What skills do great distance learners have? Just like classroom students, they are motivated and curious. Yet they need to pay attention to developing additional habits, because online courses pose certain unique demands.
Here are some habits you can cultivate to boost your success when taking online college courses:
Habit #1: Stick to a schedule.
As a distance learner, you can turn on your computer and go to class any time you want. Although that is a great advantage, it can work against you too by leading to procrastination. (“I don’t have to study now, I’ll do it tomorrow.”)
Successful online students stick to a schedule anyway. Some sit down to do coursework at the same time every evening. Others work for an hour before heading off to work in the morning. Whatever your preference, you’ll find that you’ll do better if you set a routine and stick to it.
Habit #2: Get organized.
Classroom students use notebooks and folders to organize their coursework. Online students use their computers. That is an advantage, but it is also a challenge. That’s why the best online students have the habit of setting up well-organized folders for their projects and coursework.
Even if most of their work is done remotely, they keep drafts of papers and assignments on their own hard drives, or use some of these helpful apps for online students. And good organization means something else too – if you back up your work, you will still have it when your course is over.
Habit #3: Start projects early.
This is a habit of all good students. But when you are working on your own, it can be hard to remember that the earlier you start on a paper or start studying for an exam, the better you are going to do. In classrooms, students can pick up on cues from other students by asking questions like, “Have you started on your paper yet?” In contrast, remote learners have to work according to their own “internal clock.” And the best way to do that is to get into the habit of starting early.
Habit #4: Ask for help when you need it.
All good students do this. But some distance learners hesitate too long before asking their online course instructors for advice or help. The result? They can fall behind in their work or fail to build a solid knowledge base in the earlier units or lessons of their classes. So as a distance learner, cultivate the habit of speaking up and asking for help. It’s a key to online learning success.
Habit #5: Go beyond the basic requirements.
In most cases, the instructors who designed and wrote your courses will have provided readings and supplemental materials that build a solid grounding in the subject you are studying. Yet the best students have cultivated the habit of digging deeper, by looking for other materials to read and explore. If you want to be a successful online college student, remember to go beyond the basics.
Habit #6: Talk about your plans and courses with other people.
Some distance learners fall into the pattern of keeping their studies to themselves. Really strong distance learners don’t do that. They talk to their friends and family members about what they are studying and learning.
There’s a practical reason why this is so important. When you share your plans with other people, they ask you about them. (“How is your online Algebra Course moving along... what are you going to study next?”) Those questions keep you organized, motivated, and more likely to complete your studies.
Habit #7: Make your studies part of a bigger plan.
In other words, know how your courses fit into your life master plan, and know what you will do next. Perhaps you are taking college courses online so that you will do better when you study the same subject later on at your “brick and mortar” college.
Perhaps you are taking a few courses at StraighterLine and you plan on transferring the credits to one of StraighterLine’s Partner Colleges. Or maybe you are taking a writing course because you want to improve the copy you are writing for your company’s website. When your courses are part of a bigger plan, you are more motivated to follow through. That’s a recipe for success.
Anissa Sorokin, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of English and Writing Program Administrator at Stevenson University near Baltimore, Maryland. Anissa’s interdisciplinary background and extensive experience teaching research, writing, and study skills help her demystify college expectations for students online and in her classroom.