Master these skills to excel in online courses + resources to help get started.
Do you know the most important skills to be successful in online studies? When I started my online graduate degree 10 years ago, I had no idea. I did pretty well at a traditional college for my bachelor’s degree and figure going to school online would be pretty much the same story.
Turns out, it’s not.
But you already know that, right?
If I could give you a personal mantra for working through your online courses, it would be that You are in charge. There is massive flexibility with online studies, but with great freedom comes great responsibility. Because you can choose when to “go to class”, it means you have to choose and decide to “go to class”. Yikers!?!
Being an online student is an amazing experience, and why I decided to work full-time with online students as a professor. Online students rock because they are passionate about changing their lives. You enrolled in college because you want a different future. You are committed to making it happen. In short, you are awesome.
As you make the transition to online studies, consider these five key skills to be successful in online studies:
1. take charge of your time
This is the first tip for online students because it is so crucial. If you can’t manage your time, you are going to really struggle in online courses. In traditional courses, you see your classmates and professors several times a week. You even run into classmates around campus. With all of the regular contact and regular schedules, it’s much easier to get reminders from peers and professors about due dates and stick to a regular schedule.
When you are an online student, you don’t have this natural support system. You aren’t completely alone, but you are in charge of when you go to class and when you turn in assignments. If you are going to develop the skills to be successful in online studies, you have to take charge of your time. This means:
- know when assignments are due
- plan ahead for assignments and exams
- plan your study time, including when you work through the material, aka, “go to class”
- determine your regular course schedule
Here’s the good news: it is never too late to take charge of your time. These are skills we can learn, practice, and master. I’m pretty good at managing my time, but I still pick up tips and tricks all of the time and they make a big difference. To get started, here are a few articles to help you get started planning your semester and study time:
- Semester Plan for Productivity & Better Grades
- Free Study Planner to Study Less
- Do you tell yourself these lies about time?
- How to Fit in Study Time at Work (without getting fired)
Don’t have access to my free study planner downloads? Get immediate access to my full resource library:
2. understand your Own tendencies
As an online student, you are in charge of your success. To really charter your life’s direction you need to understand yourself well. By understanding how your mind, personality, and tendencies work you can quickly see when things are going in the wrong direction. Until you can recognize you are off course, you don’t have the ability to turn them around.
Here are a few examples of how self-knowledge helps me to stay on course:
- I am an introvert and I need time to myself. When I become really cranky on a regular basis, I need to schedule some downtime with myself to charge my batteries.
- I am driven and I love to create. When I recognize my avoidance of doing my work it is a sign I am overwhelming myself and need to figure out what is going on in my mind.
- I have a need for outer organization. When I notice my spaces are out of control it is a clue my mind may be out of control.
If you don’t know much about personality types, start with these two quizzes:
- Myers-Briggs Personality Types (free quiz)
This personality quiz is a great start to help understand how your personality is structured. Any other INFJ’s out there?
- Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies (free quiz)
I love Gretchen’s writing about the nature of people! She uses the framework of the four tendencies to shape creating and maintaining habits. I’m an upholder, which should not shock anyone who recognizes me as a bit Type-A. 🙂
If you have read How to be Successful in College, you know how passionate I am about managing our mindsets. How we think and what we choose to believe determines what our life looks like. It is literally the most important work of our lives, and we have to work at it continually. Here are a few posts to start you thinking about how your outlook is shaping your grades:
- Failure Only Exists in Your Mind
- Stop Sabotaging Yourself and Reach Your Goals
- Stop Feeling Overwhelmed and Get Motivated
3. Get the right tools
There is some amount of stuff needed to be successful in your online studies. I shared a few of my favorite college study supplies. These are some of the most important tools you will need:
- High-speed internet connection. You can’t be an online student without a reliable internet connection.
- A backup plan. What will you do when your internet goes out (and it will do so at the most inconvenient times). Will you go to the library, Starbucks, or the office? Can you find a quiet space to focus there?
- Reliable computer. I spend a LOT of time working on computers and have tried so many different set-ups. The most productive setup for flexible working is a laptop + wireless mouse. There are so many options for affordable laptops, and they allow you to study in any room of your house or go out of the house. But, don’t skip a wireless mouse! I have tried in earnest to just use the built-in trackpad and am always much slower than when I have a physical mouse.
- Tablet or eReader. You will spend a lot of time reading digital texts and watching videos in online courses. You don’t have to have a tablet, but I like the experience of reading on one much better, and it’s much easier to have with me at all times than a full-size laptop. When I’m waiting at the dentist’s office I can pull out my tablet and read chapter 3.
4. maximize your study space
Most online students don’t have the convenience of walking down the road to the campus library to study. You may not even have a public library close. Here are a few quick tips to create a productive study space. My biggest suggestions are:
- Intentionally plan where you will study
- Have a backup plan…or two
- Consider the obstacles of your study space
- Plan solutions to those obstacles ahead of time
5. ask for help
Working through an online program can feel isolating, but you are never alone. You may not have considered your ability to reach out a skill to be successful in online studies, but it is! To thrive in the eLearning environment you need to make connections to help you when you are struggling. That help is available, but you have to be the initiator of contact. Don’t stress, I have some ideas for you:
- Email your professor at the start of the semester (use the template provided)
- Email your professor when you have questions (use the template provided)
- Post to the course discussion board/forum to talk with other students
- Email one of your classmates directly to introduce yourself.
- Join a Facebook Group, like my Study Tips & College Motivation group
Skills to be Successful in Online Studies
Hopefully, this provided a big overview of the key skills to be successful in online studies. Taking online courses is a vastly different experience than going to a traditional college classroom. It is both awesome and scary, as most good things are.
Above all, to be successful in your online courses you must take ownership of your studies. Want an extra bonus? These skills will serve beyond college. Develop them now and they will help you propel your career in ways you can’t even imagine today.
Do you want to get serious about your online studies? Check out my eBook, Pulverize Procrastination. Learn why you are getting results you DON'T want and how to get the results you DO want. Create a rockin' study plan you can stick with. Tap into your motivation and stop procrastinating homework.
Try It Yourself: 10-minute Challenge
- Choose one area of college success from this article to focus on.
- Make one change in this area. Maybe you decide to email your professor, or you map out a solid plan for where you can study.
- Rock that change every day.
- Come back and pick the second area to focus on.