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    How To Survive (& Thrive) In An Online Course

    January 15, 2018 Amanda Cross 9 min read
    Note: This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure for more details. Thanks for supporting the brands that make The Happy Arkansan possible!

    Colleges are beginning to understand that they need to be more accommodating for students. They are creating many different ways of learning such as online courses and night classes that help students by adding flexibility. I am not the biggest online course fan, but during the two that I took during undergrad and grad school, I learned a lot of tips on taking them. Today's post is going to be all about how to survive and thrive in an online course.

    Related Read: The Happy Guide To Surviving Night Classes

    Are you taking an online course at your #college anytime soon? Check out my 10 tips that will help you survive and thrive all your online courses (especially if you are used to taking courses in a classroom!)

    1. Take The Course With A Professor On Campus

    When I was in graduate school we had an online course offered in the department but it was contracted to a professor who didn't work on campus. This can be beneficial because it helps the school offer more courses, but it can also be hard for you as a student if you take most of your courses on campus.

    Let's face it, talking about something you don't understand face-to-face is a lot easier than talking about something over the internet. Usually, when the professor is on campus they hold on-campus office hours where you can drop by and ask them the questions you have for them.

    If you value those face-to-face meetings I would encourage you to check and make sure the professor has an office on campus!

    Get To Know Your Professor

    Even online professors can prove to be very helpful to you as you finish more of your career as a college student. You should be taking the time to email with them, visit during office hours, ask for feedback on your papers, and more.

    Getting to know a professor online is a lot harder than an in-class professor, but it's not impossible! If you take your online class seriously you will probably have just as many questions for an online class as you do for an in-person class.

    2. Follow Your Syllabus Closely

    The syllabus is the most important document of any online (or any in-person) class. Your syllabus is so important in an online course because you usually don't see your professor on a weekly basis. Your professor will not always be there to warn you about due dates and upcoming projects.

    You Need To Be On Top Of Your Stuff

    Don't depend on anyone to tell you when things are due, all your answers are waiting for you in your syllabus!

    Put All Your Due Dates In A Planner Or In A Singular Document

    When I was in college and graduate school I liked to write down all of my due dates in a planner or on a single document that was categorized by time. If you are taking five classes you don't want to have to pull out all five syllabi each time you need to think about what you need to do for your classes.

    During the beginning of the semester, take out all of your syllabi and plan out when everything is due. This way it's already done. If you need to you can refer back to your syllabi as needed, but having it all in your planner helps you see when you will have particularly busy weeks where a lot of stuff is due.

    One of my all-time favorite places to get planners is Erin Condren. They are a bit on the pricy-side, but their planners are beautifully done and so helpful for productivity. They also sell a ton of other stuff on the Erin Condren website like notebooks, pens, planner stickers, and so much more!

    Put This List Somewhere You Will See It

    When I asked my friend Brianna (who took way more online classes than I did) about her tips she mentioned that she also put things in a singular document. She made sure to put this somewhere she would see it so she could tick off things as they happened.

    I know that she was also a big fan of planners and utilizing to-do list printables that she found online. Whenever I studied with her she was always organizing her stuff that way!

    3. Familiarize Yourself With Your Course Shell

    Different professors utilize the course shell differently. Chances are in an online course, the course shell will be way more filled out than it normally would be for an in-person course. In online courses, professors are trying to create a great user experience where you can find as much information as you need online.

    This means the course shell probably has a lot of tabs and various folders.

    When you start an online course take some time to explore the course shell and get to know all its moving pieces and parts. Compare the course shell to the syllabus for the course. Where can you find your notes, discussion boards, quizzes/tests, etc?

    You don't want to ever put yourself in a situation where you are frantically searching for something last minute. It only takes a few moments to click through everything and familiarize yourself with it all!

    4. Check Your Email And Course Shell Daily

    Updates happen in online courses ALL. THE. TIME. You need to make sure that you are connecting with your email and course shell daily. You never want to miss an update, a test, or anything in between because you decided to take an internet break.

    Checking your email and course shell only takes a few minutes of your time each day!

    Now, don't get obsessed! You don't need to check your email and course shell every hour, but checking it every morning or every night will help you keep on top of your schoolwork.

    5. Work On Your Course Throughout The Week

    Trust me, it's so easy to put off working on your online class until the night before everything is due. At the end of the day, though, that puts unnecessary stress on you. Instead, work on your course throughout the week. Treat your online course like a regular course. Work on it multiple days a week.

    If you can break down work on your course to three days a week for 50 minutes a work session, that is so much better than working for 3 hours straight the day your work is due.

    Block out time multiple days a week to work on your online courses.

    You wouldn't stick the work for a normal course into one day, so don't do that for online courses.

    6. Do As Much Of The Reading As You Can

    It's so easy to ignore reading and just look up the answers as you are working in an online class. This cheapens the meaning of an online class or an online degree to be honest. You should be putting the work in as much as you can!

    Now, don't get me wrong, I understand that it's hard to prioritize reading for an online class. I would suggest that you become as familiar as possible with skimming. I have written extensively about skimming on this blog before.

    Related Reading: Reading With Purpose: Article Skimming 101How To Effectively Skim An Academic Book

    Skimming is such an art form that I wish I had earlier in my college career. You may not be able to read every single page of your reading for online or in-person classes, but if you can skim well you will get the most important pieces of information from each thing you have to read!

    You want to do this as in the moment as possible. You don't want your reading to pile up and backfire on you when you have to take a test or write a paper. Read it a little bit at a time so you don't have to do it all at once later.

    7. Find A Few Classmates To Work On The Class With

    Chances are you know at least one or two people in the online course, especially if the course is within your major. Find a few people in the courses forum or roster that you have had a class with previously, and see if they want to work on the course with you.

    This will help you have an accountability buddy. You may set up a weekly meeting a few days before the weekly course material is due. That way you can work together for a few hours, not feel so alone while taking the course, and even get your course work done early!

    Take The Class With A Friend If You Need To

    If you have a friend who needs the same courses that you do, consider taking the course with them. This way you know that you have a friend in the class that you can work with on course assignments. Make sure that you trust that this friend will pull their weight when you work on course material you can work on together. Also, make sure that this friend won't distract you too much when you work on the course together.

    8. Create A Distraction-Free Workspace

    Distractions are everywhere. I am aware that it will be hard to create a completely distraction-free workspace, but do the best that you can.

    • Get a great desk lamp: You don't want to put too much strain on your eyes if you will be at your computer for multiple hours. I suggest getting a lamp that's flexible with multiple brightness and color settings. Lamps like this are going on the market all the time, and they are pretty cheap. I got a lamp like this for my desk for only $30.
    • Comfy chairs & keyboards: You want to be able to easily work with your keyboard and you want to be able to easily work in your chair for long stretches of time. Your chair or keyboard situation shouldn't take up too much of your time and energy when you are working online.
    • Don't work on your bed: This is bad for a couple of reasons: it makes it harder for you to work on your schoolwork because you are thinking about sleep and eventually it makes it harder for you to fall asleep because you are thinking about school work. Have dedicated areas in your room, instead. Have a space for sleeping and a space for working!
    • Stop working around Chatty Cathy's: Don't be a multi-tasker! Instead, focus on the work at hand, your online class. If you have a friend who just won't shut up, kindly stop working with them and work solo!

    Utilize The Pomodoro Technique

    I love love love the Pomodoro technique, especially for writing papers or studying. Obviously, if you are taking a timed online course or quiz, the Pomodoro technique won't work! But when you are doing work related to the other aspects of your online course, this method will really help you maximize your productivity while giving your brain a chance to rest.

    Related Reading: Why I Am Obsessed With The Pomodoro Technique

    9. Always Account For Technical Issues

    Have you ever heard the saying “whatever can go wrong, will go wrong”? That's Murphy's law. Well, this is not always the case, but sometimes it happens.

    You need to be prepared for when the stuff hits the fan, your computer is out of commission, your internet restarts in the middle of a test, etc.

    Your professor is likely to have a lot more pity on you if this happened when you took the test three days before it was due versus the day it was due.

    Obviously, you can't always control when you are able to get to the course work you need to do, but if you can help it, start working on things early so you can get technical issues worked out if they appear.

    10. Don't Ignore The Course Just Becuase It's Online

    It's so easy to ignore an online course for the simple reason that it's an online course. The world is changing and so is education. Online courses are just as valuable as in-person courses, and you can still learn a lot with an online course!

    So, do the work, keep up with the reading, and put your all into the course. You will feel better, the course won't seem like a total waste of your time, and you may make more connections than you realize simply because you worked hard to conquer your online course.


    Taking an online course is a huge responsibility. You need to be focused, determined, and ready to crush the course! I hope that today's blog has given you some food for thought as you conquer your next online course!

    What do you think of my tips? What are your best tips for crushing online courses?

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    About Amanda

    Hey Y’all!
    My name is Amanda Cross, and I am the blogger behind The Happy Arkansan. I am a blogger, freelance writer, and podcaster. When I am not creating content for any of my content online, I can usually be found baking, watching YouTube, or napping. I love helping millennials and young adults navigate the mess that is adult life. Keep reading for my thoughts and experiences.

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