. This only works if you manage your time well enough to have those extra hours later to review.
Taking online courses does not mean putting away homework for a few days and catching up on The Walking Dead series, before finishing a course project 2 hours before midnight on the night it is due. I have learned to not procrastinate because I like my sleep better than pulling all-nighters.
Finishing work early means you have more time to ask questions or make improvements. The flexibility of online study should allow you to review and critique your work before turning it in.