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5 top tips to help you become a successful online learner

A few simple strategies will help you to organize your time and workload effectively so that you can get the most out of your online course.


man lying in bed tired with laptop, cell phone and books

Online learning is a convenient and ever more popular way to learn - but to be a successful online learner it's not enough to know how to turn on a computer. A few simple strategies will help you to organize your time and workload effectively so that you can get the most out of your online course.

Why should you listen to me? Well, I was an online learner for 2 years and also worked outside of the home. It was my first online learning experience and, even though I was already a confident computer user, I had to learn a new way of studying. Sometimes I even asked others to write my essay to save time and succeed in my learning. Some aspects of this were straightforward, others took a little more time to master.

I did it and graduated with a distinction. However, there are a few things I wish I'd known at the start. Now I want to help you to successfully manage your online studies too.

Tip 1 - Organization

Successful online learning means having a timetable

I can't say this enough. The only way to succeed in online learning is to be well-organized.

Things you need to organize:

Your time

This is the most important tip I can give you. The advantage of online learning is that you can dip in and out of it whenever you like. However, without some type of timetable for your studies, you can be tempted to leave it for later and start to slip behind. Set aside a time each day that you can devote to studying online. Shut the door, take the phone off the hook, get your spouse or a friend to watch the kids, make sure pets have already been fed... You need your study time and others need to respect this. Any unexpected spare minutes you get at other times can still be used for quick tasks like checking the discussion board or reading a course text.

Your study space

You need a desk or corner of your own. If you don't have a study, make sure you have a pair of noise-canceling headphones. Other things you will need are your laptop or desktop computer (of course!), a printer, and a file for keeping paperwork. You may also have course books that you need to keep to hand. You may be wondering why a printer is useful. Even though many of your course readings will be online, most people still prefer a printed copy. You might also want to make notes on it or underline important excerpts.

Your calendar

If you have end-of-course assignments, expect to be more busy than usual at this time, and to need more time to work alone for long periods. Take note of what else is happening in your life at that time. My first 2 course assignments coincided with the

beginning of Christmas. It made sense to take some leave from work so that I could focus on getting the assignments completed ahead of the deadline.

Tip 2 - Avoid Procrastination

Successful online learning means using your time effectively

Timetables are great - if you stick to them. The best timetable in the world won't be much help if you sit in front of the computer for your allotted hour... only to browse the Internet instead of studying!

Procrastination can be more subtle than this. In my first semester, we were introduced to virtual worlds as the setting for some of our tutorials. If you haven't visited a virtual world, they are rather like computer games but without rules. You can spend hours and hours exploring them, 'shopping for clothes for your avatar (the person who represents you in the virtual world), making things, or just talking with other virtual world visitors. It's great fun - but a terrible time sink.

The same goes for spending a lot of time on the discussion board. You may be expected to contribute posts on relevant topics. Your tutor might also set up a thread or area for a more informal chat. This is great for getting to know the other students, but too much time here is time you could be using to read and understand new concepts.

The trouble is, when you are doing things like reading discussions and commenting, you can convince yourself that you are 'studying'. Instead, use fun activities like reading discussions or blog entries as a reward for harder work like reading, taking notes, or working on assignments.

Tip 3 - Maximize Communication

Successful online learning means getting involved

The fun thing about studying online is that you will have many opportunities to interact with others.

On the other hand, you might not meet any of these people in real life. So at first, everyone will be a stranger. This can make starting conversations feel awkward.

Join in the online learning discussions

The important thing here is to join in and become part of the group as quickly as you are able. If you stay isolated and wait to join in, it can become harder and harder to do so. You might start to feel like there is an in-group as others become friends.

Communicate with other online learners

Even though building friendships is not a priority for many online learners, the conversations you have with others can be a valuable way to learn. In addition to discussion board conversations, you can keep in touch with other students and your instructor using emails and instant messaging. You might even have voice chats. I felt nervous the first time I did any of these activities, but in the long run, they made me feel like part of a real class rather than just someone reading course texts online.

Communicate with your instructor

Above all, keep in touch with your instructor. Some of us worry about bothering them with emails (I know I did) - but if you don't contact them, they have no way of knowing if you have a problem. If they don't know, they can't help. So make the first move, and let them know if there is anything you don't understand or if something is making it difficult for you to learn effectively.

Tip 4 - Use All Your Resources

Successful online learning means widening your view

When you learn online, your instructor will get you started with some core texts. These will probably be posted to the course area (the Virtual Learning Environment or VLE).

Of course, you will need to read these and probably use them as the basis of your assignments. Don't forget, though, that many other resources can help you in your studies.

Printed material

Just because you are studying online doesn't mean you shouldn't consult books or printed material. These can be very useful. Sometimes your instructor will only be able to post a chapter to the online course area, and you will want to read other chapters to complete your understanding.

Electronic libraries

Some many online articles and journals might also help you in your studies. Your institution might have an electronic library where you can access these.

The Internet

And then there is the Web at large. You will find a lot of information here, not all of it useful. As with all your reading, be sure to credit your online sources and avoid plagiarism by making it clear when you are quoting someone else's words. Also take the time to consider how qualified the author is to write on the topic, and whether you should question his or her opinion.

Tip 5 - Enjoy Your Online Learning Experience

Successful online learning means making the most of the experience

Online learning can be hard work. There is no shortcut to success.

But it can also be fun! Enjoy interacting with others and using the Internet to do something productive and purposeful. Be prepared to experiment with new ways of learning such as blogging, virtual world classes, e-portfolios, real-time chats, and forums. Remember that mistakes can be good teachers and that it can take time to master new technologies. Remember too that you are not alone in your experiences - good or bad.

As well as learning about your subject of study, you will be likely to learn or improve your IT skills too. And possibly even make some new friends!

Finally, best of luck with your studies. Although, if you follow these easy tips to be a successful online learner, luck won't come into it! :)

About the author: Diane H. Wong used to be a business coach. Besides, she is a writer so she prefers to spend her spare time working out marketing strategies. In this case, she has an opportunity to share her experience with others and keep up with advancing technologies.

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