What Makes a Successful Online Student?

What Makes a Successful Online Student?

9 minute read

What sets successful online students apart from those who simply work their way through their courses? While motivation and curiosity are necessary traits for most students’ success, excelling in online studies demands a unique set of habits. The virtual classroom introduces its own challenges, making it essential to hone specific skills. 

Ready to elevate your success in online college courses? Let's explore some habits that can make all the difference.

Online Learning Can Be Both Fun and Challenging

Learning remotely is not without its challenges, but there are ways you can become a successful online learner even before the first day of class. Whether you’re an experienced online student or trying it out for the first time, it can be a fun and exciting way to take the courses you need.

How to Be a Successful Online College Student: 7 Strategies

Successful online learners share many similar habits. While you don’t have to practice all of these to the letter, taking this advice can go a long way toward helping you make the most of your online journey.

1. Set Up a Designated Study Area

Having a designated study area is one of the most important keys to your success as an online student. To set yourself up for success, your designated study area should include:

A Strategic Setup

Your study area doesn't necessarily require a lot of space, but it should be thoughtfully arranged. A sturdy desk or table provides a platform for your computer and a designated area for note-taking.

Comfortable Seating

Invest in a chair that strikes the right balance between comfort and support. While comfort is crucial, it's equally important that your chair doesn't lull you into a state of drowsiness. Your study chair should encourage good posture and focus.

Good Lighting

Avoid eye strain by ensuring your study area is well-lit. Position your desk near a natural light source or invest in a quality desk lamp. Adequate lighting contributes to a more conducive learning environment.


Headphones play a dual role in online learning. Not only do they help you focus on online lectures and videos, but they also shield you from ambient household noise. Opt for noise-canceling headphones to create an auditory bubble conducive to focused learning.

Organizational Essentials

Incorporate storage solutions into your study space. Folders, cabinets, or drawers keep your course materials neatly arranged and easily accessible. An organized space promotes a clutter-free mindset, allowing you to navigate your coursework more efficiently.

Internet Reliability

Ensure your internet setup is dependable to minimize disruptions during virtual classes and assignments. Consider investing in a reliable router to guarantee a seamless online experience. If your study space is further away from your router, consider adding Wi-Fi extenders in your home to strengthen your signal. 

Distraction-Free Zone

Your study area should be free from distractions. Position your desk away from potential disturbances, such as noisy appliances or a bustling living room. Face your workspace toward a wall to minimize visual distractions and maximize concentration.

2. Establish Good Study Habits

Unlike traditional classrooms, the online realm demands an increased level of self-discipline and initiative. Here are some tips for cultivating good study habits.


Despite the wealth of online resources, jotting down key points helps reinforce your memory and serves as a roadmap to crucial information. Develop a system that works for you, be it digital or traditional note-taking methods. Some students even find it helpful to handwrite their notes and retype, or vice versa, to increase retention. 

Essay Writing

Essays can easily be broken down into manageable steps. Once you grasp the fundamentals, essay writing becomes a repeatable skill. If you’re an adult learner who’s been out of practice in writing essays for a while or you find writing to be a challenge, consider polishing your skills with a writing class before your other courses start.


Some courses will require you to do research. When that happens, you’ll need to learn how to find reliable sources, how to sift through disinformation, and how to cite your sources correctly. This isn’t only useful for online learning; it’s also a good life skill.

Test Preparation

Tests don’t have to be anxiety-inducing. There are various test prep methods to help you ace your online tests. Referencing your notes, which we mentioned above, is one of the best things you can do to prepare for a test. Be open with your professor if you’re unsure what the test will cover or if you need extra help in a specific area. Form study groups and practice asking each other questions. 

Communicate Effectively

Whether you're in a live class or pursuing a self-paced course, effective communication is essential. If you need assistance or clarification, reach out to your professor or teaching assistant as soon as possible.

Prioritize Self-Care

Your well-being directly influences your academic performance. Ensure you eat well, get adequate sleep, and stay hydrated. Regular breaks away from the classroom rejuvenate your mind and maintain a healthy balance.

3. Create a Routine

The skill of creating and mastering a routine sets the stage for success and allows you to effectively sharpen your academic abilities.

Start by identifying your peak productivity periods during the day and create dedicated blocks for focused schoolwork. Consistency in these routines will help streamline your workflow and optimize your productivity.

Take proactive control of your routines by treating the syllabus as a roadmap. Before each class, thoroughly review the syllabus, using it to anticipate major assignments and deadlines. Reverse engineer your time to allocate resources wisely, ensuring a steady progression toward your academic goals. For larger assignments like presentations or long essays, try breaking the assignment up into smaller tasks. You can then set deadlines for individual elements of the task to help spread out the work and prevent the need for cramming. 

When it comes to schedules, accountability matters. Try sharing your goals and progress with family, friends, and classmates to create an environment that encourages adherence to your routine. Academic advisors can also provide valuable guidance to keep you on track. 

Especially for first-time online learners, try to resist the procrastination temptation that often accompanies the flexibility of online learning. Consistency breeds discipline, a trait acknowledged by successful online learners who recognize the importance of committing to a set schedule.

Whatever routine-setting habits work for you, make sure you stick to them.

4. Ask for Help When You Need It

Seeking assistance is key to success in your online learning journey. However, some remote learners hesitate before reaching out to online course instructors or tutors for guidance. This kind of reluctance can lead to falling behind or gaps in foundational knowledge. 

As an online learner, cultivate the habit of speaking up when you need help. Asking for assistance is not a sign of weakness but a strategic move toward building a robust understanding of course material. Timely queries ensure that you stay on track and prevent potential setbacks.

5. Share Your Studies With Loved Ones

While some distance learners tend to keep their studies to themselves, successful online students recognize the value of open communication with people they’re close to. 

Engaging in conversations with friends and family members about what you're studying serves a practical purpose beyond mere conversation material. When you share your academic plans with others, they may become invested in your progress. The questions they pose — like, "How is your college algebra course moving along?" or "What are you going to study next?" — serve as reminders and motivators. These questions can help you stay organized, focused, and committed to your studies. The interest and encouragement from your support network can make a positive contribution to your accountability.

Embracing openness about your learning path enhances your organizational skills and fosters a supportive learning environment, thereby accelerating your success.

6. Interact With Your Peers

Navigating peer interactions in online learning may not be as straightforward as in traditional classrooms, but you have various digital options for engaging with your classmates. Social media, school message boards, and online forums are all platforms for students to connect in the virtual space.

Most online schools provide a designated digital hub where students can interact, collaborate, and support one another. These platforms are virtual extensions of the classroom, offering spaces to seek assistance with assignments, form study groups, and share insights. Utilizing these tools enables students to connect despite physical distances to create a supportive and interactive online community.

Social media platforms, particularly those with dedicated groups or pages for specific courses or programs, allow students to reach out, share experiences, and form connections. Online forums affiliated with the school or specific classes provide structured spaces for discussions, questions, and collaborative problem-solving.

7. Keep a Positive Mindset

Successful online learners actively cultivate a positive mindset by nurturing social connections, prioritizing self-care, and staying focused on their overarching goals. This becomes especially important when the absence of physical classrooms can lead to feelings of isolation. Successful online learners know how to employ various strategies to stay positive and motivated throughout their academic journeys.

If you hit roadblocks, remember the purpose behind your educational pursuits. Whether you’re seeking to advance your career, pursue personal goals, or gain new knowledge, keep the end goal in mind so you can navigate through challenges with a positive outlook.

StraighterLine Sets You Up for Success in Online Learning 

StraighterLine is a platform designed to set students up for online learning success. We offer everything you need to optimize your online learning experience, including 24/7 student support, affordable courses, and a flexible schedule that allows you to learn in the comfort of your home and at your own pace.

Learn more about How It Works at StraighterLine so we can help you become a successful online student.

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