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Tips to Succeed in an Online Course

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It’s no secret that a sudden shift to online instruction may leave many students feeling overwhelmed about their academic success.

Learning from home has its challenges, but here are some tips and strategies recommended by USF Instructional Technology faculty members James Hatten, PhD, and Sanghoon Park, PhD, to help you successfully navigate the transition to online learning.

Set Yourself Up for Success from the Beginning

1. Establish a productive learning environment

Working on assignments from a slouched position and streaming Netflix at the same time is not ideal if you aim to be productive. Dr. Hatten, who specializes in online teaching and learning, recommends that students choose an area in their homes that’s free from common distractions.

“The couch is probably not the best place to be at,” Dr. Hatten says. “Get up and go to a place in your house that you can make your workplace.”

2. Set a schedule for completing and reviewing assignments

Working on three courses at the same time can cause for an individual to experience a high level of stress, but this can be avoided if you allocate specific times to work on each class. One example Dr. Hatten shared is working on one class between the hours of 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. This schedule allows students to create a type of structure often seen with traditional, in-person classes.

“My belief is that most people end up either procrastinating or getting too involved that they won’t shut (their computers) off,” Dr. Hatten says. “So have a set time of some sort.”

Along with the time you set aside to complete assignments, it’s also suggested to have a set time to look over the tasks for every one of your classes so that you can set up an agenda for each week. In doing this, you won’t mistakenly forget to turn something in.

3. Seek virtual interactions with your peers

Studying with a group of peers in the library or simply receiving on-the-spot clarifications from classmates is obviously not possible during this time. However, forming virtual interactions through platforms such as GroupMe or Microsoft Teams is a feasible action you could take in order to maintain that sense of collaboration and community.

4. Use the ‘chunking’ strategy to section out tasks

The term “chunking” refers to taking a large task or a large amount of information and dividing it into smaller units. Instead of staring at a computer screen for three hours at a time, Dr. Hatten suggests that students “chunk” their time by following a specific pattern.

“Work on one class, figure out a task and then reward yourself at the end,” Dr. Hatten says. “So, what I mean by that is: Get up, get some coffee, get a snack, go for a run or just get away for a half hour. Then come back and do the next chunk.”

Find Ways to Stay Motivated

While there are various steps you can take to create a routine and maintain productivity, every now and then a lack of motivation may set in and you could find it difficult to accomplish the task at hand. Dr. Park, whose research is focused on developing motivational interventions for online learners, explains why exactly students may experience this.

“Online courses basically mean that you are learning separate from others,” he says. “The feeling that you’re isolated from your peers and even your instructors—that physical and emotional distance, causes many motivational issues.”

Dr. Park encourages individuals to firstly recognize when their motivation is low and then determine the reason why. Below are a few strategies he advises students to use.

5. Try to increase your interest in the work

There may be times where you go over an assignment or task that seems rather tedious. Instead of waving it off as the days go by, think about how you can turn the assignment or task into an engaging one. Using this strategy means using your imagination to creatively modify the work you’ll turn in.

6. Make the work you’re doing online more personally significant

You may experience a lack of motivation when you feel unconnected to an assignment or task being given. Dr. Park encourages students who are confronted by this feeling to think critically about how that assignment could be useful in helping them in the future.

“You have to find a way to connect the task to what you’re interested in already,” Dr. Park said. “If you’re in the graduate level, you may want to consider using those completed assignments or tasks for the conference presentations.”

7. Imagine yourself on a path toward mastering the subject 

This kind of talk is executed when you think out loud about the goals you’re trying to accomplish. The conversation with yourself can usually begin like this: What will I achieve by completing this assignment?

Dr. Park shares an example on how answering this question can produce a continuous response that starts with the credit you earn for the assignment, then the grade your receive from taking the course and finally ending with landing the dream job you’ll have after graduation.

“Thinking like this is what leads you to say: This is not something I must do, this is something I need to do to achieve my goals,” Dr. Park says.

Keep a Positive Frame of Mind

8. Problem-Solve on Your Own

As you adjust to working online, it’s important to remember that most questions can be answered when you read instructions carefully and when you go over each module properly. Though professors are prepared to answer your questions, instead of sending multiple emails throughout the day for each problem you’re facing, it may be more productive to first try to resolve the issue yourself through a Google search.

9. Focus on Your Self-Care

It’s completely understandable if you need to step away from the computer for a few hours or if you need to take a day to sleep-in. Taking the time to recover is necessary and you shouldn’t feel bad about it.

10. Have Compassion for Others

Remember that individuals everywhere are going through many of the same experiences you are right now. Have patience towards those who might not know how to set up a video chat or who may be taking a longer time to adjust to this “new normal.”

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