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Succeeding in an Online Course

What is Online Learning?

Online education provides a rich learning experience that is not limited by time or location. The online environment is a convenient way to fit education into a busy life and still reach academic and career goals.

Because you and your classmates share common interests and learning goals, you can help each other by sharing information, experiences, and advice. To this end, participation and discussion are the key to your success. Throughout your courses, you will have ongoing, individual and group dialogues, you will receive personalized instructor feedback, and you will share insights and information with your classmates.

Most online course are conducted according to a schedule, but there are no face-to-face classes to attend. Instead, coursework, assignments, questions, and discussion all take place at your convenience. You select the hour of day (or night) to attend class. You pick the place–-at home, at work, or elsewhere.

In the online environment, distinguishing characteristics such as age, dress, physical appearance, disabilities, race, and gender are largely absent. Instead, the class's focus is on the course subject matter and on thoughtful and intelligent analysis and discussion.

Palloff and Pratt, in Building Learning Communities in Cyberspace: Effective Strategies for the Online Classroom (1999), confirm a growing consensus in distance learning that the role of the instructor should be one of facilitator. Do not panic if you do not see comments from your instructor for every posting. The instructor's role is to help promote and encourage your learning by offering suggestions, insights, and guidance.

What Makes a Successful Online Student?

Anyone can be a successful online student. However, to be successful, you need to analyze how you learn and then call on those traits that will help you succeed in a Web-based course.

You may have to motivate yourself differently to ensure that you complete course assignments. You may have to set your schedules in new and different ways in order to participate throughout the week, as there is no set class time.

Since most classes have time requirements built into the coursework, there is an expectation of arriving and participating in the course regularly. This expectation does not mean you have to come into the course daily. However, when a course depends a great deal on student discussion, you should be "checking-in" on the class a few times per week to ensure that you are contributing to and enriching the class discussion.

If you are finding it challenging to respond to another student’s comments, try to find ways that a topic can be clarified, explored, questioned, or connected to other relevant topics, and work that into your response. Everyone should be helping to keep the discussion "ball," so to speak, in the air.

To be successful as an online student, you should:

  • View online education as a convenient way to receive your education, not as an easier way.
  • Be willing to share life, work and educational experiences as part of the learning process.
  • Be willing to communicate through writing.
  • Be able to think ideas through before responding. Be willing to challenge ideas and to accept a challenge.
  • Accept critical thinking as part of the learning process.
  • Be self-motivated and self-disciplined.
  • Be committed to keeping up with the coursework and to participating actively in the discussions.
  • Be willing to commit time each week.
  • Be willing to "speak up" if problems arise.
  • Be willing to communicate immediately regarding technical difficulties or any areas of confusion so that problems can be corrected or addressed for everyone's benefit.
  • Have access to the necessary equipment.
  • Be committed to being part of a high quality learning experience and to doing your part to make that experience a success.

 Source: University of Nebraska-Lincoln