10 Successful Online Learning Strategies

Thinking of enrolling in an online degree program? It definitely has its perks — flexibility, potential savings on cost and time, convenience — to name a few. While the benefits are many, this can also be true: online degree programs can require a tremendous amount of self-discipline. It’s usually up to you when to get your work done, when to view your materials, when (and whether) to ask questions, how to engage in class discussions, and how best to facilitate your learning of the material. With online degree programs requiring you to be a self-motivator, how can you make sure that you succeed within a reasonable amount of time?

Here is the list of 10 successful online learning strategies:

1. Research well and then choose your online degree program


Avoid buyer’s remorse. A study by Online College Students (OCS) 2018 revealed that 24 percent of past students felt they should have contacted or researched more schools before they made a final decision about which school to choose. While 15 percent wished they had learned more about their financial aid options, 14 percent wished they had spoken more with their enrollment counselor.

The first step to help you succeed in an online degree program is to make sure you have done your homework well. Research as many schools as you can and ask questions related to financial aid, tuition, online faculty, peer and professor interaction, access to e-books, and more. It’s up to you to do your due diligence in finding a program that meets your specific areas of interests and can help you achieve your career goals.

2. Commit to your online program


Perhaps the most common misconception about online programs is that they can be easier than on-campus programs. Nothing could be further from the truth. Online programs are usually on par with their on-campus counterpart; they can be just as rigorous and just as demanding. Your online instructors can expect the same quality of work from you and assign the same amount of work as they would an on-campus student.

With your work schedule and other commitments, you may actually wind up having less time on hand to finish your coursework. You’ll need to carve out the time from your busy schedule to watch lectures, participate in discussions online, and complete assignments on your own. How can you manage to stay committed? Devising a study schedule, developing good relationships with your teacher and fellow students, and loads of sheer determination can help you stay on track with your commitment to earn an online degree.

3. Determine how you learn best


Some of the most helpful activities for the online classroom happen to be asynchronous items that students are able to complete on their own time. There are at least four types of learners:

  • Visual (by sight)
  • Auditory (by hearing)
  • Reading/writing
  • Kinaesthetic (by doing)

Determine how you learn best and then tailor your studies to that style. If you’re a visual learner, for example, print out transcripts of the video lectures to review. Are you good at listening and learning? Make sure to build time into your schedule to play and replay audio- and video-based course content. To improve as a hands-on learner, try taking notes as you study or watch lectures. Go through these notes and memorize key points while walking or exercising. This can help to reinforce learning.

4. Find ways to retain what you learn

Retain-what-you- learn

Once you’ve found ways that help you learn, you need to focus on ways to retain what you have learned. A study by Psychotactics shows that the average person retains 20 percent of what they hear or read. Discuss it with others, and your retention goes up to 50 percent. Use the information actively and you’re at 75 percent. It goes as high as 90 percent when you teach the concept or immediately put it into practice. You can start by translating all that you’ve learned online into your own words. This process alone helps in cementing new knowledge in your mind. Next, find some way to share. Some ideas include volunteering short-term online teaching, writing a blog post or creating a podcast.

5. Manage time effectively


Online students need to process learning in less time and resist a vast range of distractions. This can be a challenge. According to Northeastern University, to effectively manage time, students should review the syllabus at the beginning of their semester, making notes of major assignments and marking them on a calendar so that they know how to incorporate this workload amid personal commitments. Create a daily, weekly and monthly planner. Students may be able to make smart use of their time by using time management tools, such as Trello. This tool allows them to input important tasks and set due dates that are then emailed out as reminders. Lastly, create a study space that is conducive to being productive. According to Western Governors University, the amount of noise, study light, climate, comfort, a sense of organization — these can be important factors in managing your study time.

6. class=”degree_image” Become a pro at using online tools


You can have easy access to some amazing resources that can help you succeed in your online learning. Become familiar with Google Search, Google Scholar and Google Books to improve your research skills. More and more online college students are using mobile devices to access the online classroom and complete related activities. To improve your focus, try downloading SelfControl, a free app through which you can block any website for a certain period that’s distracting you from studies. Another effective tool can be StudyBlue. This app lets you study anywhere and access approximately 500 million study materials, including flashcards, notes, and study guides, as stated by E-learning Industry. StudyBlue can assist with putting you in touch with other students, ideal study materials, and engage actively with quizzes. Alternative to StudyBlue are Cram and Brainscape.

7. Interact actively in online classes


In general, frequent, substantive participation in discussions is a requirement in online classes. A majority (57 percent) of students surveyed in the 2018 OCS study felt that such interactions are important to the success of an online student. Active interaction can demonstrate to the instructor that you comprehend and are using what you learn in class. But it can also enhance the online experience for other students as they come together online to share a diverse range of opinions and ideas. This interaction helps in creating a sense of community, as it can help students in figuring out their own required course of action for online studies. Moreover, such interactions can lead to better rapport with instructors and peers, often a key to successful online learning.

8. Leverage your online network


Networking with peers, seniors and professors can be an important part of online learning. These connections may generate future job leads. A study by LinkedIn confirms that 85 percent of job placements are typically through networking, so the more you build your network as an online student with your fellow classmates and professors, the more likely you may be able to use your network to land you a job.

How can you do this? Build relationships through group emails, video conferencing, discussion boards and online groups, as well as student blogs and podcasts. The advantage an online student has is being able to connect with students and professors across the country, and sometimes, across the globe. This kind of national and international network can be of mutual advantage.

9. Find a way to stay motivated


One of the biggest problems with online learning is that it’s easy to fall through the cracks. When things get rough, it’s easy to push away from the computer and say, “Forget it.” Keeping your goals realistic and attainable requires a sensible schedule. It is also important to remember to celebrate those small wins in order to stay motivated! Take a break now and then to enjoy time outdoors, pursue a hobby, or just spend time with family and friends. If you are not able to go out, though, communicate through social media. You can post progress of your studies among your social media circles to keep them involved and updated about how you are doing. These are just some of the ways you can stay motivated when the going gets rough!

10. class=”degree_image” Stay fit for better academic performance


A 2017 study by MedCrave Online Journal of Sports Medicine highlights a positive relationship between physical exercise and academic performance of college students. According to the study, students who exercise regularly graduate at higher rates, and earn, on average, a full GPA point higher than those who do not exercise. Exercising can keep your energy levels up, allowing you to concentrate better in your studies and research, which can ultimately lead to better rewards in terms of academic performance.

In conclusion, before going into any online program, be sure that your eyes are wide open to the experience and that you’ve put support systems in place at home and at work. There’s no magic to online learning success, it’s hard work and discipline.

Methodologies and Sources


  • 5 tips for success in an online program, Baylor University, May 2015, https://onlinemasters.baylor.edu/articles/tips-success-mba-online.aspx
  • 7 tips for working in an online networking program in Northeastern University Graduate Programs, April 2018, https://www.northeastern.edu/graduate/blog/networking-for-online-learners/
  • 8 Strategies for getting the most out of an online class, Northeastern University Graduate Programs, https://www.northeastern.edu/graduate/blog/tips-for-taking-online-classes/
  • 10 Ways to Improve Study Habits, Western Governors University, https://www.wgu.edu/blog/improve-online-study-environment1712/, accessed April 2019
  • 25 Important Apps And Digital Learning Tools For University Students, April 2018, https://elearningindustry.com/25-digital-learning-tools-apps-university-students
  • 2018 Online College Students: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences, June 2018, https://49hk843qjpwu3gfmw73ngy1k-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/OCS-2018-Report-FINAL.pdf
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  • New Survey Reveals 85% of All Jobs are Filled Via Networking, February 2016, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/new-survey-reveals-85-all-jobs-filled-via-networking-lou-adler/
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  • Online MBA Programs: Top Ranking 2017 in Investopedia, March 2017, https://www.investopedia.com/articles/professionaleducation/09/online-mba-programs.asp
  • Overview of VARK learning styles in Very Well Mind, April 2018, https://www.verywellmind.com/vark-learning-styles-2795156
  • Physical Exercise and Academic Performance, ResearchGate, September 2017, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/321803862_Physical_Exercise_and_Academic_Performance
  • Research Digest, The British Psychological Society, May 2018, https://digest.bps.org.uk/2018/05/04/learning-by-teaching-others-is-extremely-effective-a-new-study-tested-a-key-reason-why/
  • Skill Requirements, under online student requirements, Minnesota State University, accessed March 2019, http://www.mnsu.edu/ext/online/skills/
  • Tips for Success in Online Courses, accessed April 2019, https://www.msjc.edu/Online/Documents/OnlineStudentSurvivalGuide.pdf
  • UTEP Connect Extended University, January 2018, https://www.utep.edu/extendeduniversity/utepconnect/blog/january-2018/the-who-what-when-and-why-behind-online-education/
  • Why College Students Should Stay Healthy, December 2018, http://scalar.usc.edu/works/passion-writing/why-college-students-should-stay-healthy
Methodologies and Sources