Online learning provides lots of convenient advantages compared to in-person classes for many people. There’s no commute, you can learn on any connected device, and you get to set your own school schedule.
That means you need to also be great at time management and focusing. While online learning provides many benefits, it requires discipline and motivation for students to be successful.
Maybe, like more than a third of college students who took at least one online course in the 2018-2019 school year, you’re already used to online learning. Or, you might be completely new to it or need a refresher for how to make it work. We talked to Wharton Online learners about the tips that helped them thrive as online students.
1. Take Notes
Taking notes is helpful especially for kinesthetic learners. Writing down notes as you’re watching and listening to lectures and reading course materials is a way to reinforce what you’re learning.
Matej Pergl, who completed the Fundamentals of Quantitative Modeling course at Wharton Online, says, “Write notes in your notebook. That helped me retain a higher percentage of the material I went through. It takes a bit more time, but the information definitely sticks around longer.”
Try this. If you’re watching a live lecture, pay attention and listen so you can participate and ask questions. Then, go back and rewatch the lecture and take notes. Instead of taking notes as a lecture is playing, which may cause you to miss something important, watch a few minutes of a video, then write down a summary of what you’ve heard so far.
2. Create a Homework & Study Schedule
While online learning gives you freedom to learn on your own schedule, it’s important to still create a schedule so that you carve out time to complete homework and study.
“It’s vital to set aside specific time to complete work,” says Michael J. Ong, who earned the Strategic Management Certificate at Wharton Online. “Often, online learners operate with a mentality that is too flexible.”
Even though you don’t have to physically attend class, still set aside time that you’ll dedicate to school to stay on track. Abboudy Gogo, a multi-credential earner from Wharton Online, suggests choosing study times when you’re the most alert and receptive.
“For me,” says Gogo, “that’s early morning, 8-9 a.m.”
3. Don’t Rush
When you’re in a self-paced online course and you’re already familiar with the topic, you might be tempted to skip the learning modules and go straight to the tests. Achin Singh, a Customer Analytics learner at Wharton Online, advises against that.
“You shouldn’t do the tests all at once,” says Singh. “Always finish the modules and reading material before attempting the quiz.”
You want to ensure you get good scores on your tests, and it’s likely you’ll miss something if you rush through. Take the time to do all the work that’s required to reinforce all you need to know from the course.
4. Stay Focused
Along with the freedom of online learning also comes the necessity for focus. Ruy Perez, a multi-credential learner at Wharton Online, has a suggestion.
“Do 25 minutes of study and 5 minutes of rest,” suggests Perez. “Study a video or class without interruptions, then rest a few minutes and repeat the process.”
That way, you’re ensuring you get a set amount of focused study and then reward yourself with a break. You can prevent boredom or burnout, get the breaks you need and absorb the information.
Another way to focus is to create a dedicated study and learning space. Ask that anyone who shares your household respect your focus while you’re using the space.
Keep it distraction-free digitally, too – so no using social media while studying. Check out apps to block social media when you’re studying.
5. Teach Others What You’re Learning
An effective way to absorb and retain the information you’re learning, Perez says, is to teach it to others.
“It’s not enough to just read or watch the lectures when you’re an online learner,” Perez says. “Try to explain the topics to someone, or try to recall what you have learned to yourself after each lecture/module/topic.”
A study published in “Applied Cognitive Psychology” confirmed the effectiveness of Perez’s suggestion. When you teach others, you’re forced to retrieve information you’ve previously studied. That leads to longer-lasting and deeper retention of the information compared to passive re-studying.
6. Use the Right Tools
Back in elementary school, maybe you had fresh notebooks, new pens, rulers, scissors and the like to help you learn. As an online learner, a reliable internet connection, online storage and a virus-free computer are essential.
Imagine that you’ve been working on a paper for several hours, and all of a sudden your computer crashes. You didn’t save your file and you have no form of backup. How frustrating would that be?
Constantly save your work. Use free cloud storage like Google Drive or Dropbox to create and save documents, so that they’re stored in a safe and secure place that’s accessible from any connected device. If your laptop gets stolen, your saved work will still be in the cloud.
Also, be sure to keep your instructor’s contact information stored somewhere like your phone, so you can get in touch with them when you need to.
7. Connect with Your Classroom
As you’re studying online, build meaningful connections with instructors and other students. Online instructors are available to help you when you need it, so introduce yourself to them early and reach out to them when you need assistance or have a question.
Get to know other students, so your classmates can become helpful resources, too. You might gain insights or additional study tips from your fellow classmates, who can also help you when you need it during online learning. You might even want to start some virtual study groups with other students.
Saily Sankpal, who completed the Finance & Quantitive Modeling Specialization at Wharton Online, says it’s helpful to pay attention to messages posted in discussion forums, too. They might include helpful links that make learning the material easier.
Treat others in your online learning classroom like you would in a physical classroom. Use kind language, be respectful of people’s time and be supportive.
8. Focus on Your Goal
With any type of learning, there might be some challenges. Stay motivated by frequently reminding yourself why you’re taking a course or program and what you hope to achieve. Your reason might be:
- To gain the knowledge you need to switch jobs
- To complete a program that will help you advance your current career
- To get the certification that’s required for you to get the job you want
You might want to add a visual motivational cue to your study space. Maybe it’s a vision board or an inspirational quote.
Reward yourself for completing courses and doing well in school. Celebrate with loved ones.
Know that there will be challenging days. Everyone faces them. Forgive yourself for feelings of frustration and look at every new day as a new opportunity.
9. Stay Healthy
Keep your energy levels high and your body feeling great by prioritizing health and wellness among your studies. Be sure to:
- Get enough sleep: The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours per night.
- Eat a nutritious diet: The S. Department of Health & Human Services recommends making half your plate fruits and vegetables, focusing on whole grains, eating lean proteins and cutting back on solid fats.
- Exercise regularly: According to Mayo Clinic, you should get at least 75 minutes of vigorous or 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week, as well as complete strength training exercises at least 2 times a week.
Also, practice de-stress practices like mindfulness and meditation, yoga, taking a hot bath or journaling. High levels of stress can decrease focus and increase errors, so you’ll want to keep stress levels low as an online student.
10. Create Momentum
If you’re unsure about online learning, make your first course one that’s in a subject you know will interest you. That’ll give you an idea of how virtual instruction works and can help motivate you for your next course, says Isabel Rincon, who studied Customer Analytics at Wharton Online.
“Once you’ve finished and accomplished your first course, that feeling of satisfaction will last a couple of days. That’s when another course should be taken, to take advantage of that excitement and dedication,” Rincon says.
Try an Online Learning Course for Yourself
As a Wharton Online entrepreneurship learner, John Rodrigues says, “Today’s jobs demand constant learning and interdisciplinary skills to succeed in our careers. Learning something new, even for 30 minutes a day, through online courses can be beneficial. Investing in yourself and sharing that with the community is the best investment and contribution one could do for society and to inspire others.”
What do you want to learn? Wharton Online offers courses in leadership, technology, entrepreneurship, digital marketing, business and more. Check out our online programs.