Becoming a Successful Online Student

Online programs are appealing because they are convenient and flexible and allow those who enroll to complete a degree while pursuing a career and juggling family obligations. Unfortunately, flexibility and convenience can mask procrastination and prevent you from being as successful as you’d like.

These strategies and best practices for online learning are invaluable to having a richer college experience and developing into a life-long learner.


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Plan for or create a quiet space to study. Whether you go to the library or you need to create a space in your home, having a consistent quiet place to study is important to staying on track in your course.

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Organize your time and familiarize yourself with assignment due dates, especially if you are in more than one course at a time. Organizing your time and prioritizing what you need to do and when you need to do it will help you stay ahead of homework and complete assignments on time. Include all assignment due dates on your calendar to optimize your organization and preparedness.

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Schedule sections of time consistently, and maintain this schedule rigidly. Delaying an assignment until later in the week rarely ends in success. Be consistent and schedule the time needed to complete course work — think of it as the time you would have been physically in class, but now you can set your own schedule.


Engage the course material and all its resources. As in life, the more time committed to what you deem important, the greater likelihood of success. Learning online is the same — make the most of your education by engaging the course content (syllabus, textbook, online readings, discussions), communicating with your professor and connecting with other students in the class.

Most students understand the importance of completing the assigned readings (textbook and online readings), and other course materials such as videos, while putting less importance of understanding the course syllabus. The course syllabus is the road map for success in the course. Refer to it and refer to it often.

Communicate with your instructor early and as often as necessary. Unlike face-to-face learning, in online learning the instructor does not have the visual clues to determine if you understand a concept or course material. It is up to you to seek clarity on course material or assignments by communicating with your instructor, which lessens the likelihood of falling behind in the course. It is important to give instructors a reasonable amount of time to respond — in online classes preparing a written response, exchanging emails or scheduling a time to speak takes time. Inquiring as questions develop is key.

Connect with classmates and feel the community build! Understanding who your classmates are and sharing appropriate information about yourself, professional interests and other course work, enhances your college experience. Classmates and instructors enrich your learning through the mutual sharing of experiences and knowledge as well as being a great addition to your professional network.


Time management is key to successful online learning. Managing your time by scheduling to read assignments, check online discussions, study for an online test during open times in your day and week is crucial. For instance, many successful online learners do course work on their lunch break, while riding the bus, in the morning before their day begins or at night when other responsibilities are over. Schedule course work during downtimes that work best for you and stay committed to it.

Providing a timely response to an inquiry, professional or personal, is an excellent practice no matter the situation. In online courses, timeliness in responding to online group discussions or questions between you and the instructor or between you and other students develops strong online relationships with those who you will be working with throughout the class and who may become professional resources. Being connected from the beginning and staying connected helps:

  • lessen the feeling of being alone in the online environment (a feeling many online students report feeling).
  • keep you and group members on track to complete group assignments successfully and on time.
  • decrease stress and leads to a more fulfilling online educational experience.


When anyone is given more flexibility and convenience, as online courses and programs inherently provide, more responsibility is given, too. As an online learner it takes a great deal of effort and self-discipline to remain committed to your learning and to keep yourself motivated.

A key to online student success is to continually identify ways to remain SELF-MOTIVATED when you begin to feel like it is too much and SELF-DISCIPLINED to remain focused on your goal and keep your course work moving forward.

It is important to find ways to motivate yourself. Motivation can take different forms:

  • A reward (whatever makes you happy) for completing an assignment, a more challenging course, earning an A in a class; whatever keeps you searching for more
  • Support group — friends, family, classmates — to help you during challenging times

Find what works for you and stay motivated!

Self-discipline is a series of habits that helps you succeed and achieve your goals. Becoming more self-disciplined takes practice before it becomes habit. Some ways to start increasing self-discipline include:

  • Making lists of what needs to be done and when.
  • Scheduling your time and sticking to your schedule as much as possible.
  • Avoiding or removing temptations to remain focused on the task at hand.


Understanding the technical requirements before class starts is important. To help, student personal computer recommendations are provided. Make sure that your computer works with the software tools necessary to be successful in online courses at Marquette University and its learning management system Desire2Learn.