Top 8 Tips to Thrive as an Online Student

student smiling into the distance as she takes notes for her online class

Although online learning can be challenging, there are many benefits to earning your degree online, like flexibility, affordability, and the ability to study when and where you want — at home, at a coffee shop, or even while traveling. 

Taking a virtual course can sometimes feel like you’re navigating your education on your own, and it can be difficult to create your own motivation and find a healthy balance between schoolwork, life, and freetime. However, you can leverage online classes’ differences to work in your favor. Here are eight tips to stay focused and make your online learning an engaging, fulfilling experience.

Top 8 Tips to Thrive as an Online Student Infographic

1. Find a dedicated study space.

Find a study area to complete your coursework and attend virtual class meetings. Ideally, you should have a quiet, well-lit room with a desk or table to work at and take notes. 

To the best of your ability, try to minimize distractions in your work space, and keep your notes and assignments organized. That way, your mind will associate the area with productivity and education instead of free time. Having a clean, quiet learning environment will also help you interact better with your professor and other students.

2. Turn off notifications during class or study time.

College Values Online’s list of online learning challenges advises students to silence cell phones and turn off notifications or other online distractions. Instead, try deferring these distractions until breaktime:

  • Social media updates
  • Texts or phone calls
  • Website visits 
  • News articles
  • Entertainment media

Goal-setting is a great way to motivate yourself, and you can reward yourself with leisure time after completing your checklist.

You can also chat with family members or roommates about ways to help avoid interruptions, especially for evening classes. Asking them to turn down the TV, help look after children, or minimize other potential noise-makers can help you to focus.

3. Use a planner to create a healthy routine.

Online classes are often self-motivated, so it’s important to be deliberate about time management. Using a planner or calendar can help you keep track of important events in your day or week. A physical planner can be great to plan your schedule without digital distractions, especially since you’ll have lots of online information to keep track of already as a virtual student.

Your planner doesn’t have to only include deadlines, either. Scheduling breaks or fun activities can motivate you and help to balance your classwork with your work and home life. Keeping all kinds of events all in one planner can also help you to avoid scheduling conflicts.

4. Make time to foster friendships with fellow classmates.

A study published in BMC Medical Education finds there is a positive relationship between feeling engaged with the students and faculty within an online class and perception of the overall effectiveness of the course. Students who made friends and connections in their online class felt the class was a better learning experience overall.

Making friends via an online course can be different from making friends in an in-person classroom setting. Using live chat or messaging functions to ask questions or make helpful comments during class can help you feel engaged with others. Online messaging can also be less intimidating and more casual than talking in front of a class in person. Exchanging contact information or arranging virtual meetings outside class can be a great way to connect with other students and can also help you form a study group.

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5. Keep in touch with your professor — especially in tricky classes.

U.S. News & World Report’s article about succeeding in an online course advises connecting with professors early to get to know their teaching style and strengthen your communication with them. Try to be active in class, answer questions, and speak up during class discussions. If a professor offers, consider reaching out via email to ask them a question or schedule a meeting during their office hours. They may even be able to recommend other students to create a study group with. 

Look for other helpful university resources too, or ask your professor if they have any recommendations. Remember that you’re not alone in your online learning, and there are people who are happy to help you succeed.

6. Make sure your Wi-Fi is up for the task.

There’s nothing worse than having a Zoom meeting cutting in and out when you’re in the middle of an important lesson or presentation. Technical difficulties can make it difficult to be engaged, as they often draw your attention away from class meetings and homework. 

Having a stable internet connection and a working computer or tablet is an absolute must. Most classes will also require a webcam for participation in virtual lectures. Having dependable hardware will make your online experience run much smoother, so upgrading your technology can be well worth the investment.

If you’re unhappy with your connection, try running an ethernet cable directly from your internet modem to your computer to ensure you’re getting the best connection available. You could also try resetting your modem, calling your internet provider’s customer service, or seeing if you can get your modem replaced. If you’re still experiencing connectivity issues, it might be time to switch internet providers.

7. Assess your learning style to help yourself stay motivated.

Staying focused can be tough, especially since online learning can be so self-motivated. Assessing your ideal learning style can help you to know your strengths, weaknesses, and individual learning needs. 

The online school survival guide from lists four different types of learners: 

  • Visual
  • Auditory
  • Kinesthetic
  • Reading 

Whether you learn by seeing, hearing, practicing, or reading, try leaning into your preferred learning style as you study. Seek out things like educational videos, topical podcasts, walking tours, or industry-specific articles to deepen your understanding in a way that fits you. Once you understand your learning style, you can implement custom study strategies to become a successful online learner. 

8. Use online learning’s flexibility to your benefit.

Flexibility might be the biggest benefit to online learning, so take full advantage of it. A survey cited in the BMC Medical Education study found that flexibility was one of students’ favorite aspects of the online learning format, compared to similar in-person courses. Those students reported that the valuable time saved from not having to commute to and from school allowed them to allot more time for sleep and self-care. Students may also use the extra time for exercise or leisure time with family and friends.

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Online programs at PLNU also have flexible class schedules and start dates available every eight weeks so you can learn at your own pace. Online learning equips you to earn your degree while making time for your favorite things in life.

PLNU offers exceptional online programs so you can earn a:

  • Bachelor's degree
  • Master's degree
  • Certificate 
  • Credential

All these programs are perfect for growing your expertise in whatever brings you purpose while expanding your career opportunities.

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