Five Tips to Improving Your Online Learning Experience

The proliferation of online learning in the past decade has resulted in a vast sea of options for the non-traditional learner. So much so that as of 2012 there were two million students attending college 100% online and 96% of universities at that time offered online courses.

With undergraduate degree programs from Accounting to Zoology available online, it’s easy for students to find a program that aligns with their future career goals. 

A five-year study, issued in 2011 by Columbia University’s Community College Research Center, tracked 51,000 students enrolled in Washington State community and technical colleges. The study showed that students in community colleges came to higher education woefully underprepared for the demands of being a successful college student as they lacked basic time management and study skills and were deficient in core curriculum areas such as math and reading. The study further found that when those students took online courses, the rate of failure or dropping out were very high.  

What does this study prove, exactly? It proves a number of things, actually. First, it proves that online learning is not for every student. Secondly, it shows that providers of online learning should consider implementing a set of criteria for students considering an online course option. Finally, it proves that students need to be better equipped for success in the online classroom.

Here are five tips for online students, or for anyone considering an online course option, that will improve the learning experience.

  1. Budget your study time carefully. Online courses come in several different lengths, although most are six or eight weeks in duration. The developers of your course have likely taken the material from a traditional, classroom-based course that spans an entire academic semester and condensed it to fit the accelerated format. Students who do not plan their time carefully will fall behind within the first week and, as the pace continues, the work can become quickly overwhelming. Devote some time ahead of any class start date to sit down and budget your time. Devote blocks of time each day to your online course and do not allow anything to interfere with that time.
  2. Order your textbook as soon as your enrollment is confirmed. This is absolutely critical to your success. If you do not have your textbook before your class begins you are doomed to fall behind almost immediately.
  3. Contact your instructor before class begins. Introduce yourself, ask for the course syllabus and ask about required textbooks. Share with your instructor any concerns you have and ask questions. Your instructor is a key part of your support network and is interested in helping you succeed.
  4. Participate and collaborate. Don’t be the student who in the traditional classroom sits in the back row and tries to be invisible. Participation in group discussions and collaboration on group assignments will boost your comfort level in the online classroom.
  5. Speak up and ask questions. If your instructor never hears from you with questions or concerns throughout the duration of your online class, they will assume everything is going smoothly for you. If you are feeling concerned about an assignment or have questions you should contact your instructor right away. A simple clarification from your instructor can reduce your anxiety about an assignment and increase your confidence in your ability to do the work.

Being a student in any setting can be challenging. The self-discipline, confidence, and time management skills that are required to be successful in an online course are not something that every student can handle. If taking a course online makes a student extremely uncomfortable then the student should consider taking the course in the traditional classroom setting instead. That being said, it is definitely possible to have success as an online student.


Lisa M. Menke is the Associate Dean for Online Instruction at York College of Nebraska. Lisa is an avid fan innovation in learning design and transmedia storytelling. Lisa holds a graduate degree in Curriculum and Instruction and a graduate certificate in  online course development. Lisa and her family live in York, Nebraska. Follow Lisa on twitter: @lisamcantrell


About York College – online

Established in 2009, York College Online is home of Online Learning at York College (NE).

Whether you are a high school student ready to get a jump on your college education or an adult wanting to take classes to further or change your career – York College Online is the school for you! A wide variety of courses which apply to degrees in all programs at York College are available. At York College Online it’s never been easier to start or further your journey of higher education from the comfort and convenience of your own home. We have the ability to accommodate the demands of non-traditional students. Financial aid available to those who qualify. A FAFSA is required (school code: 002567).

The mission of York College is to transform lives through Christ-centered education and to equip students for lifelong service to God, family and society.


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twitter: @YCOnline


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