Essential Skills to Succeed in an Online Course

To succeed in an online course, you need good time management skills so you can plan how much time you’ll need to dedicate to your online class and other demands. You’ll need to be organized to keep track of assignments, readings, and due dates, and self-disciplined so you’ll actually sit down and dedicate time to your class. Organization and self-discipline will improve your time management abilities.  

A couple of my classmates (in one of my on-campus courses) were curious about how online courses work. They asked me a few simple questions and my opinion on whether online courses were a good option. This was not the first time a classmate had asked me about online courses, so I thought that sharing a few things about online courses would help other students who may be thinking of taking one. 

First, let me differentiate between an online and a hybrid course. 

Online Course 

An online course is taken completely online. You do not physically meet with your class or professor. Your quizzes, exams, homework, essays, everything will be online. 

Hybrid Class

A hybrid class is a course that is split between online and class time. So, you have a lot of work that you are accountable for online, but you also have a set meeting time, where you have to go to the campus and meet with your classmates and professor. 

I’ll be focusing on online courses for this blog.

How Do I Feel About Taking Online Courses? 

I’m extremely comfortable taking online classes, but I didn’t start this way. As a mom, who drops off and picks up my five-year-old from kinder, goes to school and works part-time, I need to be creative with my schedule. Online classes allow me to work towards my degree by cutting down on the amount of time I physically need to spend at my college campus. This option is what allows me to manage 12 units, a house, two kids, work, and all the curveballs life throws.  

You Are 100% Responsible for Logging Into Your Class!

Once you register for an online course you are entirely responsible for logging into your course on or before the first day of class.  

TIP* Try to log in before your class start date. Some professors will post helpful information prior to the first day of class, like what book(s) you’ll need, study guides, tips, and some will tell you whether you must log in to the course the first day of class, within the first two days or first week of class before you are dropped. 

I suggest you set an alarm for things as important as this. It sounds ridiculous, but you CAN forget that you’re taking an online class in the middle of a busy life. So, perhaps you can set an alarm the day before the final day you have to log into class to avoid being dropped! 

Make Sure Your Login Information Works

You must test your login information to verify that it works and that you have access to your online portal before the first day of class.  

TIP* If you are having any problems logging in, contact IT Support right away! You want this resolved asap.  

Familiarize Yourself With Your Online Portal

Spend some time on the portal figuring out where things are and how to access the assignments, quizzes, and exams. Watch any videos on your portal that offer you a quick review of the site and how to maneuver through it. The more familiar you get with the portal, the easier everything will be for you. 

TIP* Most often, you’ll have:

Announcement tab: Where your professor will post any announcements. 

Discussion tab: Classmates might post helpful study tips or ask questions. 

Assignments/ Content tab: Where you can access your assignments. 

Quiz/ Exam tab: Where you’ll go to take quizzes and exams, most are timed. 

Read Through Everything! 

I can’t stress this enough. Some professors are organized and all the work can be found under assignments/ content. Other professors are disorganized, and I’ve had to look for all the assignments/projects they’ve assigned by going through the different tabs. Unfortunately, their disorganization can set you up to miss deadlines or assignments, but if you take the time to read through everything and familiarize yourself with the course work schedule, you’ll be able to stay on top of all of your assignments. 

TIP* I suggest you print your syllabus and course work/assignment schedule (if one is provided.) Then, go through each tab or page in your course and write down (on your planner, in your notebook, or phone calendar) any important dates that are not already written down on your syllabus or schedule. 

Stay Organized

I strongly suggest buying a planner to help you get organized, especially in an online course that can sometimes be a bit challenging to follow. Being organized is one of the key factors in succeeding in an online class. Use your planner to write down all of your assignments and due dates. You must find a way of tracking these things because you don’t have a professor reminding you of them every week. So, whether the calendar on your phone or a physical planner works best for you, find what works and use it. 

My Planner

My method is simple and easy on the eyes. I write down every assignment in my planner with a black ink pen and as I complete them I highlight them in blue. I can easily look at my planner and see what I should be working on and how many days I have before it’s due. And, I leave my planner open on my desk- always! Because If you leave it out of sight you will forget to look at it. 

TIP* A physical planner is nice because you can see the layout of the entire month with every assignment, project, quiz, exam, and due date. This can help you pace yourself accordingly. 

Along with a planner, to stay organized, I create a folder on my laptop for each online course I take and I download the syllabus, project instructions, reading materials, etc. I create folders within each class and mark them; Assignment #1, #2 and so on and I’ll save anything that has to do with that particular assignment in that folder; reading material, instructions, rubric, and a copy of the work I submit. This is especially helpful when you are taking more than one online course because keeping everything organized will make it easier for you to stay up to date with the class and do well in it. 

Submitting Assignments

Usually, you can type your assignment directly on the submit page and press submit or you can attach a file. I submit my work as pdf attachments. The same way you’d attach onto an email; click on upload, pick your file, and submit. 

Time Management

Time management skills are crucial to passing an online course. You need to be able to juggle your on-campus classes, your job, your family demands, and anything else you have going on (A planner can help with this!). Some professors require you to log into the portal a certain amount of hours per week, others at least once per week, and some just require you to stay up to date with the assignments and don’t track your hours on the portal; regardless, it’s your job to find the time to meet the professor’s requirements. 

Tip* Schedule a set time for your online class and stick to it as if it were an on-campus class that you were attending. This will keep you up to date with all your work and stress-free. Also, always be aware of any scheduled maintenance issues with the online portal at your school. If you don’t schedule wisely, one of these temporary shutdowns could make you miss a due date and most online professors don’t accept late work. 

Set Reminder Alarms 

Set reminder alarms on your phone for anything essential. Set the reminder to go off a day or two before an actual due date and then a final reminder to go off on the actual due date. 

Examples of things you’d want to set a reminder for:

“Log into class by 8/26, or you will be dropped”

“Last day to take Exam 1” 

“Homework for Chapters 1, 2, and 3 are due”

Note: These alarms should serve you as a “just in case” “make sure you’ve completed it.” Your planner, organization skills, and self-discipline should be what you count on from day to day. 

Office Hours 

Need office hours? Don’t worry, online course professors still offer office hours on campus. Some offer them online as well. You can also reach your professor through message or email; check your syllabus for your professor’s specific contact instructions.

What You Won’t Get in An Online Course

You won’t get the face-to-face interaction with classmates or professor unless you attend office hours. If you don’t optimize the discussion tab on your online portal, you won’t have discussions about the reading assignments. In most online classes, you won’t get lectures although a few professors have pre-recorded lectures. Most of what you learn is by reading the book, the slides, and any other study material that your professor provides for you, on your own. You won’t get on the spot responses (like raising your hand) most of the time it’s a 24-hour turn around for a reply, but it can be longer with some professors. And you won’t get a class setting, so it’s up to you to find a place to work where you can concentrate. 

I hope this helped you a bit, but if you’re still having doubts about online classes, you can always try it and drop the class if it’s not for you. You can get through it, it’s not hard! it just takes organization and self-discipline throughout the course. 

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Monica Luna Gonzalez

Monica Luna Gonzalez

Monica Luna Gonzalez is a certified Life Coach who works with parents by helping them learn to utilize their amazing parenting skills. She began this line of work after working solely with children for over two years and learning of a disconnect between a lot of the child-parent relationships. She is a mom of two children. Her oldest is a freshman in college and her youngest is shopping for preschools. She was a teen mom who graduated from Bell High School, despite the challenges that came from being a teen mom. She wishes she would have been prepared for college right after high school, which is why she wants to help others improve their children's chances for a better education. She is a non-traditional college student as she returned to college 18 years after graduating from high school.

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