Never take an online course because you think it will save you time.
Most traditional 3-credit courses require about 120 hours of your time during a 16-week semester. Don’t assume you can devote less total time just because you are taking a class online. Be careful not to commit yourself to more time than you can comfortably give.
- Make a regular study schedule
Make a study calendar and mark the hours you plan to work on your class. Don’t just "make time" as you go along. Set a pattern for devoting enough time to each class to be successful.
Decide when your mind is most efficient:
- Early in the morning when distractions are often fewer and Internet service (especially dial-up) is often faster.
- During lunch at work (if it is allowed).
- Saturday mornings
- Sunday afternoons
- Read class materials carefully and determine expectations up front
Read the syllabus, schedule, and other documents and make notes. The sooner you do this, the sooner you will know the expectations of your instructor. Try to identify what may be a unique demand from your instructor. Ask questions about the syllabus in the first week, and about any assignment as soon as it is given—not near the assignment’s deadline.
- Be interactive
Although online courses may seem to have less interaction than face-to-face classes, there is no hiding in an online course. You can’t “lurk” in the back of the room or remain silent. Identify how your instructor wants you to interact (assignments, discussion boards, chat rooms, or other tools), then make sure you participate.
- Impress your instructor by adding value to the course
Instead of repeating material from the book, relate your assignment to the world around you. Give examples of the topic under discussion to show your understanding. Be careful not just to repeat what another student has already said. Try to take the discussion up a notch without taking it off-track.
- Create a study zone
Have a place where you habitually study, one that tells you that you are "at school." This can be a desk, an end of the dining room table, or a spot out on the deck. Your real challenge as an online learner is self-discipline. You have to provide the structure you would normally find in a classroom.
- Identify personal support
Taking an online course is a challenge, so enlist your family and friends to help you succeed. Tell your supporters about your regular study schedule and your "study zone," and ask them to help you stay on schedule and keep your spirits on the positive side.
- Always check your work
All word-processing programs have spell-checkers. If you are poor at spelling, write your discussion comments and emails in your word processing program, then cut and paste them into the discussion area or email. Use grammar checking too, and be sure to follow whatever document formats your instructor specifies.
- Make sure you have the tools required for the course
Ask about minimum requirements when you enroll. These may include minimum processor speed, RAM, connection speed, hard drive size, CD or DVD capabilities, sound card and speakers, and video card. Determine all software you will need for the course—word processor, spreadsheet program, graphics software. Do you need a specific version? Make sure you have a current edition of a good antivirus program. You will be both adding (uploading) and getting (downloading) many files, which makes your computer vulnerable to viruses and worms.
- Take responsibility for your own learning
The key philosophy in online learning is that you are the one responsible for what you do, or don't, learn. In online courses, instructors don’t just dispense knowledge while you passively sit there. Instead, since the instructor is not present, you have to explore resources and information yourself. Instead of asking yourself what the instructor is going to teach you, ask yourself what you are going to learn.