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10 Tips for Successful Online Learning

Stephanie Bradberry is an herbalist, naturopath, and energy healer. Her academic career includes teaching, tutoring, writing and editing.

While online learning is not new, the amount of students turning to this form of education is. Since most formal education takes place in a classroom from pre-K to senior year in high school, students are familiar with means for success because they have been continuously honed. The same is true for online instructors. Those new to or pondering online education do not have the same advantage. So, here are ten tips for successful online learning.

1. Know That Online Learning Is For You

A major misstep in choosing online education is that many students assume that it is the right choice for them. However, this leads to a lot of disappointment and wasted money. You can avoid all of this and be successful online if you know in advance that you have the potential to be an online learner. Following are some links to useful resources.

Traits of Online Learners:

Questionnaires: Is Online Learning for You?

2. Don’t Be Fooled By the Myths

Do not take an online course just to save gas and time or because you think it will be easy.While it is true you will most certainly save gas, the other myths are just that.

Accredited online courses require more time and work. Why? Because you have to take the time to read a lot of assigned and supplemental material, oftentimes more than what an in person course would require (This is what a typical lecture would provide). Then you must post discussion threads that take the place of in class discussion. Unlike in a traditional on-campus course, everyone has to post at minimum an original post and one or two response posts. You also have to complete course assignments: these include quizzes, test, and/or written works. Courses that normally would not require a quiz or test may require one for online students to check for understanding or that you are who you say you are.

Related to time is the length of a program or course. Do not be fooled by an institution that guarantees completion or a degree in a ridiculously short amount of time. You will know if it seems right based on comparisons to other schools. Make sure the institution is accredited. Accreditation varies for many reasons, but the main point is outside agencies ensure the school provides quality education. For more information about accreditation and a database for accredited higher education programs provided by the U.S Department of Education, click here.

This video provided by The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), will help gain a beginning understanding of accreditation and also provides a database of accredited schools.



3. Have The Required Hardware, Software, and Systems

It is almost unbelievable that this would make the list, but it should probably be one of the first tips mentioned. While having the needed materials seems like common sense, there are a lot of students that sign up for an online course and do not have a personal computer or laptop. Others may have the PC or laptop but no personal internet access, enough disk space, or more current operating systems. Ironically, this could be one instance that leads to not saving gas because the student has to go to a library or other public place that provides internet access or access to the specific system requirements. Not having the required technology for an online course is like paying for a face-to-face course but then not buying the books, a notebook, or bringing a writing utensil to class.

4. Get Information and Materials Early

Some students make a last minute decision to go back to college or continue schooling. Since delaying such a decision means on campus courses are already filled, you may decide or be convinced to take an online course—the only available option. Those wanting to avoid being seen for whatever reason, sticking out due to age, disguising a deficiency, et cetera, may opt for online education for the wrong reason(s). But do your homework. Again, check for accreditation (see number 2 above). Also make sure if you have a disability that there are services available to ensure your success. Know what the typical degree and course sequence is and average time to complete your degree.

Some institutions and programs even let you gain access to materials early. For example, Northcentral University lets students download the syllabus for a course up to two months in advance. This allows you time to shop around for the best prices on books and make sure you have them in time for the course. Believe it or not, many students drop online courses because their books arrive so late that almost half the course is over. Catching up becomes nearly impossible. Most institutions grant access to the course a few days early, so students can determine—after looking at the syllabus and course progression—if they want to keep the course or take something else in its place.

5. Read and Apply

Read all course introductory information. Sometimes there is information in the student handbook about course specifics, like how to submit work and contact your instructor. So make sure you read all the institution’s handbooks. If your professor posts his or her own documents and samples, be sure to not only read but also utilize the documents. Know what to include and avoid. Not doing so can cost you points due to not following directions and requirements.

If, and when, feedback is given on your work, make sure you apply it. You can easily fall into the illusion that not being in a physical class the professor does not know you. But if the professor cares, and more than not do, they will get to know you through your writing style and voice. They will remember if you make certain common errors and if you are making progress based on previous comments and recommendations. Of course they can also compare to previously submitted work.

Also read about the terms and acronyms used in online courses. For example, CMS stands for Course Management System. Every course uses one, so it is beneficial to know if you are going to use Moodle, Blackboard, WebCT, Angel, et cetera. Other terms are really important so you are speaking the same "language" when you need help from the Help Desk, the instructor, or someone else.

6. Print Hard Copies Of Course Materials

Work smarter and not harder any chance you get. You definitely want to print out a copy of the course syllabus and/or outline. Other materials you may access a lot should be printed out too. This will help you be successful because you will not waste time toggling between pages and pop-up windows. Printing does not mean you have to use up all your paper and ink. You can simply print to PDF for longer documents and open and read as needed. This way you do not have to log in to the course every time you want to check or read something.

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Sometimes important and frequently accessed information is not compiled neatly for downloading or copying. In this case, you should create a Word document and copy all the essay prompts, assignments, discussions and other course activities. You can then print this out for an easy reference guide.



7. Stay as Close to Schedule as Possible

One of the greatest benefits of online learning can also be one of the greatest detriments. Anyone that has taken an online course will tell you that staying on schedule is one of the hardest aspects of online learning. No one is physically there to remind you of due dates or stress their importance. If you have the habit of procrastination, avoid online courses altogether. Once you get behind, it takes almost double—if not more—the effort to get back on track. The snowball effect is more than you would expect.

Some courses are self-paced, in which you complete work at your own pace but there are recommended deadlines to finish the course on time. Other courses are like a traditional face-to-face course where deadlines are set and firm: often no late work is accepted. And some courses are a combination of self-pace and guided. Students complete regular coursework at their own pace, but midterms and other assessments must be taken at a particular time, not matter how much coursework the individual has completed.

8. Know Your Limit

Some students are so eager to return to college or begin their college career that they try to take what would be considered a full load if they were attending school on campus.  Remember, online courses require much more work and time in most cases. So know your limit—or rather learn your limit.

Start by taking one course.  This can be a course that is a prerequisite for others or a course you take for fun or personal interest. The point is to get a feel for what online learning is like before you take the complete plunge.  Some institutions require taking a mini-course that acclimates students to the course management system and rigor of online learning. 

9. Take Courses In Sequence

One drawback to any program, whether online or in person, is there are many classes you have to take before you even get to courses specifically designed for your major. But there are institutions like Thomas Edison State College that let you take courses out of sequence. For example, a typical prerequisite course like English 101 or Composition can be taken at the end of one’s academic career or program. While this seems like a reason to register right away, be careful.

The adage “save the best for last” is pertinent here.  If you go into your college career and take all the fun and interesting courses first, the novelty may wear off soon, leaving you with tough classes or ones that will not hold your interest. In the end, it keeps a lot of students from graduating. Also keep in mind that foundational courses are aptly named. They provide the knowledge base for everything to come and the skill sets needed to be successful in the rest of your courses. 

10. Seek Help

There are many points of contact when seeking additional information, guidance, help and support. You are not alone in cyberspace. People and names may not have faces in your courses or the institution, but that does not mean they do not actually exist or are not willing to help. Some online institutions, like Argosy University, actually provide personal counseling services—not to be confused with academic advising—to their students. Never be too proud to seek assistance. It is better to ask a question than get a zero, fail, or drop out because you thought you could do it alone. 

If tutorials are offered for different services like the library or tutoring center, view them. They provide invaluable tips for time saving techniques. Classmates tend to be very supportive in online courses. They are also easy to contact with the e-mail distribution list. Some institutions provide space for forums and discussion boards that are not monitored, so students can feel free to say what is on their minds and seek advice from everyone that attends the college or university. 

By no means is this list exhausted. There are plenty of books dedicated to this sole topic.  


Stephanie Bradberry (author) from New Jersey on April 09, 2019:

Hi Edward,

Thanks so much for reading and responding. I personally have found online courses to be much more work than in-person courses. I also learned the difficult lesson of not printing out materials. It really does make a difference!


Edward G Gordon from Northern Ireland on April 09, 2019:

Good article. You've made a couple of very good points here. Checking for accreditation and understanding that online classes can be tougher in some ways than their offline counterparts are two things I've personal experience with.

I particularly liked your point about printing out hard copies. I didn't do that for my first online course and it was such a pain. I won't make that mistake again.

Keep up the good work.

Stephanie Bradberry (author) from New Jersey on February 21, 2015:

Hi ezzly,

I am so glad you found this helpful. This is a topic that many individuals are really taking notice of as the face of education changes rapidly.

ezzly on February 19, 2015:

This is a wonderful hub, my hubby is about to get his degree from an online university so it's a subject that is very close to my heart

Stephanie Bradberry (author) from New Jersey on May 23, 2014:

Hello Yadav SK,

Thanks for the wonderful feedback about my article. Online education will always be a hot topic. Those who do not actually take any course(s) online have a hard time relating to what the needs of the population are or what they draw and resistance are. I also hope more people read articles such as this to make a more informed decision.

Thanks for reading and commenting!

Stephanie Bradberry (author) from New Jersey on December 16, 2013:

From the perspective of someone who has taught many places and is an online learner as well, I thought Argosy was decent. The only hard part I could see was the requirements for posting discussions. The classes were a really rapid pace for learning material and there was always something "due" and it was easy for learners to get behind.

Cygnet Brown from Springfield, Missouri on December 15, 2013:

And I thought Argosy was too easy, lol. I guess its just a right fit for me.

Stephanie Bradberry (author) from New Jersey on December 15, 2013:

Yes, Argosy is "tough" in that way. Even though learners get feedback along the way, often they do not realize that parroting information or submitting work with the same errors will not get them through. But this is true for much of higher education.

Cygnet Brown from Springfield, Missouri on December 15, 2013:

True, in addition, what also matters is how well an individual handles the way that the online learning is conducted on Argosy, the online courses tend to involve a lot of self directed research and writing. If an individual is good at those things, the online education is perfect. If not, it can be a nightmare.

Stephanie Bradberry (author) from New Jersey on December 15, 2013:

Hello cygnetbrown,

Yes, I used to teach for Argosy. As of now, I basically have no teaching load for any of the many institutions I used to work for a lot. If a really good course comes along then I will teach it, but my health and wellness business is my main focus these days.

It is true that everyone must see how online learning is for him/her personally. I would say it can even take a couple of attempts at different institutions to find the right fit if online learning is for you. Far too many people only try to consider the "convenience" of learning from home. But many do not factor in if your kids are at home, if you are a new parent, newly wed, and so on. Much needs to be taken into account before attempting online learning.

Thanks for reading!

Cygnet Brown from Springfield, Missouri on December 15, 2013:

I am personally a big fan of online learning. You mentioned Argosy University in your hub and I have been attending that school for almost three years now. After the first of the year I will begin one of my last six classes.

The other day, a friend of mine asked me if online learning was difficult. I said that for me it was the right fit. I have learned that it certainly is not for everyone, but I personally love online learning. It does however require as much commitment as on campus learning. I have a son who has both done online classes and on campus classes and prefers the on campus style. To each his own.

Great hub!

Stephanie Bradberry (author) from New Jersey on March 27, 2013:

Hello dghbrh,

Thank you for the compliment. The more people know before diving right in the better. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Stephanie Bradberry (author) from New Jersey on March 27, 2013:

Hello Paul Kuehn,

I love hearing that you are continuing your education. Online learning is so much harder for many than being there in person. You really are responsible for how much you learn in an online format. Thanks for reading and commenting.

deergha from ...... a place beyond now and beyond here !!! on March 26, 2013:

Its a very useful and informative hub. Thanks for sharing and I am sharing it also. Voted up interesting.

Paul Richard Kuehn from Udorn City, Thailand on March 26, 2013:


This is an excellent useful hub on online learning. I have recently started taking some free online courses through Alison. At my age, I have found the IT courses to be challenging, but very interesting. Voted up as useful and sharing with followers.

Stephanie Bradberry (author) from New Jersey on March 04, 2013:

Hi dwachira. I could not agree more. This semester in particular, I have a lot of adult learners who just never took anything online before. Even four weeks into the class, many are still struggling with uploading a document correctly. Online learning is tough. And I wonder if there should be some preliminary mini-course to pass for the institution to prove you can navigate the course and know what you are getting into.

Danson Wachira from Nairobi, Kenya on March 03, 2013:

Hi Stephanie,

I think many learners have misconception that online learning is very different from in class learning. Honestly, it is not and the only difference is that the trainer is not physically in attendance. Other factors; dedication, willingness, determination etc. basically remains the same. Glad that you pointed that in this article and will go a long way to help the would be online learners. Voted up, useful and shared.

Stephanie Bradberry (author) from New Jersey on January 04, 2013:

Hello curious dreamer. Thanks for the compliment and thanks for reading.

Mahesh Mohan from India on January 04, 2013:

great informative hub.voted up......

Stephanie Bradberry (author) from New Jersey on December 16, 2012:

Hello, collegedad.

Thanks. I think some of the simplest things are the ones we forget to do the fastest. I can't tell you how many times I swore I printed something out only to not be able to find it nowhere in my stack. Even I have to become more and more diligent at hitting "print" right away.

collegedad from The Upper Peninsula on December 16, 2012:

Great tips! Printing hard copies is a must. I have stacks of copy on my desk.

Stephanie Bradberry (author) from New Jersey on October 09, 2012:

Hello midget38. You are quite welcome. I think even if one decides not to take any online classes, they should still consider these tips. One never knows if this is actually the better choice for him or her or not.

Michelle Liew from Singapore on October 08, 2012:

Thanks for these tips on online learning! Will definitely be useful for those taking degrees online. Thanks for the write!

Stephanie Bradberry (author) from New Jersey on September 13, 2012:

Thanks Millionaire Tips. I think it is always best to know what you are getting into before throwing money down the drain basically. I am glad you found this useful :) Thanks for reading.

Shasta Matova from USA on September 13, 2012:

I tried to take an online class once, but found it difficult to follow up on. These are great ideas of finding the right course and keeping up with online learning courses. Voted up.

Stephanie Bradberry (author) from New Jersey on August 24, 2012:

Hi Sueswan. As they say, the simplest ideas are often the best. I cannot tell you how many times students have crashed and burned because they figured, "wow I can knock at three or more classes at once and really get this degree done." Well they end up wasting time and a lot of money because they went overboard without realizing it. There is still the misconception that online education is easier than traditional on-campus courses. While there are some easy online courses, it does not mean they are easy to take.

Sueswan on August 23, 2012:

Hi Stephanie,

I have never taken an online course .

The suggestion to start with one course to get the feel for online learning is a great one.

Voted up and awesome

Have a good evening. :)

Stephanie Bradberry (author) from New Jersey on February 14, 2012:

Hello Brett.Tesol. Well, as they say, "honesty is the best policy." I think those who do not do well with online education are either not aware of what they are getting into or do not have the learning profile for having an instructor that is not "right there." I'm glad online learning work for you. Thanks for reading and sharing!

Brett C from Asia on February 13, 2012:

Brutally honest advice, online learning is not for everyone, but it can be great for those it fits. It has enabled me to gather many papers that I would never have had the time to study for if I had to stop work!

SOCIALLY SHARED, up and useful.

Stephanie Bradberry (author) from New Jersey on December 22, 2011:

CloudExplorer, thanks so much for your awesome, thoughtful, and detailed feedback. I guess you are an educator of some sort?

You can call me a geek (not the kind that eats the heads off of birds), but a functional and cool one I hope. I do want to make sure people have unbiased and informative information. That is something I did not have as I tried to navigate the world of secondary and post-secondary education. Thanks for reading my hubs. At least I know they are reaching real people.

I can understand not pushing the button for funny! I haven't written anything funny yet anyway, or at least I don't think I have.

Mike Pugh from New York City on December 21, 2011:

Your level of knowledge is definitely of a higher class than many of our fellow hubbers I've been reading from thus far in my short 4 months as a hubpages author.

I can tell this simply by how your info is directing people exactly to the sources their in need of, if they've arrived here in your hub to actually look for an online educative course tutorial, and possibly for possibly gaining some knowledge about online college level degree programs.

I'm glad I chose to follow your hubs and read into a few so far, please continue to help educate folks on the web, because we all need much more useful info such as this informative hub you've achieved in mastering here.

Voted up on every level except for funny, because "getting an education is no laughing matter", just a saying I once heard as a young child.

Awesome hub indeed!

Stephanie Bradberry (author) from New Jersey on December 02, 2011:

Hi, Dumbledore. It is amazing that no matter how much I stress printing out the course calendar and the assignments how much it does not occur. I always trying to give sound advice that will help students work smarter and not unnecessarily harder. Unfortunately, they learn too late. And like you said, getting behind is the worst thing that can happen. Thanks for endorsing my advice!

This Old Guy from Somewhere in Ohio on December 02, 2011:

Printing out online materials is especially important for people who have an easier time reading printed material. The relief on the eyes will then extent the amount of useful time spent studying.

I have taken numerous online courses and staying on schedule is probably one of the top keys to success. Falling behind leads to panic, which in turn may lead to falling further behind schedule.

Great hub!

Sky9106 from A beautiful place on earth. on November 30, 2011:

I always keep my word but I will guarantee you, and thanks for your inviting expectations .

Give Thanks


Stephanie Bradberry (author) from New Jersey on November 30, 2011:

Sky9106, can't wait for you to return.

Sky9106 from A beautiful place on earth. on November 30, 2011:

Bless , only ran through a few , but this is very interesting. My interest however are the ingredients you already dished out for the kitchen .

I be back thanks for sharing .


Stephanie Bradberry (author) from New Jersey on September 12, 2011:

Thanks agent007. This is just the culmination of years of teaching online and in person.

agent007 from Florida on September 11, 2011:

Wow this is a well thought out hub. Thanks!

Stephanie Bradberry (author) from New Jersey on August 23, 2011:

Thanks ecamper23. I find the more information an instructor can provide upfront the better. Students should always know what they are getting into and what is expected of them.

ecamper23 on August 22, 2011:

Wow, this is a really detailed list! I agree with having printouts, much easier to look at in your off time!

Stephanie Bradberry (author) from New Jersey on June 22, 2011:

Jonesy0311, thanks. It's good to know that my advice is in line with reality or the norm. I totally agree that new online learners try to take on too much and then end up having a bad experience. I'm glad that you have been plugging away at online learning for so long.

Stephanie Bradberry (author) from New Jersey on June 22, 2011:

Flora, thanks for the congratulations. I too find that you often learn more in an online environment because you have to teach yourself. That definitely calls for more personal involvement.

Jonesy0311 on June 21, 2011:

Excellent advice. I have been taking online courses for over three years now and have seen too many people make the mistakes that you are steering them away from. I think that the biggest problem is people loading themselves down with ridiculous course-loads and attempting to complete degree programs in half the time. Ultimately, the work and your GPA suffers.

FloraBreenRobison on June 21, 2011:

Congratulations on your nomination.

Online does allow you to work whatever hours you want. I found taking a course on career exploration online a lot deeper than if I had been in a regular classroom because of special circumstanes which needed further research and attention than was possible when the instructor was talking to a roomful of people.

Stephanie Bradberry (author) from New Jersey on June 20, 2011:

Deborah, I am glad you found the information useful. Thanks for the congrats: I ma happy to be nominated again. Good luck with your studies should you decide to take the plunge.

Deborah Demander from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD on June 20, 2011:

Congratulations on your hubnuggets nomination. I am planning to take some online courses this summer. Thanks for the pointers.


Stephanie Bradberry (author) from New Jersey on June 19, 2011:

Thank you so much, ripplemaker.

Michelle Simtoco from Cebu, Philippines on June 19, 2011:

A helpful hub for online learning :)

Sesame Street Hubnuggets News: Congratulations on your Hubnuggets nomination. Do read and cast your vote by clicking on this link please:

Stephanie Bradberry (author) from New Jersey on June 18, 2011:

cardelean, I am glad to know that someone can verify that the information I am providing is on point. I also find online learning challenging in many different ways than on campus courses. But like many, I love the flexibility and ability to move through my degree faster.

cardelean from Michigan on June 18, 2011:

All of these ideas are very important to consider when making that choice. I took an online course a few years ago and it was great because I could work on the course work during my own time but it definitely wasn't easier. Thanks.

Stephanie Bradberry (author) from New Jersey on May 31, 2011:

cmellon86, I am glad that this article provided some useful information for you. I think a lot of people go into online learning blind and end up spending money on an investment that will not be long term.

cmellon86 on May 30, 2011:

Great guide! I've been considering distance learning but wasn't sure where to start.

Stephanie Bradberry (author) from New Jersey on May 25, 2011:

Bretsuki, thanks for the warm wishes. I have to say I do not really procrastinate. I guess I am closest to a Type A personality. If I decide to procrastinate, I usually just move on to some other project that seems easier at the time. But, then I do sometimes just use the time to get caught up on my DVRed anime and other shows from the past week or more. Now I tend to procrastinate by writing a hub, like I'm about to do. Being a two time English major gives me the advantage that if I do hold off on doing a paper, I can type one up pretty fast: deciding on what research and outside sources to include is what takes the longest.

William Elliott from California USA on May 25, 2011:

Thank you Stephanie, all the best on yourPh. D. with regard to working ahead. I found it very difficult for a while, nearly two years in fact, Then life events caused me to rethink my procrastination. Waiting till the last minute made stress, I found writing a page or two on a paper made things really easy if I did it early. If I had a ten page paper it was easy to put aside an hour a night over two weeks, giving me time to revise over time and get my paper in at the due date with no stresss at all. It was a heavenly moment when I realised my own folly of procrastination. :)

Stephanie Bradberry (author) from New Jersey on May 25, 2011:

Hello Bretsuki. Thanks for affirming that my advice is sound. Like you, I try to get ahead in my online courses as well. Right now I am completing my Ph.D. online. It is a huge transition from earning my previous degrees in person. I also try to work at least a week ahead when I can, especially since most of the time I have my courses overlap midway through. Congrats on completing your B.A. Hopefully I can provide some more good advice in the future.

William Elliott from California USA on May 25, 2011:

ello Stephanie, really good advice. I particularly agree with your comment about procrastination and getting behind. I recently completed a BA History online. The eight week classes did not allow any catch up, I forced myself to get a head start, read the text one week in advance, so in week one I was reading week two's assignments. It made it easier to do all the assigned posts early and allowed me to concentrate on the research paper, which came in at week 6 or 7 the use of extra time in the early weeks meant I could draft and revise a paper with little stress. Thankks for some great advice.

Stephanie Bradberry (author) from New Jersey on May 13, 2011:, thanks for the wonderful comment. The dissemination of potentially useful informational is crucial. on May 13, 2011:

The tips for having a successful online learning is really great to understand. This is really good and cool to read and be shared with friends.

Stephanie Bradberry (author) from New Jersey on May 04, 2011:

parrster, thanks. I instruct a few courses online every semester and figured it was good to pass along some of the common issues I have come across.

Richard Parr from Australia on May 04, 2011:

Again, this was a well prepared and presented info-hub. Many years ago I attained a diploma in free-lance journalism via online studies (I was working full time), I can therefore relate to much of what you have written.

Stephanie Bradberry (author) from New Jersey on May 03, 2011:

khauler, thanks for the feedback. I'm glad you found the information useful.

Stephanie Bradberry (author) from New Jersey on May 03, 2011:

Joe, I am so glad you found this information helpful. You are welcome.

Joe on May 03, 2011:

Great content and really helpful. Thank you!

khauler on May 02, 2011:

very useful

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