A North Central College student working on an online course.

Best Tips for Online Classes

Laura Pohl

Aug 13, 2020

Best Tips for Online Classes

An online class may or may not be a new way for you to earn college or graduate-level credits but with a few helpful tips for online classes, you can make it a positive experience. Whether you’re taking one course or pursuing an online degree, your success will depend on the right preparation, your motivation, learning environment, time management, engagement with the content and academic community.

Is it hard to take classes online?

You shouldn’t view online college courses as an easier option for learning. While you gain some flexibility in learning at your own pace and in your own space, you will still be expected to put in the same amount of work to meet the course requirements.

The freedom to learn on your own creates some additional challenges and presents a unique challenge. As an online learner, that means that the pressure will be on you to stay on track and succeed. So, with in-person classes for fall term cancelled, what does a virtual fall semester look like, in terms of learning online?

Online courses replicate classroom assignments in a variety of ways. Online platforms have only increased in technology, leading to more ways to connect and learn virtually. Professors may record short lectures and upload them and/or schedule virtual classroom sessions. You may be asked to record a presentation at the end of the semester to share with your fellow students. Other tools include a discussion board, blogs, and journals to keep students engaged with the content and with each other.

You may find that you do better participating in an online class. Online lectures are a perfect option if you feel covered by a large group of students in a lecture hall. You have the ability to pause, take thorough notes during the online lecture and replay sections you didn’t understand. If you encounter course material you don’t comprehend you can reach out to your professor through a message to ask questions.

Another advantage is that might you have peers who join the class from international locations, bringing unique perspectives to the online discussions.

North Central College students

How do you manage online classes?

Here are proven tips for success:

  1. Be prepared with technology. “Ensure you have the ability to participate in the class,” said Staylor Anamuah-Mensah, instructional designer at North Central College. “You need reliable internet access and a suitable device to access the course. You must have the basic technical skills such as being able to use word processing software, navigate the internet and use the learning management system.” For example, North Central College uses Blackboard for online, blended and technology-assisted courses. It provides a convenient interface for uploading course content and modules, for collecting tests and assignments, for interacting with fellow students using integrated communication tools and for grading work. So find a location with optimal wi-fi. And then take time to become acquainted with the platform and any orientation materials prior to class. Also, make sure you know how to obtain help with technical difficulties related to online teaching. Additionally, it’s important to assure that your school offers resources for distance learners.
  2. Establish the right learning environment. Avoid working on your bed! Set up a dedicated study space with a desk or table where you can sit upright like a real classroom––to help your mind focus on studying. Organize your study space so your course materials and everything you need is accessible for your online classroom. You’ll also need a space bright enough to show yourself on a class video chat.
  3. Channel your inner motivation. It may be easy to pass due dates and forget to fulfill an assignment with the large flexibility that online courses offer. The initiative to get work does lays on your responsibility. As a college student, you are in charge of putting forth your best effort to gain something from online learning. And that leads to tip number #4:
  4. Establish good time management. You succeed as an online college student by practicing good time management skills. “This means setting up a study schedule and checking your online course resources multiple times a week,” said Anamuah-Mensah. “Create a daily to-do list and stick to it. Make a calendar of due dates from the study plan.” Stay organized because it’s difficult to catch up and complete assignments if you fall behind in an online class. Many students believe online course assignments to be quicker to complete, yet this is not true at all. Online assignments take the same amount of time as assignments in a physical classroom. And too much procrastination puts you on a downward slope and can affect your grade.  And that leads to tip #5:
  5. Minimize distractions. Make sure that your surroundings for your video sessions are private and quiet. Wear headphones/earbuds so you can hear your professor and classmates. Close unnecessary apps, programs, and websites that you don’t need. Turn off your phone if you don’t need it for class. Focus your attention on the online discussion and minimize the distractions of social media like Instagram and Twitter, text messages and the internet. The goal is to keep your attention 100 percent focused on your online education. To succeed, you play a role in creating the right learning experience!
  6. Take good notes. When listening to an online lecture, you’ll gain more understanding of the content if you mentally engage by taking your own notes. Don’t rely on the notes of others. You have your own learning style and method of recording notes … and it’s important that you invest the time in listening and understanding the course material.
  7. Make the effort to make connections. Again, success in distance learning is on you! Actively participate in online discussions and forums. Be prepared with your readings and coursework to share your perspective with your peers. Don’t hesitate to ask questions during class or reach out to your instructor later with questions or simply to discuss assignments. Instructors often set up virtual office hours with students to address any course-related issues and class questions. You might explore resources like tutoring or a writing center to support your learning. Also, an online class won’t give you the same in-person opportunities to make friendships and get to know your professors. If you have classmates nearby, establish a study group if possible. Or find a fellow classmate who’s willing to set up an online review session with you.
  8. Prepare for your exams. This means knowing the guidelines, understanding the format, using practice tests if available, and finding a quiet place for the online exam. If you experienced the SAT Coronavirus online testing, then you might have an idea of how to handle online exams. Alert your professors to what’s happening if you are experiencing technical difficulties and take a screenshot of any errors for proof. Carefully check your work before hitting the “submit” button. After the test, review the results and consult with your professor if your grade was lower than expected. Discuss areas of improvement. And finally ...
  9. Make good use of the advantages. For example, some schools have been providing Coronavirus student loans and aid or have been lowering the cost of tuition in general. But appreciate the fact that you don’t have any travel time to and from your traditional classroom. This is especially important if you are also working a full schedule and trying to earn an online degree, either as an undergraduate or a graduate degree like an MBA. You will enjoy being able to integrate your studies into your schedule at your convenience … and you’ll save time that you can never get back.

Laura Zahn Pohl is an editorial director in higher education with more than 17 years of experience as a content writer, publications editor and speechwriter. An honors graduate of the University of Iowa School of Journalism, her experience includes corporate communications and freelance reporting for the Chicago Tribune, Daily Herald and Kalamazoo Gazette.