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Succeeding in an online course is fundamentally the same as succeeding in a classroom. You must:

  • Focus your attention.
  • Be organized.
  • Use your time wisely.
  • Take responsibility for your learning.
  • Be self-directed.
  • Be willing to work and participate.
  • Communicate effectively.

Today’s courses are making a shift to the active learner model, with students interacting and collaborating with one another. What does this mean for you? It means that participation is essential for everyone involved.

Generally speaking

For most students, it can take an adjustment period to learn the rhythm and patterns of online communication. Here are some tips for getting comfortable:

  • Take time to review the available help files and documentation.
  • Spend some time just navigating your way through the class. Learn the functions of the buttons on your screen.
  • Manage your time. You’ll find that your time management skills will be critical in an online class. It’s very easy to spend either far too little or far too much time on the class. Set designated blocks of time to work on the course. This will help you stay current with the assignments and the interaction required in most online classes.
  • Download or print out pages for reference, and review them offline.
  • Set priorities for yourself and pay close attention to priorities the instructor sets for your class. Check the calendar and/or course outline frequently for assignments, quizzes, etc.
  • Ask for help right away if something isn’t going right for you, whether it’s a technical issue or something to do with course content. If you are experiencing any problems you can always pick up the phone or email your instructor, other class members, or Tech Help.

Getting started with a new course

In the first week of a course, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the course and its components. Doing so can save you time later on. Here are some suggestions:

  • Find out how to get in touch with your instructor – What is their e-mail address and/or telephone number? Remember, if you have questions about the course or course content, contact your instructor.
  • Read the course outline – Pay particular attention to assignment due dates. Mark these on your calendar.
  • Find out the structure of the course – Do you have self-tests to complete? Are you expected to participate in conferences? How much participation is expected? Is participation graded and if so, how?
  • Look for the course schedule in the course – It could be posted in the calendar or in the course outline.
  • Quickly scan your text, manual, or any reading materials – Are there questions or quizzes at the end of each chapter? How could these help you when you start studying for a test or exam?
  • Before doing any course work, read any other documentation sent to you – You may receive introductory letters, notes on logons and passwords, user manuals, etc.


If you are taking a classroom-based course or a paper-based distance education course with an online component, follow these tips:

  • Sign on to your course on the day that the course begins. If you experience technical difficulties, contact right away.
  • Complete all first-week or orientation activities. These are designed to help you familiarize yourself with the technology and get to know others in the class.
  • Go to all sections (icons) of your course and find out how each of these work. This will save you time in the future. For example, learn how to post to the discussion area, send an e-mail, and submit an assignment.

Online communication & communities

As always, effective communication is critical to your success. It’s even more important in an online environment; however, because your instructor and the other class members can’t see the expression on your face or hear the intonation in your voice. You no longer have all those non-verbal cues that can be taken for granted in a physical classroom. Be responsible for initiating contact, asking for help when needed, and sharing information with others.


Courtesy and respect are constant in all classrooms, however, and still apply and are practiced online. Here are some “netiquette” guidelines:

  • Participate – In an online environment, it’s not enough just to show up. We need to “hear” your voice and feel your presence. Your comments add to the information, shared learning experience, and the sense of community in the class.
  • Remember that others can’t see your reactions – We won’t see the grin on your face when you make a sarcastic comment or the concern on your face if you only say a couple of words. We also can’t read your mind and fill in the gaps if you abbreviate your comments. You must be clear and concise when communicating online. Please explain your ideas fully.
  • Share tips, help, and questions – For many of us, taking online courses is a new frontier. There are no dumb questions. Even if you think your solution is obvious, please share it—someone is bound to appreciate it.
  • Think before you push the send button – Did you say what you meant to say in your e-mail or posting? How may the person on the other end interpret your words? Be careful and articulate. While you can’t anticipate all reactions, do read over what you’ve written.
  • Be persistent – Remember that we’re all working in an electronic environment. If you run into difficulties, don’t hesitate! Send a note to your instructor immediately. Most problems are easily solved, but we must know about them in order to help.