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Online courses and program empower students to pursue their education without the constraints of traditional classroom setting. The advantages of online education offers a more flexible and personalized education all at your own pace. If you’re new or not used to taking courses online however, the change can be tricky to navigate.

Choosing the independent route demands students to be more proactive in how they develop and organize their learning plan, which not only means time management, but the methods for learning the material. Stay prepared and improve your performance in online classes by following these tips and strategies.

Establish your study space

If you’re spending the majority of time learning from home, you should make a dedicated and comfortable study space. Whether you prefer watching lecture videos from your bed, couch, or home studio, it’s up to you to find a reliable study spot where you can be the most productive.

Consider what working environment is best for you: do you focus better with ambient music or do you find it too distracting? Students’ habits vary greatly; some people thrive in coffee shops while others prefer the quiet setting of a library. Find out what your work habits are and design your space around it.

Set personal milestones for learning objectives

If you’re feeling unsure about how your performance in an online course, ask yourself: “What do I want out of this course?” Define your personal motivations for taking on the course in the first place. Make short and long-term goals to get you through those days when you’re zoning out half-way through lesson videos. You’ll get the most out of your class if you reflect on your academic goals and have a solid idea of what topics or skills you intend to develop.

Organize course materials before and after lessons

Being prepared beforehand a lecture is a must, but are you paying attention to what you do after?

Effective note-taking goes beyond what you do during a session. Evaluate your notes right after a lesson and make an outline of key topics and structure them so they’re easier to follow, especially if your sentences run on to no end. This way by the time you’re reviewing concepts later you’re not scrambling to find topics or key information.

Jot down questions as soon as you think of them. Unlike in a physical class, your instructor won’t be there to press you with questions to check if you’re following along. It’s up to you to take initiative, recognize when you need help, and ask.

Communicate with instructors early and often

Students attending a physical class seldom take advantage of office hours, so taking an online course only makes connecting with your instructor more imperative. You don’t have the convenience of asking instructors questions in real time, so you need to make the extra effort to open the line of communication.

Conversations don’t have to stay strictly course-related. Express what you’re curious to learn — instructors will appreciate your enthusiasm and will be more than happy to share their knowledge and insight with you. The sooner you establish open communication with your instructor, the faster you can go into your course with peace of mind and confidence.

Create a weekly study schedule

Don’t make the mistake of cramming right before a test! True understanding of a subject is seldom achieved by trying to review everything in one night, a week, or even a month before exam day. The same goes for completing a final project. Instead, utilize “spaced learning” and plan a study schedule as soon as class starts so you can retain knowledge long-term.

Adjust your study schedule week to week according to your needs and what’s noted on the syllabus. Stagger your study time so that you’re spending more hours studying as you lead up to tests. Set aside a portion each day for general review, then focus your review sessions based on a specific topic. Take periodic breaks to refresh and reward yourself for your hard work!

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Actively participate in forums

While online courses do come with minimal participation requirements, forums aren’t just an area where you can ask questions or comment on student work. Forums are a useful resource if you’re stuck on a problem or need some help understanding a topic. Use them to express or frame concepts differently. Check to see if other students are discussing the same topics or have the same issues, they might be asking the same questions.

Form study groups with peers

Even though you’re engaging in independent learning, enrolling in courses online doesn’t mean you have to be completely on your own.

Reach out to your fellow students on and offline! Everyone might be at the comfort of their own desk in many different locations, but keep in mind you’re able to connect with a diverse group of cohorts who are learning along with you. It’ll make your in-class discussions more meaningful, and you don’t have to worry about falling behind in class when you have other people to study with and bounce ideas off of.

Write your own study guides

Challenge your knowledge of the lesson material by making your own summaries and review pages, whether or not your instructor provides one for you. You can make a cheat sheet that lists the most important concepts and key words, as well as supplemental resources like documents and links to other resources. When you prepare information in a way that makes sense to you, your study sessions will be much more efficient.

Now that you have the right preparation to be a successful online student, check out some of these courses from our catalog:

Creative Audio Programming on the Raspberry Pi

University of New South Wales


Making Meaning: An Introduction to Designing Objects, Part I

School of the Art Institute of Chicago


Reinventing The Piano

Princeton University