How to be a successful online learner!


Personal Support

Instructional Support

Get Tech Ready

Organize for Online Success

Online Study Skills and Managing Time

Communication Skills for Online Learning

Online Reading Strategies

The Successful Online Learner 

Be a Self-Directed Learner

As you explore the many avenues of learning available and begin to define your individual path, you will still need to work with your instructors to make sure you are meeting the requirements of the individual courses. Proving you understand the subject matter and can apply what is taught is still important.

Online learning requires students to be self-directed, that is, to take initiative in the learning process. Online students should be able to analyze their learning needs, identify available resources, and select and implement strategies to meet these needs.

Develop Self-Discipline

This characteristic is usually seen in the learner’s ability to stay current with class assignments, participate on a regular basis in online discussions, and develop and adhere to a schedule for class activities.

In residential classes, you have an instructor and peers with whom you interact on a regular basis. You also typically meet at a certain time and place each week. This interaction and schedule help to keep you on task in your coursework. In an online learning environment, especially if you do not meet at specific times, it’s much easier to put off assignments, discussion, and responsibilities.

In this context, self-discipline means motivating yourself to pay regular and consistent attention to the work that needs to be done, and doing it without delay or procrastination. Even more than in a residential course, falling behind in an online class can jeopardize your likelihood of completing the course and earning the credit.

One thing you can do to promote self-discipline is to dedicate a place for studying. Your own space where you can shut the door, leave papers everywhere, and work in peace is necessary. If you try to share study space with the dining room or bedroom, food or sleep will take priority over studying.

Balance Responsibilities & Set Priorities

Vital to a successful online learning experience is the ability to balance your responsibilities, both within and beyond your course. Knowing how to set priorities is key to getting the greatest benefit from your online education experience. Find out before or as the course begins exactly what work is required of you, and do your best to plan ahead.

Inevitably you will have more tasks to accomplish than you have time in which to complete them. At times like these, do your best to determine which course activities are most vital, and concentrate on those. Do not hesitate to ask for advice or help from your instructor.

Manage Stress

Just because a course is delivered in an online format does not necessarily increase or reduce the stress you may experience taking it. Consider your own sources of education-related stress when choosing to take courses online. If you feel high stress from giving in-class presentations, then an online course would probably save you from that kind of stress.

On the other hand, if using computers and related technology makes you experience excessive stress, you might reconsider taking a course online, since most online courses rely exclusively on computer technology.
Strategies for managing course-related stress include:

  • Know your deadlines. These include course deadlines as well as important events occurring elsewhere in your life while you are enrolled in the course.
  • Plan ahead. If you know that your time will be consumed by a non-course-related activity during a particular week, do your course-related activities ahead of time.
  • Ask for help resources, especially technological resources, and have them at hand when you are working on your coursework.
  • Keep in touch with your instructor.  If you do fall behind, let your instructor know immediately, and ask him/her for assistance in planning how you will catch up.
Understand Requirements & Expectations

In order to meet and exceed course requirements and instructor expectations, you’ll need a clear understanding of exactly what those requirements and expectations are.

The course syllabus acts as a contract between you as the learner and the instructor. It outlines what will be taught, what you will need to do to show your understanding of the content, and how you will be assessed. Read through the syllabus early and carefully.

Do your best to develop a sense of the “big picture” of the course -what will be due, and when. Then concentrate on the individual pieces, such as assignments and assessments.

Be Proactive

If something about the course or the material is not clear, don’t wait for your instructor to make it clear. Especially in an online environment, instructors have fewer cues to alert them to your confusion. They cannot see your puzzled expression or hear you ask, “What?” When you are unclear about an aspect of the course, ask your instructor.

Use very specific questions, seeking exactly what something means, what you will be expected to produce, etc. If an instructor does not hear from students, he/she may well conclude that students are grasping the material and do not need further assistance. If something is unclear to you, it may very well be unclear to the rest of the students in the class.

Your questions may help others in the learning process as well. So ask, early and as often as necessary.

Be an “Active Learner”

In a traditional classroom, you may have sat through lectures or presentations, took some notes and waited to understand what the instructor thinks about the subject.

This passive reception of information does not work well in an online environment. The subject matter will likely be presented to you in many different media, including text, still images and visuals, audio, video, and live or off-line conversations that use text or audio. You will need to become more actively involved with these materials, pulling them together in a way that makes sense to you.

To be successful in this environment, actively seek ways you can best understand the course material. Read, listen to, and watch the course materials more than once.

Take notes as you do so. Interact with your instructor and classmates. Become involved in discussing and defining course topics. By creating your own definitions and models to represent the topic, or working with others to create shared definitions and models, you take ownership in the final product which can help you in understanding and internalizing the subject. Do not simply accept and memorize.

Question everything, particularly if it doesn’t make sense or seem to fit with what you already know. Critically evaluate the information you receive. Everyone stands to benefit from your active learning, including the instructor and your peers as well as you.

Set Goals

Goals keep you on target. If you don’t set goals for learning, then you may not know if you’ve achieved something worthwhile.

Make sure you have personal goals in mind, both longer-term goals for your program of study and desired degrees or skills, as well as short-term goals for individual courses and assignments.

If you have these goals in mind, you’ll have a much clearer picture of what you need to do to meet these goals, and thus have deeper motivation to improve your work.

Ask for What You Need

Beyond asking questions of the instructor to clarify course material and expectations, advocate for yourself with the institution offering the program. Additional services, like academic support services technological assistance, may be available to you as an online learner.

If you think of a service that would be helpful to you as a student, and your school does not offer that service, ask whether that service can be created or if special assistance can be provided. If your instructor cannot provide this service or assistance directly, ask him/her to recommend another contact or resource.

Practice Netiquette


Network Etiquette (netiquette) is “cyber speak” for etiquette on‐line and in e‐mail: manners, civility, and shared rules. The rules of netiquette apply to everyone who uses the Internet or any kind of network to communicate to any other person in the world. Here are some very simple rules to follow that will help you to converse more smoothly with your fellow computer users.

  • Treat other people in cyberspace the way you would like to be treated. Remember that without facial expressions some comments may be taken the wrong way.
  • Review discussion threads before you enter the discussion. Be careful to write only relevant comments.
  • Maintain threads by using the “Reply” button rather than starting a new topic.
  • Limit the abbreviations that you use, such as “u” for “you,” “k” for “OK”, and “ne1” for “anyone”. This will ensure that everyone understands your message.
  • Assume that the other person will not immediately know what you are talking about; give a little background information to help the reader understand your topic or position.
  • Respect other people’s privacy.
  • Writing something in all CAPS is equivalent to yelling. Try to avoid this.
  • An emoticon is a text representation of an emotion. For example, is equivalent to a smile. Do not overuse emoticons, but they can be useful to avoid having a statement be misinterpreted.
  • Do not make insulting or inflammatory comments to other members of discussions. Be respectful of other’s ideas.
  • Do not leave the subject field of an e‐mail blank. Your e‐mail provider may send it to BULK, or JUNK instead of the inbox of the receiver, or your anti‐virus software may think that it is a virus of some kind. A subject also allows the receiver to tell what the email is about at a glance.
  • NEVER give out personal information of any kind via email, chat, or instant message. Phishing refers to the tactic used by criminals in which they will send a legitimate sounding email to your address and ask for information to verify an account. A reputable company, such as a bank, will not ask for usernames, account numbers or passwords through e‐mail.
Respond. Don’t React.

Often you will be required to join in a class discussion and respond to other postings. These discussions may become complex, intense, and even provocative. Before you send off a hastily written, emotionally based reaction to another’s contribution, turn to a word-processing program and develop your ideas into a less emotional and more reasonable response. Then wait a few minutes and reread what you have written before you make your posting public.

Learning how to turn a reaction into a response will make your course contributions more meaningful – and likely earn you a higher mark for participation–if participation counts toward your grade. Pausing and rereading also gives you the opportunity to review your writing for organization, clarity, and correctness.Communication in online courses is of two different types: synchronous or asynchronous.

  • Synchronous communication takes place in “real-time,” or at the same time. To be online at the same time as peers and interact with them is to communicate synchronously. Chat, instant messaging, and Web conferencing are examples of synchronous communication tools. Chat sessions and instant messaging can have a lively, immediate feel, and may feel casual or conversational in tone.
  • Asynchronous communication, on the other hand, takes place over time, not requiring group members to be online simultaneously. Email, discussion forums, blogs, and wikis are examples of asynchronous communication often used in online courses. With asynchronous communication tools, you browse, read, and respond at your own pace to what others have already sent or posted.  Your online course may use one or many of these tools. If possible, practice with the tool before the assignment takes place. Ask your instructor for help if you are unsure how a tool works before you need to use it.

Online learning does not mean you are learning alone. You will belong to a class consisting of instructors, fellow students, and perhaps others with whom you will interact. Your instructor will attempt to build a class environment through discussion questions, chats, group projects, and other activities.

You can help build this classroom environment through your participation. Seeing and speaking to others is not a necessary component in getting to know someone. Through your chats and messages, both real-time (synchronous) and delayed (asynchronous), you have the opportunity to develop personal and professional relationships.

The classmates you get to know online may come from very diverse situations and can offer a wealth of knowledge and experience. If you are willing to share your thoughts, experiences, and knowledge with your classmates, they may also return the favor.

Share Information and Support

As noted above, your fellow classmates and instructors provide a resource for information and support. An online learning environment can provide several other resources as well. Several of these are discussed in the next section of this document, Research and Resources. Within your online classroom environment, however, you have the opportunity to access and help build resources which can benefit your whole class.  Look for areas where you may post reviews for books you have read on pertinent topics, links to online resources, and observations for specific topics.

Within your virtual classroom, you and your fellow classmates can build a collective knowledge base which may become invaluable even after your coursework is completed.

Use online Resources

As an online learner, you may not have immediate access to some of the resources and assistance available on a physical campus. However, there is a plethora of information and help available online and through special service arrangements.

To make use of these, you will need to make yourself aware of what services are available. You will also need to pay careful attention to the validity of these services and to some legal and ethical issues concerning research and use of information found for academic purposes.

Use Online Library Services

An important part of every academic course involves researching the literature and finding relevant information on the subject. Campus libraries serve as the repository for information, collecting, organizing, and making this body of knowledge available to everyone involved in academic work and research. Fortunately for online learners, most of the services provided by libraries now can be accessed online.

Library catalogs, reference assistance, inter-library loan, and even some full-text books and periodicals can be searched and accessed. Your institution’s library should be the first place you look for additional information beyond your course readings and assignments. Several of the following categories in this section may be made available through your library.

The library at Leeward Community College has many online resources available. For more information, please visit the Leeward CC library website:

Use Online Databases

Databases online can provide fast and efficient ways to find information pertinent to your topics of interest. They may also provide seamless access to the full-text versions of these articles and other items (though this access may depend on where you are when you are accessing the databases).

Each database has a unique interface and search mechanism, so you will often have to experiment and use available help documentation.

Use Web Search Engines

While library catalogs and online bibliographic databases can provide direction and access to scholarly information, the Web itself is a storehouse for billions of documents.

For reasons outlined below, it’s usually best when doing academic research to first look for information in books and journals because they go through quality control measures before they are published. Yet the Web can also reveal thousands of potentially useful documents related to your research topics.

Critically  Assess Information

Once you find information or research, you must also look critically at what you’ve found to assess its authenticity and truthfulness. How do you know if information you’ve found is reliable and based on sound, honest research? This may apply to books and articles found through library catalogs and online bibliographic databases, and even more so for information found on the web. The web has been described as the greatest vanity press in history, allowing almost anyone to publish almost anything. You as the reader should be looking critically at any information you find.

Here are some critical questions to ask of any information you uncover:

  • Who is the author of this information
  • Does anyone else, such as a publisher or association, take responsibility for making this information available?
  • Has this work been referred or reviewed by subject matter experts?
  • Is other important information included with this work such as a date, author’s credentials and contact information, or citations for other works referred to in this work?
  • Have any other reputable publications cited or referenced this work?
  • All the topics addressed in this section relate to the idea of information literacy, or the ability to locate information, evaluate that information, and use it in appropriate ways. Being an online student will likely increase your level of information literacy. Becoming aware of the concept of information literacy and its implications on learning can help you as you take courses online.
Fair Use of Copyrighted Resources

Copyright refers to the rights of an individual or organization that has published a piece of work and is regarded as the owner of that intellectual property. If others use that work in a way which infringes upon the rights of the owner, they may be in violation of copyright law. There are several exceptions to this law, allowing use of portions of copyrighted materials for educational purposes, for ‘fair use’, for library use, etc.

For students doing academic work, referencing or quoting from existing works is usually permissible under fair use guidelines. However, it is your responsibility to make sure you are not violating copyright law as you make use of others’ intellectual property.

Don’t Cheat and Plagiarize

As a student in an online course, you are subject to academic conduct and misconduct rules adopted by your institution.

Rules and regulations differ by institution, as do procedures for investigating and disciplining students who commit academic misconduct. You are responsible for learning the rules of your institution.

Cheating is any practice which gives one student a dishonorable advantage over another student engaged in the same or similar course of study. It shall include, but is not limited to the following: securing or giving assistance during examinations or on required work; the improper use of books, notes, or other sources of information; or the altering of any grade or academic record. Plagiarism includes submitting as one’s own work or creation of any kind that which is wholly or in part created by another.

All sources, including Internet content, whether paraphrased or quoted, must be cited correctly. Direct quotes must have quotation marks around them, or they are considered plagiarism even if the quote is correctly cited. Rearranging parts of author’s sentences or substituting a few words is NOT paraphrasing and also constitutes plagiarism.Plagiarism is just as important a concept in an online course as it is in a traditional classroom.

Even if your instructor does not address plagiarism in the course syllabus or other material, learn your institution’s definition of misconduct and learn ways to prevent it.
Ask your instructor for more resources if you need further help understanding and avoiding plagiarism.

Use Correct Attribution & Style Guides

The simplest way to prevent plagiarism is to maintain proper attribution and citation techniques. As you write academic papers, you will need to conscientiously attribute ideas and quotes you find from the writings of others.

The format in which you refer to others’ work will depend on the style guide preferred by the department offering your course.

Check with your instructor to verify the style guide you should be using.

Develop Good Study Habits & Skills
  • Know Yourself and Your Learning Style
  • Recognize Others’ Learning Styles

When it comes to learning, everyone is different. Everyone has their own preferred approaches to new material and their own preferred style of learning. The same studying and learning techniques that work for your friends and peers may not be the best styles and techniques for you.

To understand what style of learning best suits you, you should first try to understand your own strengths and weaknesses and how you approach new learning situations. Assessing your skills and preferences will help you select the type of learning strategies – and perhaps the online courses – that are most likely to keep you interested and motivated and help you reach your learning goals.

In addition to evaluating how you learn best, as you work with others in groups, realize that your peers also have their own preferred methods and styles for learning and completing tasks. These differences can cause conflict if you don’t recognize why others are not seeing things the same way that you do.

Through open sharing about learning styles and preferences, and mutual respect for different approaches and ways of thinking, your team may be able to capitalize on differences by integrating them in unique ways. This may lead to unique insights into your course material and to producing distinctive course work projects.

  • Identifying Study Skills

Having identified how you and your classmates’ best learn, you can begin to look at specific study strategies and evaluate how well they may work for you in your online course. These techniques may address strategies for reading informational content, taking notes, memorizing information, exploring new concepts, and taking tests to name a few.

  • Good Study Habits and Abilities

One way to be a successful distance learner is to develop good habits and abilities early. These habits and abilities are: check your email at least once a day send copies of all project-related email to the whole group (when working on a group project)

Depend on yourself as much as possible

  • Use resources available to you, including online help, tutorials, manuals, course syllabi, assignment directions, and the Internet.
  • Monitor your own progress by noting where you are in the course, which assignments you have completed and which lie ahead.
  • Communicate with your instructor and peers.
  • Reach out when you need someone to talk to, feel frustrated or need help. Remember you are not alone.
  • Contribute advice or ideas about the real-world as it applies to the subject matter you are studying.
  • Learners who have good learning self-awareness usually have good strategies for better understanding new information and may be more successful in a distance learning environment.

Learning self-awareness (metacognition) is your ability to be aware of how well you are learning; in other words, to know when you understand or don’t understand new information when you read it or it is presented.

When it comes to learning, everyone is different, having their own preferred approaches to new material and their own preferred style of learning.  Assessing your skills and preferences will help you select the type of learning strategies that are most likely to keep you interested and help you reach your learning goals.  Visit this site for a self-analysis and more information on learning styles,

  • Learning Style
Manage Your Time Wisely

Set aside a significant amount of time each week for class work. Distance education classes require as much time and effort as instructor-led classes, if not more. Develop a schedule and stick to it. Without the structure of weekly class meetings, you may be tempted to put off class work until the last minute. Instead, you should give yourself extra time to do your work, because technological difficulties and asynchronous communication can slow down the process.

To be prepared, read the syllabus and other course materials carefully to understand:

  • Class requirement
  • Assignment due dates

The proper form assignments should take the time it will take to get assignments in the proper form, and contact information for your instructor and classmates in case you need help. Once you have the big picture, mark important dates on your calendar.

Technology is not all that we might expect and problems occur that are beyond our control. Servers go down, computers crash, programs freeze and work may be lost. There are, however, things that are very much in your control. Plan ahead; allow time for downloading and installing software (such as plug-ins) that you need for class. Your instructor will often list these in your course syllabus. Download and install this software early, then practice using it. Software programs take time to learn, and the night before an assignment is due is not the time.

If you’ll be accessing the Internet from work, find out if your company has a firewall. A firewall may prevent you from accessing particular web sites or using browser plug-ins to view video and audio, and interfere with file transfers.

Expect and plan for glitches and delays by starting assignments early, backing up your work regularly and making contingency plans for chats or online exams. Don’t wait until the last minute!

Make a Time Commitment for Your Online Course

Along with time management goes time commitment and perhaps creating your own study space away from outside distractions as mentioned above.

Completing course assignments and other learning activities can take from five to fifteen hours or more per week. And you may find that you need to be online almost every day. So before enrolling, be sure you can set aside enough time to keep up with your daily or weekly assignments.


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