How to Be a Successful Online Learner

While no two courses are alike, there are certain things you can expect from the online learning experience. With that, there are particular key habits that make students taking online courses successful. These learners are motivated, great at making connections, and, of course, have access to online materials. Let’s look at some of the common qualities.

Actively Participate in the Learning Process

Being an active learner means owning the learning. This can be done through proactively reading materials, conducting additional research, and reaching out to classmates and instructors regularly. Successful online leaners are also proactive in acquiring feedback and applying it to future coursework. Online learners who take the opportunity to engage with their instructor and classmates tend to get the most out of their classes.

Make Connections

Successful online leaners see the value in making connections. This can be done through collaborative activities, asking questions, and reaching out regularly to classmates. Through active participation, students network and build relationships with one another. What is great about online learning is it breaks down geography limitations, so students can build personal and professional networks that span cities and the globe. 

Be Open-Minded and Share

Some students are more comfortable expressing their thoughts and opinions online than in a classroom setting. Online provides the ability to reflect and collect thoughts before responding to a question. Online classes can eliminate some visual and live barriers that might hinder some students from being expressive. This enables a community of openness.

Ask Questions

Successful online learners ask questions. Rather than waiting to be “called on,” they proactively reach out for clarification or guidance from their peers and professor. This helps avoid confusion, deepens understanding, and expands one’s knowledge and relationships. By posting to a group forum, students often ask questions others may have. Instructors welcome this type of interaction and appreciate the community it builds.

Set Aside Study Time

In any environment, our busy schedules and social media can get in the way of getting things done. Successful online students set aside a place and time to work. They:

  • Have a consistent workspace and work time
  • Turn off distractions, such as social media
  • Work in a comfortable place, considering ergonomics and posture
  • Avoid temptation of surfing the internet!

Plan Ahead and Work Throughout the Week

Succeeding in an online course takes as much time as an on-ground course. While the online format provides flexibility about where and when to participate, it does not eliminate the need for frequent engagement throughout the week. Here is a sample schedule for a typical week:

Monday Begin required readings and multimedia
Tuesday  Continue reviewing materials
Wednesday  Post to discussion forum and begin assignments
Thursday  Continue posting and working on assignments
Friday  Read and respond to posts and work on assignments
Saturday  Read and respond to posts and finish assignments
Sunday  Check your work and submit assignments

Online learners plan ahead. They are organized and schedule their time during the day and throughout the week as they tend to be busy with children, full-time jobs, or other priorities. Working on the train, during a lunch break, or in the morning—there’s really no right time to study, as long as it fits your life. Scheduling time effectively can ensure you make the most of the flexibility of online learning.

For more on what makes online learners successful, and a snapshot of Northeastern’s online courses, watch this presentation created by our Online Experiential Learning Team: