Tips for Succeeding as an Online College Student

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Achieving success as an online college student is much like achieving success in other endeavors, and most students already possess these habits and skills. There are, however, a few principles that the most successful online students have learned as they adapt to this environment. Following their tips will only improve your experience as you pursue your online university degree.

Effective online learners know that successful outcomes depend largely on their mindset and preparation from the beginning. They take steps even before the first class to assure success.

1. Be engaged from the start and stay motivated.

Contact your instructor with a brief introductory note. Explain what you hope to gain from the class and what your career goals are. Establishing a good relationship with the instructor is important and you will feel more comfortable asking questions later on. You will also stand out from the crowd!

Dig right into the assignments, and participate in any discussions. Post relevant comments and ask questions on discussion boards or chats.

Motivation is key to staying engaged as the semester progresses. Many successful online students have learned a few tricks that keep them focused and involved in the absence of face-to-face interaction with the instructor and other students.

They create their own motivators by setting a personal calendar for completing supplemental or required readings, assignments and projects. Checking off completed work gives a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. Completing work before a deadline gives students a sense of control and autonomy. This approach also allows students to do their best work without stress and panic as deadlines approach.

2. Show initiative and maintain discipline.

Initiative is required for setting your own schedule and meeting your own deadlines, of course. But initiative also means being proactive when something isn’t clear. Ask questions as they arise, whether about the content itself or the requirements of an assignment. Remember, in a traditional classroom instructors can see your puzzled expression, but online you must ask for clarification.

Discipline is important as well. Without the enforced discipline of traditional class meetings, it is so easy to let yourself off ‘just one night’ for a social event or to relax. While part of the attraction of online learning is the flexibility it offers, that flexibility can easily become a great temptation.

3. Have good reading and writing skills.

Since so much of online education is delivered via written word, students need good reading skills. While instructors for some components of a class may use video presentations, much of the instruction depends on the ability to read, comprehend and analyze information.

Writing skills are important as well. Since your written words replace your spoken communication in most cases, it is necessary to communicate clearly and concisely in chats, emails, and postings and, of course, your assignments.

Up to this point, the qualities that make for a successful online educational experience are not so different from those required of a traditional college student. But there are a few differences worth noting.

4. Have good organizational skills.

This means having an organized place to work, preferably at your computer and preferably away from family activity and distractions. Keep all the things close by that you will refer to frequently, such as reading material, a binder or folders, pens and paper.

Reference books for your subject are useful as well, though many reference materials are available online. Check with your local public library about establishing access to their databases if you are not given access to the college or university library system.

5. Be comfortable with technology.

For most students, the technology skills required for success in an online education environment are almost second nature. Common skills include adding attachments to email, following online threads and discussions, and using the Internet wisely to research information for assignments.

Schools may have their own technology requirements, so it is important to understand these from the beginning. Trying to master content and technology simultaneously sets the learner up for real frustration. If you are uncertain how a particular feature works, ask!

Having your own computer and high-speed Internet access will help make you more productive and efficient. You will also need common software applications installed and perhaps some specialized programs particular to your area. Have these ready before the first day of class.

You should also have a reliable printer. Sometimes you will find it easier to print off readings, notes, discussions and such. You may also want to keep a hard copy of any papers or projects.

6. Enlist the support and understanding of others.

It is important to have the cooperation of friends and family when you are taking classes online. Stress that you should not be interrupted during the time you have scheduled for your classes or during the tine you have set aside to study and work on assignments.

If you have a family, try to set up your schedule so that you can work when the house is empty, or when others are busy with their own activities. You need to make your online education a top priority. It is all too easy to be distracted by the demands of daily life. An honest discussion of shifting roles and expectations before you begin will ease tensions and minimize distractions.

Even if you are not responsible for a family, make it clear to your friends that you have made a commitment and need their understanding. Do not allow yourself to be distracted by emails, phone calls and other interruptions during your designated study time. Tell your friends you are cutting back on social activities, perhaps limiting yourself to one night a week.

Most students who enroll in online college classes find the transition from traditional to virtual classroom quite easy and it quickly becomes second nature. Establish effective work habits from the beginning. With a bit of discipline and commitment, an online college degree is quite achievable.

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