I think in these past few years we’ve all seen the positives and negatives of taking courses online. I started my program in September, 2020 and we actually never went back to on-campus learning. As of writing this, I’ve been in my “in-person” program for two years without setting foot on campus because my faculty’s building never re-opened. Now I’m sharing my best tips for online learning success.
There are a number of benefits to studying online, but they come with some extra challenges that students have to overcome. Let’s get more familiar with online learning and find out the best ways to succeed at it! In this article, I’m going to go through different types of online course content, the pros and cons of studying online, and then some tips for you to try.
Different Types of Online Classes and Components:
Make sure to check your course syllabus for the details. Instructors may choose more than one of these options, and the requirements will vary. Online learning success comes from understanding the expectations of your specific course.
Synchronous courses happen in real time, which means you will likely have a live online meeting (such as a scheduled lecture on Zoom or another online learning platform). Not all professors record these classes, so you should definitely check into that if you do not plan to attend. The expectation with these courses is that you will attend at the specified time. There may also be other asynchronous components to the course – online discussions, videos to watch, etc.
These courses don’t have scheduled components that you have to join at a specified time. This does not necessarily mean that you can learn at your own pace – there may still be weekly modules for you to complete in a specific order, with deadlines. An asynchronous online course might consist of recorded lectures and associated learning activities that you complete on your own, usually within a specified time frame (ie weekly).
Recorded or Live Lectures
Some instructors will pre-record their lectures, while some will do them live. Instructors who keep live lectures may also record them for any students who missed the class, or if you want to go back and review.
One benefit of recorded online courses is that you can speed it up or slow it down, and skip or rewatch different parts of the video. On the other hand, in live classes you may be able to ask questions or for further clarification.
Personally, I know I will be much more accountable to a live class that’s at a certain time. With the recorded class, I have to have the self-discipline to watch it at a set time each week, which is more challenging.
Many university courses that had participation marks when they were in-person replaced in-class discussion with online discussion posts. This is where you have an online discussion by posting short written discussion pieces and responding to one another. Instructors may want you to post and respond a certain number of times each week, or to lead a discussion one week, or something similar.
I personally find that these are usually time-intensive and I don’t find them very valuable, so I try to take courses without them if I can. But if you’re the quiet type who doesn’t like speaking up in class, this may be a good way to get your participation marks in online courses.
Yes, you still have to do group projects in online courses! How annoying is that?
As if trying to organize regular group projects wasn’t hard enough, when you’re in an online course you could be working with much more difficult schedules: different time zones, diverse work schedules, very different time commitments.
The first things you’ll want to establish are your meetings and methods for communication. Are you going to use a group text? Email? Whatsapp? Discord? Make sure you pick something that all of you can commit to checking regularly.
Make sure you’re clear on the requirements for the group project. I know it can seem easiest to just do it all yourself, but if there are team evaluations or requirements for each person to do an equal amount of the project, you’ll want to make sure you divide it up properly.
Pros and Cons of Online University Courses
No commute time! You don’t have to carry all your things on the bus and then around with you all day!
You don’t have to sit in a packed lecture hall during cold and flu season!
You can wear your pyjamas all day!
It is often easier to fit online courses around your schedule, so if you are a working student online courses could be a good choice. Make sure you check the requirements of the course and make sure you can meet any meetings or synchronous components.
It’s much harder to get to know your classmates and professors in an online course. If you want to get to know them you will have to put in more effort. If you are going to need a reference letter from a professor, make sure you are wroking on this so they know who you are.
Some professors are not great at online teaching and don’t make it very engaging, which can lead to boring courses. Sometimes professors try to just shift their regular course online, which doesn’t always work well.
I’ve tried to come up with some of the most common obstacles to success when you’re studying remotely.
First and foremost, I will mention time management. I have worked with so many students who think that an online course somehow requires less time than an in-person course. This is not true! Make sure you are planning to spend as much time on your online courses as you would any other course if you want to be a successful online student!
Many students do not have a dedicated study space at home. You may be surrounded by distractions and interruptions. It can be hard to focus if you live in a shared home with family or roommates.
Some students, probably the more extroverted ones, feel isolated in an online learning environment. You might miss connecting with your classmates and chatting on your class breaks. You have to put in more effort if you want to get to know your classmates, which can be challenging. University is a key place for you to build your network, and not having the same connections can be a disadvantage.
A lot of students find online courses less motivating. It can be harder to pay attention when you’re not in the lecture hall. If you feel disconnected from campus you can also feel disconnected from your degree. This lack of connection can make your courses feel pointless, and make it feel like you’re not actually moving towards your goals.
Best Tips for Online Learning Success
Online learning success requires you to take even more responsibility for your education. Here are my suggestions on how to take charge of and be successful in your online learning.
Manage your time well. Block out the time you need to attend any synchronous components, or the time you need to complete asynchronous components. Don’t expect an online course to take less time than an in-person course. If anything, it will take more time because you are doing more active learning.
Attend your classes with the same diligence you would on campus. Sit in a chair, at a desk or table. Sitting on the couch or bed is comfy, but can lead to distractions (or falling asleep). Sitting on the floor is also an option, if you can get comfortable enough. You have to be more active and put more effort into paying attention and not getting distracted. Wearing headphones, especially noise-cancelling ones, can be really helpful to block out other sounds so it’s easier to focus.
Eliminate as many distractions as you can. Put your phone away, in another room or in your backpack if possible. Turn off notifications on your computer. Don’t multitask – pick one task at a time to work on. Wear headphones to block out externa noise. If you get distracted at home, try studying on campus, in a library, or at a coffee shop.
Take breaks between classes and study sessions. If you were on campus, you’d have a few minutes to at least walk to a new location, so use that time. Don’t spend the full day in front of your computer. Make sure you are taking breaks and getting up to move.
Even though you’re learning online, you can still join or create a study group. Study groups can meet online, or you may be able to meet in-person. See if anyone in your class wants to create a study group with you. Studying with others keeps you accountable to spending time working on the course, and you can work together to master the content.
Keep Up With the Course
Remember that many online university courses are not “work at your own pace.” They will usually still fit within your uni’s semester system, which means you won’t have any advantages in terms of how long the course will take or when you can work on it. Make sure you keep up with your courses!
Improve Your Study Skills
Having strong study skills will also help you have success in online learning. Read more about study skills for university students in this post: