How to be successful in an online classroom

Online courses are a wonderful way to earn a degree without having to drive to campus, however these courses are demanding. Some people are afraid of the technology, but basic computer skills are usually all that are needed for success. Time management and a slightly different attitude about learning are key to success in distance learning.


Cartoon with check mark

  • schedule specific times to “attend”
  • read the instructions carefully
  • take a virtual tour of the class
  • contact the instructor with questions
  • read all the assignments before you post

Cartoon with x mark

  • think this is a self-paced course
  • try to “sit in the back row” of the course
  • think it will be easier than a ground based course
  • sign in only once a week
  • plagiarize

Elisa Robyn, PhD‘s recommendation to ExpertBeacon readers: Do

Do schedule specific times to “attend”

The key to success in an online class is to treat the class as if it has a classroom schedule. The advantage of online learning is that students can access the course at convenient times. However, it is easy to forget about the class, or to put of the work one more day. It is best to schedule time on at least two different days to access the course shell. There will also be work outside the shell, so time for research and to study must be scheduled in too.

Do read the instructions carefully

Most online classes have a link in the home section for the syllabus. It is best to download the syllabus and read it carefully. There are usually instructions in every section of the course, as well as regular announcements. Make sure to read all the instructions, contacting the instructor with any questions.

Do take a virtual tour of the class

Online shells are not difficult to navigate, but a bit of experience is helpful. The best idea is to click on all the links and explore the class, preferably on the first day. The required discussion posts might be under communication, or discussion, or posts. The information about the course might be under content or lecture. Make sure you understand all the terms being used in the course. Becoming comfortable with navigating the course shell is vital to success in the class.

Do contact the instructor with questions

Each course should provide a way to contact the faculty. There might be a “virtual office” or “cyber café” in which a student can post questions. There might, and should be an email address or phone number for the faculty. Take the time to clarify any questions. Make sure you understand how to post in the discussion site. Ask if there is a grading rubric. Check for information about writing style and other requirements, including how many times a week students need to check into the class.

Do read all the assignments before you post

It is so tempting to just check into the course, post opinions, turn in a short paper, and try to take a test or quiz with the book open. This is not wise. Tests and quizzes are timed, so using a book is often not helpful. Discussion posts and papers are often graded in the same way with a rubric. Online courses require a great deal of work. Opinions are not welcome; research information is. Completing the reading is vital to success in the class.

Elisa Robyn, PhD‘s professional advice to ExpertBeacon readers: Don't

Do not think this is a self-paced course

Online courses to allow a student a great deal of adaptability; however these are not self-paced courses. There are deadlines for every assignment. Often the discussion posts are open for one week. Students have to keep up with the work. It is impossible to successfully complete an online course in the last week of the course. The deadlines set the pace.

Do not try to “sit in the back row” of the course

It is easy to sit in the back of a ground based classroom and day-dream, or even text and surf the web. This is impossible in an online course. There is work due every week from every student. In many ways, an online course is much more demanding than a ground based course. There are no lectures to sleep through, no back row to hide in.

Do not think it will be easier than a ground based course

Online courses are often more challenging than ground based courses. There usually is work due every week that requires reading, studying, or even lab work. Lectures might be recorded in podcasts or another software, and these cannot be skipped. Faculty do not lecture on the information in the text, so students must read the text and supplements.

Do not sign in only once a week

Most online courses require students to post at least twice a week. Often there are announcements posted by the faculty early in the week with information about the assignments. Courses in most institutions run from Monday through Sunday. Students who sign in on Sunday and attempt to complete the course will be quickly buried under the work load. The faculty can track how much time a student spends in each area of the course. For all these reasons successful students sign into the course at least twice a week, starting early in the week.

Do not plagiarize

This probably sounds like silly advice, but this is a serious issue. Since students are working online while in the shell, it is easy to surf the web for answers, and even easier to copy and paste the information into the shell. It is equally easy for the faculty to use Turnitin from the shell and test all the writing for plagiarism.


Online courses have made education accessible to more people. It is not unusual to find students from around the world in a discussion site. The courses are challenging, but students can be successful by using a bit of time management, by exploring and understanding the course demands, and by becoming familiar with the tools of the site. While it is tempting to see the course as a self-paced home study course, these are demanding courses. Students will find that if they put the effort in, they will gain a great deal from the course.

Similar Posts