What Makes a Good Online Student? These Tips Can Help.

What Makes a Good Online Student? These Tips Can Help.
Beth Dumbauld

By A.J. O'Connell 

You probably have a mental image in your head of what a good college student is.

In traditional, face-to-face classes, a good student is always in class and on time. They participate in class discussions, raise their hands, always do the assigned reading. They turn in work on time, and get extra help when they need it – either during an instructor’s office hours or a study group.

But what does a good student look like in an online course, which may have no live class meetings or even an instructor? How can a student be a good student when they may feel like they’re learning on their own?

Good online students create good study spaces

A good study space is an online student’s best friend. It’s also a crucial tool for a good student; a  dedicated study area at home gives you the space and a distraction-free environment you’ll need to focus exclusively on your coursework. This doesn’t mean you need an entire room set aside for studying (although if you have the space, a door is a great benefit) but you should have an area that is set aside for schoolwork alone.

Your study space doesn’t need to be large, but it should at least contain the following;

  • A desk or table: You’ll need something for your computer and a note-taking surface.
  • A good chair: Your chair should be comfortable and supportive — but not too comfortable. You shouldn’t be falling asleep in your study area.
  • Good lighting: Lighting is important; you don’t want to strain your eyes while you’re working.
  • Headphones: Not only will headphones help you hear your class, but you’ll also be able to cancel out the noise of your home.
  • Storage: Folders, a cabinet or drawers are important so that you can keep all your course materials in one easily accessible place.
  • A reliable internet connection: The internet is the lifeblood of an online course. Make sure you have the strongest connection possible so that your classes aren’t interrupted.

Your study area is meant to keep you focused on your schoolwork, so it should be tidy, and it should limit distractions. You don’t want a television blaring near you, if you can help it, for example, and you’ll want to face a wall rather than the window, so you can learn effectively.

Good online students establish good study habits

All college students are responsible for their own studies, but online students need to take even more initiative when it comes to establishing good study habits. Some of the skills an online student needs to develop are:

  • Note-taking: Note-taking is a critical skill for students in online courses. Although you may feel that all the information you need is online and you can review it at any time, it’s important to take notes so that you remember where and when you heard something important. Sometimes simply writing down a piece of information will help you remember it.
  • Essay writing: Essays are at the core of most courses. While many students are intimidated by essay writing, it’s a repeatable process you can learn. Once you master the writing process, you’ll be able to write thoughtful essays more quickly.
  • Research: When writing essays and assignments, it’s important to know how to do your own research. Learn to find reliable sources, and learn how to cite them in your papers.
  • Test preparation: Tests often make students nervous. They may cram for an exam and then forget everything at test time. Remember: all your coursework leads to the test. Do your practice essays, take your notes, and complete your assignments with the test in mind.
  • Communication: It’s important to reach out when you have a question. For students in live classes this means asking your instructor for help, but those in self-paced courses, should reach out to an expert as well, such as StraighterLine’s tutors or advisors.
  • Self care: No matter how hard you study, you probably won’t do well in school if you’re not taking care of yourself. Eat well, sleep, and hydrate. Make time to step away from your computer and move.

Good online students establish good routines

There is one skill that is absolutely key to being an online student: time management. This one skill will help you refine all the others, and there are several ways to approach it.

Practice organizing your time, creating routines that help rather than hinder your work. Do you work best in the morning or at night? Carve out a block of time when you’re at your best for schoolwork.

Rather than studying whenever you can, build a schedule for classes and projects at the start of a class — review the syllabus and plan out your class yourself. This will let you plan your work on a big project in advance, and schedule study times ahead of tests.

You may also find it helpful to create a support network that will help hold you accountable. These can be your family and friends, your advisor, or even online support groups of students in similar courses.

Discuss power of routines, including time blocking, scheduling, reviewing syllabus (especially if self-paced so you can reverse engineer your time in order to meet a specific deadline), creating a support network to help you be accountable (family friends, establish relationship with advisors, regular meetings)

Good students are good students, wherever they learn

The good news for anyone nervous about an online course is that excellent online students have a lot in common with good traditional students. They participate in class, (however that might look in their particular course), do their work, and study. Since they’re studying on their own, however, they’ll need to be especially good about organizing their time.

Online students excel when they set goals for themselves, plan ahead, and manage their own routines and workspaces. All of this can be a little difficult to get used to if a student is accustomed to seeing an instructor as their “boss,” but in the end, these skills will serve all students well.

Those who might be concerned about developing good online study habits may find that taking a psychology course can help them in school by giving them insights into themselves and into the process of taking an online course.

Interested in learning more about the benefits of taking courses online, read our article on the 13 Top Benefits of Online Learning.

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