What Every Online Learner Should Know

We all have inherited or learned traits as we've progressed through our schooling. Some traits help us to succeed, such as being patient. Other traits may hinder our progression, such as procrastination. Learning online may be new for you, and it will surely require an adjustment.

Be Open Minded

When learning online, the possibilities for your potential are limitless! We are no longer confined to learning only within a certain classroom at a certain time in a particular building. We can now go online on our own time and review materials, take practice exams, complete assignments, interact with others, and so much more. Of course, learning in this way takes some getting used to and requires an open mind. In the process, you may also learn more about yourself and how you prefer to learn.

Be Flexible and Patient

Because online instruction is much newer than classroom instruction, everyone is still working out the kinks. You will most likely encounter some bumps along the way with the technology, your teacher's practices, or even with your own learning. For instance, your internet connection may drop unexpectedly, an important website may not be available, or you may not be able to find what you are looking for in the online course. No matter what, stay on your toes, know when to bend and roll with the punches, and you will be OK!

In addition, "online" does not mean "instantaneous." When things seem to stick or lag online, keep your cool and have some patience. Some web-based tools take longer to load, some documents may need more time to display, and some communications need more time to send. Remember that clicking too many times to accomplish the same task can have an adverse effect on what we are trying to do. It is similar to pressing an elevator button multiple times. It does not make the elevator appear faster!

Establish a Routine

At first, learning online may be a dramatic change for you. Some of us find comfort in having to show up at a certain time each day for a class or series of classes. Whether you begin to take a fully online course or are just visiting an online course for resources, the freedom to accomplish such tasks can be intimidating at first.

As best as possible, establish a routine and avoid procrastination. Try to stick to the recommended or required course deadlines. Set aside time each day for completing the course readings or activities. As well, plan to spend a good amount of time reviewing messages from your teacher and classmates within the online discussion, along with responding to them. After a short while, you will begin to feel more comfortable and confident as you settle into your routine.

Stay Connected

Learning online will require that you have access to a computer with an Internet connection. That may not always be easy, particularly if you do not own a computer or have an Internet service provider at home. However, there are so many places to connect to the Internet such as school computer labs, public libraries, coffee shops, Internet cafes, or a friend or relative's place. If you are having difficulty finding a connection, do not give up and avoid making excuses. Check with your school administrator about the Internet resources available at your school or within the community.

Maintain Your Computer and Your Files

Computers are an essential part of your online learning journey. If you own a computer, be sure to maintain the hardware and update the software regularly. As with any important piece of equipment in our lives, such as a cell phone or a car, computers need regular care and attention to operate smoothly. Be sure to regularly organize your electronic files, update operating system software and other supporting systems such as browsers and word processing programs, and protect your computer from electronic viruses.

Lastly, technology can be unstable at times so make sure you back up your important files. One successful strategy is to keep copies of course documents and assignments on a portable "thumb" or "flash" drive. This small device can be carried on a key chain and plugged into another computer when necessary. Losing your work is one lesson you do not want to experience.


Some students mistake the concept of learning "anytime, anywhere" for not having to participate. In every class, some students always contribute to the discussion, some students participate half the time, and some students are shy and stay rather quiet. Where do you fit in?

In every case, the online environment accommodates all types of learning styles and preferences. If you are shy and don't like to share your thoughts in class, that's okay. Discussing topics online allows you the time to digest the concept, reflect, gather evidence, and post a thoughtful response. You also get to see the responses and perspectives of all of your classmates instead of just the few that always participate. So, what are you waiting for, get in there and participate!

Communicate Clearly

Learning online can be writing intensive. Communicating in writing is much different than communicating in person and the tools we use online to interact can vary. Your teacher may post some requirements as part of the course on how to interact properly with the available tools so be sure to follow those requirements. If not, the following recommendations should help you get started. Similar best practices are often referred to as "netiquette."

  1. Write clearly and concisely. Use full sentences, including proper grammar and spelling. In other words, avoid "chat" type text unless requested.
  2. Maintain your personality. When expressing opinions and perspectives, find ways to add humor, emotion, empathy, and other elements into your messages.
  3. Avoid plagiarism. Always express yourself using your own words. When using someone else's words to help describe or support your point, quote or credit your source.
  4. Create Drafts. When composing long messages, emails, or discussion responses, you may want to draft them off-line first to avoid any possibility of losing your work. You can also take advantage of spell and grammar checkers when drafting off-line.
  5. Email Properly. Always include a Subject for each email and always sign your name at the end to inform your instructor you are sending the message.

Distance Learning Facts

  • Distance learning students sometimes can end up neglecting their course work because of personal or professional circumstances, unless they have compelling reasons for taking the course.
  • Some students prefer the independence of distance learning; others find it uncomfortable.
  • Distance learning gives students greater freedom of scheduling, but it can require more self-discipline than on-campus classes.
  • Some people learn best by interacting with other students and instructors, but distance learning may not provide much opportunity for this interaction.
  • Distance learning requires you to work from written directions without face-to-face instructions.
  • It may take as long as two or three days to get comments back by e-mail from your instructor (such as over a weekend or holiday).
  • Distance learning requires at least as much time as on-campus courses and in many instances up to three times as much.
  • Distance learning uses computers and other technology for teaching and communication.
  • Printed and/or online materials are the primary source of directions and information in distance learning.
  • Distance learning classes often require written assignments and projects.
  • Students who have dropped a college class often do not have the self-discipline or motivation to work independently and complete an online course.