8 Tips to Help First-Time Online Students See Success

Online student

Online classes are a great way to learn. Benefits for students include flexibility to attend class from wherever they have a computer and internet connection, access to course materials 24 hours a day and the ability to learn from an institution they might not otherwise have access to.

Still, many students may feel wary about learning outside the classroom.

“Online courses are becoming increasingly popular,” said Keith Heggaton, a senior advisor who supports students in Chamberlain’s RN to BSN program. “The basics of the classroom experience, like the lecture format, syllabus and reading assignments, are all there. It’s just done on a computer.”

To help first-time online students who reach out to Heggaton with questions about how to do well in classes, he shares the following tips.

1. Take the time to introduce yourself to your professor

An introduction is a great way to differentiate yourself from your classmates. It also shows your professionalism and opens up communication between you and your professor, which is critical in an online environment.

2. Start early and often

Online courses have weekly assignments. Don’t put yourself in a tough position by putting off work until the end. Once you receive the assignment, review what you need to do to accomplish it and plan accordingly. Make sure to leave yourself enough time to complete the tasks effectively.

3. Measure twice - cut once (the power of planning)

Most professors will provide a syllabus for the entire course on the first day and you can utilize a syllabus as a planning tool.

Take a few minutes during the first week to align your syllabus with your personal calendar. Whether your calendar is pinned to a wall or in your phone, you can start adding in important dates from the syllabus. You can also take note of weeks that have additional reading assignments or topic papers due and build in extra time to accommodate them.

4. Work smarter and harder

If you are taking two or more classes during an eight week session, try to complete activities for both classes when you sign in to finish a task for one. By completing multiple tasks during the same homework session, you'll feel positive about your accomplishments and free up additional time later.

5. Ask for feedback and implement it

Your professor is there to ensure that you are completing assignments according to the grading criteria. They’ll leave comments about your work via the online platform for your class. Additionally, many classes have Q&A forums. These forums provide a way for the class to openly ask questions about the week’s work and get clear instruction from their professor. 

In both cases, once you get your feedback, use it! You can also relay your thoughts back to the professor to see if you’re on the right track with the notes they provided.

6. Use your resources

Online institutions often provide students with access to digital libraries. If one is available to you, be sure to take advantage of it. There are countless journals, scholarly articles and databases which can assist students with research and other homework assignments.

You may also be offered tutor and technical support chat or hotlines to ask for help. Be sure to reach out for assistance if you need to.

7. Lean on your support team

From application for admission to your appeal to graduate, you will have access to staff in admissions, academic advising, student services and student finance throughout your online education experience. All of these staff and faculty are there to assist you every step of the way. Be sure to save the contact information for your admission advisor and call or email them whenever you have a question.

8. Use a study buddy

If you’re taking online courses along with a friend or coworker, be sure to pair up. Having a “study buddy” can be motivating and can help you stay on track with your online experience. Likewise, if you are taking classes on your own, reach out to a friend or family member for support.  It’s a great way to keep yourself accountable.

What tips on studying, preparation and tapping into resources would you offer first-time online students? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.


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