8 Tips to Help Your Learners Succeed in Their First Online Course

Are your students struggling to finish their semester from home? Here are some online study tips to help them out.

Many universities around the country are finishing their semesters online. For students who have never taken online courses before this can be a new and disorienting experience—not least because their professors are also teaching online for the first time.

If you’re one of these professors, or if you’re a school administrator trying to offer students as much support as you can, we’d like to offer these tips to help your learners get through the semester. Understanding some of the struggles they may be facing as they adjust might also help you find ways to structure your material to improve outcomes, as well.

1. Don’t underestimate the amount of time online coursework requires.

Many learners underestimate the time it will take to cover course material. It’s tempting to see a list of topics and think that you know what will be required to complete everything. But you don’t know how long it will actually take until you read through the assignments and know what everything will entail.

Give yourself extra time each week until you get a better sense of what the workload will be like. Even when you think you know, be proactive with your study habits so that you aren’t caught off guard by unexpected material.

2. Limit distractions by creating a quiet study space.

Even if you’re the type of learner that needs background noise or music to concentrate, the everyday distractions in your home may not allow you to fully absorb the concepts of your e-learning course. Carve out a study space in the home that’s free from distractions. If you have an office or a quiet corner of your house, this is best.

It is usually best to avoid studying in a space you usually use for entertainment or relaxation, such as your living room or bedroom, as it will be harder to avoid those things while you’re there. However, students quarantining at home or in a small apartment may already be sharing quiet spaces with others in their home who are trying to get work done as well. In this case, find ways to coordinate quiet time for the entire household, or discuss times when you can rotate use of the office. If you must study in your room, try to set up a work station at a desk rather than studying on your bed.

3. Interact with your fellow learners.

Participate in the online forum where you and your fellow learners can interact, discuss course material, or answer questions. If your course involves a group project or collaborations with other members of your class, taking the time to find likeminded peers will help you later on as you form groups.

As many students are now discovering, studying online can also be isolating, especially without the social interactions that many classrooms offer. Making the effort to get to know other learners can enhance your online learning experience and could possibly lead to professional connections later on.

4. Ask your instructor for “office hours.”

Getting to know the others enrolled in your online courses is important, but talking one-on-one to your instructor is important, too. Your instructor has a vested interest in your success, so if there are issues that you’re having comprehending certain concepts, don’t try to go it alone. Get to know the instructor via email or during any online “office hours” that they’ve set up. You may get valuable insight into the materials and understand more about what the expectations for success in the course look like.

5. Create a Study Schedule

Once you’ve scheduled time to study, you need to determine how you’ll be spending it. Online courses require a significant amount of self-discipline, including making time to thoroughly go over the material and reviewing the concepts.

You may wish to make small goals for what you want to accomplish during each study session, such as finishing a couple of chapters, watching an online video and taking three pages of notes, or passing a post-module quiz.

Some people benefit from having a weekly plan, as well as a plan for each study session. For example, each week you can start with going over the week’s assignments and required reading and create your daily study plans based on that. Read over the assignment and then break up your study goals into your daily plans. At the end of the week, re-read the assignments or re-watch the videos and ensure that you’ve understood the concepts.

6. Contact Your Internet Provider about Coverage

This may go without saying but online learning depends on a reliable internet connection. Many Internet providers recognize that their customers are relying on them now more than ever, and are going out of their way to extend coverage and waive late fees. If you’re experiencing difficulties, it is unlikely you will ever have a more sympathetic ear from your Internet provider.

If you are having difficulties, you can try using your mobile phone as a hotspot. Like Internet providers, many mobile phone companies are removing data caps and doing their best to improve coverage during this crisis.

7. Participate in Online Study Groups

Sometimes, having study partners can help keep you motivated and can give you the help that you need to master difficult concepts. Reach out to others taking the class to team up for projects or to help you review the materials. Plus, your peers can be a valuable source of aid in mastering difficult concepts.

8. Engage with Different Learning Styles

The idea that different people have learning styles that suit them better than others is largely a myth. However, most people do benefit from engaging with material in a variety of ways. It isn’t that one student remembers written material better and another prefers audio/visual, but that engaging with some of each creates more dynamic learning memories that lead to better outcomes.

Online learning can help your students succeed, even in difficult circumstances.

The conditions students are facing as they finish the semester this year are unprecedented. Learners will be struggling, and they will need their institutions to step up and help however possible. The silver lining, however, is that only a couple decades ago, online education wouldn’t even have been a possibility.

Helping your students move forward under these circumstances can bring stability to an otherwise uncertain time, and can prevent them from falling behind in their degree program. Student support is more important now than ever before. Providing guidelines and advice is helpful, but being available for office hours is also an imperative. The more you can do now, the better positioned your students will be when this is over to continue with their studies on firm footing.

Author

Justin Ferriman is the co-founder and CEO of LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by Fortune 500 companies, major universities, training organizations, and entrepreneurs worldwide for creating (and selling) their online courses. Let's Talk! | Twitter

21 Responses

  1. First! Great article. You need to make your site as simple as possible in my opinion. Thanks.

  2. Give learn the feeling of always having a contact person for questions. Helpsesk or Freshdesk are a great solution!

  3. Something I would add to #2 is to know how to turn off notifications, whether it’s on your tablet, laptop or desktop computer. There can be many distractions otherwise.

  4. Great Article. I love learndash but I think it would be great if there were more options tailored towards blended learning. Part classroom/part online!

  5. This is by the best plug-in I have used in WordPress. Thanks learndash. Also, expecting Pro panel license.

  6. Great tips!

    My students always ask for more exercises – and the keyword “animation exercises” brings a majority of my organic search traffic.

  7. One thing I would recommend, if it’s about technical issues, is to recreate the projects that the instructor creates, but not to stay there, but to see how to add new features and functionalities

  8. I repeat course every year that need certificate and compliance attestation. Use the course cloner to make it easy and then modify to update materials and content.

  9. I love LD. Easily create courses or even a membership site all on your own property. No need for a third party site.

  10. My advice for learners? If you’re trying to learn anything having to do with language (languages, vocabulary, historical information, etc.), read aloud to yourself. This engages the left side of the brain, which is responsible for speech—and for storing long term memory. Reading aloud keeps the left hemisphere active, increasing the brain’s ability to quickly and permanently store whatever you’re trying to learn. Even just moving your lips while reading something is helpful!

  11. Research your learners! We all have an (unfortunate) instict to assume everyone has had the same experience of the world that we have. This is why we find ourselves thinking “how could that person ever think that?” or “their opinion is just plain wrong because this one time I saw…..” We need to remember these people are our learners and everyone has had a different life experience! If we research who our learners are likely to be and what appeals to them it will help us and them succeed.

  12. Good points, to make a successful course you need to have more than just “good content”,
    you need to create a good learning experience for students.

  13. I think this is quite well written. In my opinion, the points 3,4,7 are the most important ones. The more human touch we add to the online courses the more likely it is to succeed. Video conferencing platforms are the closest thing to achieve this and having them integrated into the LMS can drastically improve students’ engagement.

  14. I would like to add a point, which is to add gamification to your course. This also provides your learners with a sense of achievement as well as improves engagement.

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