College Student Studying Online

Top Tips for Online Success

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In College Planning & Financial AidLendKey

With the world in the grip of a global pandemic, you are quickly finding that your school experience is different than you were anticipating. Extracurriculars and study abroad opportunities have been canceled. You may even have had classes that ended early last semester. And now, going back for the fall, you may only have the option of taking specific courses — if not your whole schedule — online.

Online classes may be unfamiliar to you, but they’re an increasingly common option. Online learning is an area that has been growing for years and has been gaining traction even before social distancing. With the rise of COVID-19, many institutions are transitioning into virtual learning. The Chronicle of Higher Education survey of 3,000 colleges and universities found that 33% were planning to be either fully or primarily online for the Fall 2020 semester.

Taking an online course may feel a lot different than showing up for classroom lectures every day. But, the similarities between traditional and online classes can outweigh the differences. Communication between you and your teacher and attention to assignments matter just as much, no matter the learning format. To give yourself an edge and learn as much as possible no matter the subject, keep these success strategies in mind to become a successful college student.

Stay Organized and Prepared

When you are taking a class online, one has to have self-discipline. You can no longer borrow a neighbor’s handout because you’ve forgotten yours. It is important that you acquire all of the necessary materials to complete assignments ahead of time and ensure all technology is updated and charged during instruction.

Before classes start, performing a dry run with any software you’ll be using can be very beneficial. For instance, if you meet over Zoom, test your camera and mic to make sure you are connecting properly. The more familiar you are with any software in advance, the less chance of you losing any live instruction time if digital lectures are part of your class. Similarly, if you are taking timed online tests or are required to contribute to a discussion board, logging in early to check for bugs can save you from late assignments.

Laptop on desk

Laptop on Desk

Mind Your Deadlines

With virtual learning, you’ll often be working on your own for days or weeks at a time. If you aren’t used to long deadlines on assignments, the time management involved can be a shock to the system. When you first get your syllabus, make a note of any due dates. Mark them on your calendar of choice. Some students utilize online systems that send alerts to both email and phone. Others perform better with a physical calendar they can glance at daily to view assignment deadlines.

Try breaking longer projects up into milestones. A ten-page paper is a nightmare when you try to write it in one night, but a breeze when you complete a page a day. Giving yourself mini-deadlines means that you are working consistently instead of cramming it all at the end. It also means that you can go to your instructor early with any questions.

Keep in Contact with Instructors and Classmates

Online classes can feel isolating at times. While some people thrive in a purely digital environment where they can listen to lectures and read materials on their own schedule, others do much better with the back and forth of a traditional classroom discussion. Maintaining contact with your instructor and the people in your class can make you feel less alone.

If your class has a chat room or a message board, read it regularly to keep up with others. You may also want to float the idea of a chat or video-based study group to others in your class. If you have no takers, look further afield. Numerous online platforms place students in multiple disciplines seeking other online learners to network with.

Be Truly Present

When you are receiving online education from home, it can be easy to get distracted by the elements in your environment. You may feel tempted to play on your phone while listening to a lecture since there’s no one to see you peeking at your favorite game. And, who’d know if you walked away from the screen to get another cup of coffee? With no way to enforce your attention, it’s up to you to stay present and engaged.

The trick is to treat online classes the same way that freelancers treat remote work: act like you are in the classroom even when you are on your own. If it helps, get dressed for class and sign on to interact with the prerecorded lectures. Schedule specific times for homework. The routine will help keep you on task and allow you the focus to concentrate completely.

The most important thing to remember is that virtual school is still school. The content will be the same, the structure is just a little different.  As long as you are able to adjust and treat the experience as an adventure in self-directed learning and productivity, you will be prepared to tackle anything else life may throw your way.



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