Tips for Taking Courses Online


Online courses are real courses! 

Set goals and hold yourself accountable. 

Figure out how, when, and where you learn best. 

Practice time management.

Create an organized space for study.

Eliminate the things that will distract you.

Actively participate in all course activities.

Keep in touch with professors and classmates.


I finished my degree entirely online. For me, the key to success was setting up an area devoted to class. It’s tempting to do homework in front of the TV or in bed, but I found that the best place was a simple desk, free from distractions. I went to “class” there, did my work there, and I left it all there when I was finished for the day.

I am, typically, a hands-on learner – but one of my courses was only being offered online when I needed to take it. I was hesitant when I started but I loved being able to collaborate anytime of the day with other students in my class. I could post my questions to the classroom forum and get a response in minutes. It was very helpful in understanding the course work and understanding different methods of completing the work.

I saved some money by renting my book via amazon-kindle. I went full on electronic!

Strict deadlines and clear expectations and rubrics posted along with the assignments helped me stay focused. It is helpful to make sure that all deadlines are marked in the calendar because most students do not read through all the directions where they may find that a rough draft is due on the "21st" of the month and the final is due on the "31st" of the month. A lot of times, only the final draft is listed as a graded assignment and so the rough draft is not listed on the calendar so many students miss the due date. It is also helpful to set a routine. You should either set a time to complete multiple assignments in one sitting or commit time each day to complete assignments. I found that completing as many assignments as possible in one sitting is the most beneficial because a lot of the courses end up having a similar structure on similar topics, so it made it easy to complete two similar assignments for two classes in a short amount of time.

It is really nice to be able to complete half of the course in a matter of days because you have access to all the information and assignments. I loved online courses that opened all assignments because I could complete the course whenever I wanted as long as it was completed by the final deadline at the end of the semester.

Canvas can be a little confusing. There are multiple sections and tabs within the program and professors all use the program differently. It is not insanely difficult, but I would suggest becoming familiar with the program by exploring each section prior to having to complete assignments. Each course is going to look pretty similar but there are a few different ways to load a syllabus or information for an assignment. The assignments and course sections are typically split into groups but if your professor uploads a reference document, it might be found listed in another section. Just make sure you look at everything.

Online learning provides a wealth of flexibility but an equal amount of personal responsibility. Staying on task is critical. Setting small achievable goals every day helps to keep me from feeling overwhelmed and stay on track. I find it a lot easier to ask questions with anything I may find confusing by sending my professor a simple message when need be. Plus, I always take advantage of the fact that an online class isn't restricted to Canvas, and a simple google search can help me wrap my head around subject matter I may find confusing.

I downloaded all syllabus and electronic files accessible to me via canvas so I could reference them in different locations without internet access.

Honestly, my biggest barrier to staying on track/focused at home was sometimes my pet. I have a beautiful sheltie and she loves to play, but I found that whenever I wanted to work on school stuff I had to first play outside with the dog or run with her to wear her out for a bit so that coming back home I could focus on my school work.  Having a pet at home is a great way to destress but setting some structure for play time and homework time is key to being productive.

Check the calendar OFTEN. Make sure the syllabus/revised syllabus matches what you see on the calendar. Turn on notifications for the calendar. You can also download the Canvas app and receive mobile notifications as well as email notifications. Turn your email notifications on now if you haven't already. It is likely that there will be changes to things that have already been changed because everyone has to adapt to a new way of completing the course.

If you are taking multiple courses online, find the assignments that are similar and complete them in one sitting. If you are very focused and do not feel the need to do something else, don't, because you may not feel the same way the following day. I would suggest doing something outside of your home before you begin completing assignments each day. Sometimes a change of scenery will increase your focus. I suggest doing this before completing assignments because otherwise you will be counting down to being done with assignments so you can have a change in scenery and your focus will be shifted. Between each assignment, make sure you understand the purpose of the assignment and what is expected. It is very easy to miss key information because you are skimming the assignment description instead of hearing it explained in class.

My suggestion with online classes is to STAY ON TRACK. Keep a planner and write out all due dates. It is very easy to lose the motivation to study with online classes so treating them like actual school is essential. The best thing about online classes will be that I can stay in my bed and listen to my lectures while eating pancakes. 😊

I’m a morning person. So, I would dedicate an hour each morning to each class. Some days it would take less than an hour. But, if I needed to put in more time I had the rest of the day to find time to devote to studying and getting assignments and assigned readings completed. Also, keeping track of and keeping ahead of deadlines was helpful.

Purchased a flashdrive and created a saving system so I would have multiple copies of my papers -- in 3 places, (onedrive, flashdrive, desktop).

My instructor would create Power Points with voiceovers, and this was very helpful for my learning style.

For useful software or tools accessible to students: I used my outlook calendar and color coordinated readings, deadlines, and study times. I absolutely love my OneNote online notebook. These are both available to students with their Ranger accounts and can be accessed through the Microsoft apps.

I’m fortunate to have an office in my house so I used that as my classroom but if that isn’t an option, I also cleared out my dining table and used that to work on. Being too comfortable doesn’t always lead to productivity.

If you can work in a noisy environment and focus, that is great and that is what you should do. If you find it difficult to focus with distractions all around you, set a routine. My routine was that I would wake up around 6 or 7, go to the gym, then complete multiple assignments during the day while no one was home. You have to be aware of how you learn best and you need to take the steps necessary to make sure that you have time to focus.

It is so much easier to contact your professor because you can message them through the program and you will receive a response through the program. It also is very easy for professors to communicate directly with a specific group of individuals without the possibility of emails getting overlooked or lost because there is a direct messaging system within the program. Again, downloading the app on your phone will help you so much.

In order to stay focused and organized with different courses and their due dates I use my Outlook calendar. I enter all assignment due dates on my calendar, color coded by class, and set a reminder for 24 hours before the assignment is due. Because I also work full time my calendar includes work meetings which I do not apply a color to at all. For a student though they could assign a color to their work schedule as well.

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