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20 Things Every Online Learner Needs to Know


University student using laptop in lounge
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Whether you’re starting your studies or continuing your coursework, there are a few things that every online learner simply needs to learn. These practical, actionable tips can help you navigate your online classes and help your online learning experience be a wild success (or at least a moderate success). Let’s cut the fluff and get straight the good stuff – hopefully this list will offer you at least a nugget or two of information that will change the way you approach your learning. Here’s what you really need to know:

  1. Online college isn’t for everyone. Many people struggle to succeed without the structure and interaction of a traditional classroom.
  2. Knowing how you learn will have a big effect on the way you approach your classes.
  3. Thoroughly reading and understanding the syllabus is the most important step you can take during the first week of an online class.
  4. Planning out your Fall and Spring / Winter semester in advance can help you determine whether or not your work load is manageable and come up with strategies to handle a heavy load of courses.
  5. It’s usually possible to buy your textbooks for less than half of what they cost ordered from your college bookstore. But, you have to start the textbook hunt early and know where to look.
  6. Just because it’s online doesn’t mean it’s easier than a face-to-face course. Don’t be surprised if a three credit course requires ten or more hours of work a week.
  7. Understanding the difference between a synchronous online course and an asynchronous online course can make a big difference when it comes to scheduling.
  8. Successful online students have mastered the school / life balance. They know how to schedule their time in order to meet their deadlines, achieve their workplace goals, and fulfill their family responsibilities.
  9. Many of your teachers may be teaching courses designed by someone else. While interacting with them, understand that they may be similarly frustrated with any shortcomings of the curriculum.
  10. Sometimes, taking a leave of absence for a semester can be better than having to withdraw or fail your courses due to life, career, and family challenges.
  11. Understanding how to interact in online discussion boards can greatly improve your experience and your grades.
  12. Similarly, becoming a valued contributor to online chats and video conferences can help you stand out from the crowd.
  13. In the middle of a frustrating week, it can be difficult to remember that your instructor and your peers are actual people and not just anonymous responders. When discussions get heated or you can’t get a straight answer from your professor remember the golden rule of the web: treat all users like humans.
  14. There are multiple federal programs designed to help students (including online learners like you) complete their education. Federally-subsidized loans, grants, and tax breaks can help you make it through school. But, be sure to balance your debt with your expected earnings as a graduate.
  15. Many employers will foot the bill for their employees’ online courses, especially if the coursework will have a direct impact on the employees’ effectiveness at work.
  16. With online learning, the “squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification, request additional feedback on your work, and seek answers when you need them. If a professor hasn’t responded within a reasonable timeframe, send a follow up email.
  17. Networking is one of the biggest benefits of college, but can be a challenge in the online environment. Learn how to make genuine and lasting connections with your peers and professors. You’ll be glad you did when you are looking for a job or in need of a recommendation letter.
  18. Online instructors are (usually) happy to work with students that take the time to reach out and ask for help. If you’re struggling, you need to speak up.
  19. If your online instructor isn’t helpful, there are steps you can take to seek additional assistance in mediating the issue with your instructor or dropping the course without consequences to your academic record.
  20. At some point, you may need to quit a class or drop out from school entirely. If this is the case, the worst thing you can do is just stop logging in to your classes. If you must quit, quit in the right way.
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