Choosing Distance Learning
Tips for Success in Online Learning Courses

Be Prepared | Establish Good Study Habits |
Be a Good Communicator

After some years' experience hitting the books, you probably understand what it takes to be a good student. But when it comes to a Distance Learning course, will the same study approaches work? Or are there some things you'll need to do differently?

Students who do well in most Distance Learning environments often share some important characteristics: they're self-
motivated, they avoid procrastination, and they consistently participate in course activities. Here are some more important strategies to help you succeed.


  • Be sure to attend any on-campus orientation sessions for your course, and find out if you're required to go to campus for any particular classes or tests.
  • Make sure you understand the requirements and expectations of your Distance Learning course. Make note of any deadlines, exam dates, and other events on the class calendar.
  • Make sure that you receive or have access to all the written materials that your professor distributes.
  • Get comfortable with the Internet. You may be using the web, newsgroups, and e-mail to study, do research, and complete course assignments.
  • Make sure the computer you'll use is equipped with the right tools. For online courses you'll probably need plenty of space on your hard drive, a word processing program for writing, access to the Internet, and maybe even access to a fax machine.
  • For online courses, familiarize yourself with the website for your course. At the beginning of a classroom-based course, your teacher would hand out essential information: a syllabus, a description of assignments, a reading list, and an explanation of how grades are assigned. For an online course you should be able to find all this information by clicking around on the main page of your course. Look for the class schedule. Locate the help section. Learn how to get in touch with your professor. Try sending mail through the system. Join a chatroom. Post a discussion-board message.
  • Try to resolve any technical problems that you encounter before your course gets underway. Find out who at your campus you can call or e-mail for help.


  • Decide where you will study. You may need to go to a local library or to another place that is free from distractions. If you have a job, perhaps you can study before or after work, or during your lunch hour.
  • Decide when you will study. If you're returning to school, you may not yet be in the swing of fitting studying into your life! So figure out when you will be able to do your best work, and try to avoid disruptions during your study time.
  • Be self-disciplined. You're responsible for keeping up with your work — so don't let it pile up. For online courses, make a point to log on to your course on a regular basis — whether that's once a day, twice a day, or five or six times a week. By checking your e-mail and the course website often, you'll be clued in to class updates, new assignments, and new discussions or messages that need your response.
  • Write out a schedule for your assignments and class activities. It may help you to set target dates for completing projects. This can make deadlines feel less daunting and more manageable.
  • Concentrate on what you're reading. In online courses, you'll receive much of the material in writing, so you'll need excellent reading-comprehension skills. When reading, take breaks to mentally go over the materials. You might want to take notes on each study unit so that you can review your notes before a test, and not have to re-read a lot of text. Also, after a while, reading onscreen can be hard on your eyes. You may find it easier to download and print hard copies of reading assignments or messages from your teachers and classmates.
  • Find a study partner. If you think you'd benefit from teaming up with another student, ask your professor to help coordinate finding study partners for the course. Working
    with a study partner can help you both keep up with work, generate ideas, solve technical problems, and feel more connected with your fellow students. Although the methods for "meeting" with your study partner may be different for an online course, the idea is just as valuable as for a traditional classroom-based course.


  • It may go without saying, but e-mail or call your professor with course-related questions or problems. Remember that your online-course professors won't "see" their students as regularly, if at all, so they usually won't be able to tell as quickly when students are having trouble in the course. You're probably not alone if you're having difficulty; other students may be facing the same challenges. So try posting questions to the course discussion board or chatroom.
    A peer may be able to help you too.
  • Compose your thoughts carefully. You'll be communicating mostly through writing, so make sure that you re-read anything that you're going to e-mail or post. In chatrooms or discussion boards, practice the same good manners that you would in a regular classroom. Be sure that you understand any question before you respond. Try not to monopolize the course discussion board. Remember that e-mail is not the same as a face-to-face conversation — it may be harder for readers to pick up on your tone — so steer clear of sarcasm. Instead, write clearly and politely.
  • Take part in any online course conferences that are offered. This is a great way to get acquainted with your classmates, and will help build a feeling of community between you and your online classmates.
  • Be a good collaborator. If you're working with others on an online project, make sure you fulfill your obligations to the group — even if it is from a distance. How well your group does will depend on its members, so it's important that you do your share of the work, and turn it in on time.
  • Be sure to join discussions and other course activities. Your participation in the course may count towards your grade. When you're responding to a question or writing a comment on a discussion board, challenge yourself to add something more meaningful than simply agreeing or disagreeing with a classmate's post.