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How To Be A Successful Online Learner

Updated on August 19, 2014

5 Top Tips to Help You Become a Successful Online Learner

Online learning is a convenient and ever more popular way to learn - but being a successful online learner can also take an extra level of commitment. 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.

A good degree or other course of study will have someone you can contact for support, whether with technical or learning issues, as well as having a clear structure that will help you stay on track. Even so it's easy to get overwhelmed or feel like you've been left behind.

Since I first wrote this article 5 years ago, social media and web research have become parts of our daily lives. Communicating with instructors and other learners online no longer seems as daunting as once it would have. These days the challenge of online study is more about managing all the distractions and demands on your time.

However, if you approach it in the right way, digital education can be a fun experience as well as a rewarding one.

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Get Organized

Timetable for online learning
Timetable for online learning

Tip 1 - Organization

Successful studying 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 cancelling 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 much of your course reading will be online, many people like having a printed copy. Even if you're happy enjoy to read everything on a tablet, sometimes you'll need to print out and sign official documents from your college or other study institution.

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 longer stretches of time. 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.

Stick to Your Plan

Tip 2 - Avoid Procrastination - Successful online learning means using your time effectively

Procrastination - enemy of online learning
Procrastination - enemy of online learning

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 waste time on Facebook or Twitter instead of studying!

It's also only too easy to convince yourself that you are doing useful research, but in reality you've ended up following a link to some unrelated blog or news site. Next thing you know you are looking at cat pictures on Reddit!

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 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.

(Image shared by somethingmarissa on flickr.)


Online communication is important
Online communication is important

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.

(Image shared by adria.richards on flickr.)

Research Widely

Tip 4 - Use All Your Resources - Successful online learning means widening your view

Resources for successful online learning
Resources for successful online learning

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 there are many other resources that 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

There are many online articles and journals that 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 to 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.

Have fun!

Online learning is fun
Online learning is fun

Tip 5 - Enjoy Your Student Experience

Successful online learning means making the most of the experience

Online learning can be hard work. There is no short cut 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 skills in using certain types of software or applications too. And possibly even make some new friends!

Books to Help You Succeed - Tips for Being an Effective Learner

Sometimes a good old-fashioned book can be worth its weight in gold. Sure, there's information to be found on the web, but one decent book can bring everything that's useful together in one place. Discover the best ways to prepare for online learning, all the way from funding and applications through to meeting study goals. These also make good tutor guides to help students get more from their experience.

Online Education For Dummies
Online Education For Dummies

Discover everything you need to know about being a successful online learner in this highly-rated book from 'For Dummies'. The book covers choosing an online program that is right for you, the technical skills you will need and how to interact online with others, how to form good studying habits, and much more. All presented in the fun and accessible style for which this series is loved.


What are your top tips for successful online learning? Would this kind of study be something you would be willing to try?

Share your thoughts about e-learning here

Submit a Comment
  • profile image


    6 years ago

    I was given the opportunity do this through a government scheme to assist people that had been out of work for some time. I am grateful for the opportunity, but I really think more time should have been devoted to expressing exactly what was in store... I am only in my first block and I am late on 2 assessments mainly because I had NO idea what was involved...

    I wish I had seen this article first...

  • profile image


    6 years ago

    Good tips! I love online is so much easier and fun!

  • profile image


    6 years ago

    I love learning and now that several universities are making courses available online for free I am in heaven!

  • BillyPilgrim LM profile image

    BillyPilgrim LM 

    6 years ago

    Great info!x

  • smithlights profile image


    8 years ago

    Great one! I'd try to stop procrastinating, but I love Squidoo too much!

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    thanks for the great lens!

  • indigoj profile imageAUTHOR

    Indigo Janson 

    8 years ago from UK

    @Addy Bell: Glad you found it useful, thanks Addy!

  • Addy Bell profile image

    Addy Bell 

    8 years ago

    This is excellent advice for online students. I'll be lensrolling it to all of my LD lenses. Thanks!

  • indigoj profile imageAUTHOR

    Indigo Janson 

    9 years ago from UK

    @hlkljgk: Too true! Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  • hlkljgk profile image


    9 years ago from Western Mass

    really great tips. so many think online learning will be a snap, but the dedication and focus needed are things to be honed.

  • profile image


    9 years ago

    Very interesting and helpful lens.

  • indigoj profile imageAUTHOR

    Indigo Janson 

    9 years ago from UK

    Thanks everyone for the feedback, I'm delighted that this is proving to be a useful resource for other online learners!

  • SusannaDuffy profile image

    Susanna Duffy 

    9 years ago from Melbourne Australia

    What absolutely excellent tips! You're spot on about the time - you have to really discipline yourself about your time. I've always used the early mornings for my study time - a habit I picked up when a young mother - before the kids got up and demanded my attention. So I still sit down with my work, ready to go, at

  • DeboraR profile image


    9 years ago

    Great lens about learning. I'll be back to learn more.

  • pkmcruk profile image


    9 years ago from Cheshire UK

    I am just so delighted to see that Giant Badge on top of your lenses! Well done you and here's to seeing you in the 100 Club during 2010! :-)

  • profile image


    9 years ago

    I did some online learning too and all of your tips are right on! Yay - you are almost at 50.

  • poptastic profile image

    Cynthia Arre 

    9 years ago from Quezon City

    Very interesting topic and lots of great tips for people who'd like to pursue further education online! It's such an engaging read too, great work as always (:

  • dancerene profile image


    9 years ago

    This is a very good lens. Neatly organized, useful information and easy to read. 5*

  • mysticmama lm profile image

    Bambi Watson 

    9 years ago

    Lots of really good & useful tips!

    Blesseb by an Angel!

  • profile image


    9 years ago

    Great lens - I love the pictures and how you organized the content! 5*

  • AlisonMeacham profile image


    9 years ago

    An excellent lens with some great tips. Squid Angel Blessings to you


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