How to Succeed in an Online Class: 5 Best Practices for New Students

by Ana Felce

These days, earning a degree no longer requires you to adjust your schedule to fit the designated times of on-campus courses. With a growing number of online degree programs being made available, it’s now easier than ever to advance your education—from almost anywhere—with flexible scheduling.

If you’ve never taken a course over the internet, you may be wondering how to succeed in an online class (and how much it may vary from a traditional classroom learning environment). Wonder no more! Here are five tips that can help you prepare for the unique learning environment of online classes.

1. Create a Schedule You Can Stick To

Although online courses offer the flexibility to work on class material on one’s own schedule, consistency is still an important success factor. It’s crucial for students to develop strong time-management skills to succeed in an online program.

One way to effectively manage your time is by creating a schedule that sets aside time to read, study, participate in class forums, and complete assignments. Designating these specific periods during the week can prepare you to keep up with new material throughout the term—and help you avoid having to cram last minute.

Don’t forget to factor in any other regular commitments or activities, such as sports practices or volunteering, and adjust your study schedule accordingly!

2. Designate a Distraction-Free Study Space

Learning outside a physical classroom environment is arguably the biggest adjustment for online students. Lectures are conducted digitally, and coordinating any group projects is done via email and group discussion threads.

This means you’ll be responsible for learning the material on your own, in a space that you create for yourself. Whether it’s at home, a local library, or a coffee shop, having a go-to place that helps you focus is key to succeeding in an online program.

Once you’ve found a suitable study spot, you’ll want to make sure you have the following:

  • A high-speed internet connection: This will make it easier to download materials or stream class content. This is one of the most important requirements for taking advantage of the educational support offered by online learning platforms.
  • Headphones: These reduce distractions from surrounding noise and allow you to hear course information and lectures without being a disturbance to others.
  • An organized system for keeping notes: Whether you’re using a notebook or note app, keeping the information you’ve learned throughout the term in a neat and tidy place can prove valuable when finals roll around.

3. Actively Participate in Class

Taking advantage of class forums allows you to connect with other students and meet potential study buddies. Partnering up with a classmate is mutually beneficial—you keep each other accountable, the information becomes more digestible, and course success may feel more within reach than if you had gone it alone. As an added benefit, you might make a few friends!

Online forums also allow students to participate whenever is most convenient for them. Due to their remote location, students on the more reserved side tend to speak up more often, creating profound class discussions and higher engagement overall.

4. Reach Out to Professors

According to Thomas Wilson, Ph.D., director of online learning at Azusa Pacific University, it’s beneficial for students to reach out and communicate with their instructors early and often. This way, he says, they’ll have an open line of communication that can be used to resolve questions and ensure they understand the course content.

“If you do not understand something or cannot find something online, email your instructor,” Wilson noted. “Notify your instructor immediately—she or he may be able to make the correction with a click.”

Whenever you have doubts about a course, don’t hesitate to reach out to your instructor or access helpful resources. Some instructors even offer virtual office hours, where they chat or video conference with students to answer questions one-on-one, just like during on-campus office hours.

5. Keep Track of Your Progress

At the beginning of the term, make note of important dates and deadlines, as this can help you measure your progress throughout the term. Once you’ve identified the major dates, keep them recorded somewhere you can reference regularly. This makes it easy to see if you’re studying properly or if you typically find yourself cramming at the last minute. Check in frequently to ensure you’re maintaining good study habits as the semester continues.

“Self-starters who have good time-management skills can thrive online,” Wilson says. With these five best practices, you’ll know not only how to succeed in an online class but how to make real strides toward earning a degree outside a traditional classroom setting.

Interested in learning more about the online courses offered through Azusa Pacific University? Explore the school’s online degree programs to begin charting your path today.