How to Succeed in Online Courses

Online courses are very attractive to students who prefer to learn through their computers and on their own time, instead of attending class at a certain time three days a week. Online learning can be just as meaningful and fulfilling as sitting in a classroom with your professor and fellow students, but it has some unique challenges. Don’t take an online course just because you think it will be easier — online courses are just as difficult as classroom courses.

Are you ready for online courses?

Rate yourself on the following questions to help you determine if you are prepared to take an online course: 3 = definitely yes, 2 = maybe yes, 1 = probably not 1. Am I comfortable following written instructions by reading from a computer screen? 2. Can I manage my time wisely and ignore distractions when I need to study? 3. Can I balance online coursework with other courses and responsibilities? 4. Am I willing to dedicate the same amount of time and effort to an online course as I would to a classroom-based course (6-9 hours per week for a three-credit hour course)? 5. Do I have the self-discipline to log in regularly (usually at least three times per week) to participate in an online course? 6. Am I able to schedule my study time so I can ask questions before an assignment is due? 7. Do I feel confident in my ability to communicate my thoughts, remarks and inquires in writing (in English)? 8. Am I willing to share my ideas and feel comfortable reading and carefully responding to the ideas shared by others? 9. If I need clarification or help, am I comfortable with asking questions of my professor or classmates using e-mail, discussion boards, or chat tools? 10. Am I willing to work through and solve any technical issues that could arise during the course? If you answered “definitely yes” to all or most of these questions, you are prepared for an online course. If you answered “maybe yes” or “probably not” to more than a few questions, you may want to consider waiting and preparing yourself more before you attempt an online course.

Tips for succeeding in online courses

• Find a good environment When you take an online class, you are responsible to create your own classroom — make sure it is one that will work for you. Find a place with minimal distractions and comfortable seating where you are able to concentrate. Any location that works for you to study for other courses is also likely to work for doing online coursework.
• Plan on extra time to get up to speed Even if you are experienced at taking classroom courses, the online environment may be new to you. You’ll have to take the initiative to learn how to navigate the online learning system. As soon as the course is available, log in and start looking around. Most courses begin with an assignment to introduce yourself, a tutorial about the learning system, or an initial inventory of your knowledge or skills. Use this to get familiar with the format of the course right away. • Schedule time to work on the course An online course takes just as much time as a classroom course, but it isn’t scheduled for you. That flexibility can be a big bonus, but it also means that you have to take a bigger responsibility than normal to schedule time for the class. Plan to login each day and plan time to work on reading, writing, posting to discussion boards, etc. • Pace yourself Resist the temptation to try to get large chunks of the course done at once. If you try to do lots of assignments at the same time, you won’t do a good job, and won’t remember what you are learning very well. Schedule several times each week to work on the class; if it is a three credit class, for example, plan at least three times each week to work on it. • Ask questions If you are having technical issues, get help right away (see below). If you have questions about assignments or course materials, take the initiative to ask for help from your professor as well as other students. • Contact the technology support system for help Glitches in your computer and Internet connections are never an excuse for late assignments or not progressing in your class. Telephone assistance is available at (435) 652-7951. You can go to the website at, or email There are also computer help desks on campus in the Holland Centennial Commons 2nd, 3rd, and 4th floors; Hazy building, 1st floor; and the north entrance of the Smith Computer Center. A laptop can be taken right to the desk to get technical support. Make sure to contact these services before the last minute, as they are not available 24 hours a day. • Be patient Online courses at DSU are not automated; they are run by a live professor in real time just like classroom courses. Don’t expect instantly graded assignments or instant responses to your posts or questions. • Know how to contact your professor Communicate regularly with your professor; have contact info readily available for questions or emergencies. • Get to know your classmates Even though you may never see them face to face, you can still get to know people in a satisfying way in the online environment. Take advantage of chat tools, discussions, e-mails, etc., to communicate appropriately with fellow students. • Use your best writing skills Most of the communication between you, the professor, and other students is in writing. Take the time when you are writing to your professor, completing assignments, or participating in a discussion to do your best writing, proofreading what you have written before posting it. It is a good idea to type your words into a word processor and use the spell check tool. When you are finished, copy and paste your text into the correct spot in Canvas. • Pay attention to deadlines In a classroom environment, the professor will remind you of upcoming assignments, exams, etc., during class. In an online course, you are responsible to do this yourself. It is often a good idea to make your own calendar of when major assignments are due so you can keep track. • Get confirmation on assignments When you turn in an assignment, make sure that the professor has received it and is able to open it. You are responsible to make sure that your assignment can be read. • Save your work offline If you are preparing an assignment, make sure to save it to a flash drive as a cloud file as you work on it. Computers and programs sometimes crash, and your work can be lost if you aren’t saving it regularly. • Take notes Lots of information in an online course will be presented in writing, rather than by hearing a professor explain it. You should take your own notes on this information just like you would take notes during class. You can do this on paper or in a word processor. • Participate in discussions Discussions are often a graded portion of the class; make sure to participate as instructed. Don’t give one word answers to questions; use sentences and explain yourself clearly (but without going on forever). Don’t say anything that you wouldn’t say in an actual classroom; think twice before hitting “send.” Craft your questions and responses carefully, and take note when something you said is misunderstood so you can avoid this mistake in the future. Avoid sarcasm — it doesn’t come across well in writing. Remember, no one can hear your tone of voice when you are typing on a computer. • Don’t cheat! Academic integrity is just as important in an online class as it is in a classroom course. Don’t copy and paste anything from the Internet and pretend that you wrote it. Follow instructions about what resources to use when doing assignments. The consequences for cheating are just as serious in an online course as in any other academic environment. • Find ways to stay motivated Sticking to it is often one of the most challenging parts of an online course. You might start out with great enthusiasm, then find yourself slacking off as the semester progresses. Take charge and get yourself back on track. Find ways to make the course more interesting by interacting with other students and the professors and looking for ways to relate what you are learning to other areas of your life. Set weekly goals and keep track of your progress.