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Online courses can be confusing and overwhelming, especially for nontraditional students. There isn’t any art to succeeding. However, by following these simple tips, you can be successful.


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1. Make time to sit down and research
It takes a lot of time to learn concepts when you are in school properly. Also, keep in mind that the older you are, the longer it will take to learn new ideas and “connect the dots” with the material you are studying. You will need to make yourself sit down and research, so if you are working two jobs already, it will be a challenge to find uninterrupted study time (unless one or both of your jobs involves a lot of boring downtimes you can use to study).

2. Find out the costs
Some online schools are cheap, and some are expensive. Cost is not always indicative of quality, however. Some affordable schools are worth the time and money you put into them and will pay you back many times over, while some expensive schools are simply ripping you off. Therefore, you have to make sure you find out about any costs, upfront or hidden, before you begin. You may be simply unable to afford the school yet. Check for financial aid or scholarships from the school before giving up.

3. Ensure self-discipline
Time is not the only thing you will need a lot of to succeed as an online student. When you are not forced to go to class or do not have a teacher to review your self-check tests, it is easy to slack and start skipping things, studying less, and ultimately setting yourself on the path for failure. If you do not have much self-discipline, you will need to develop some way to motivate yourself or a system of punishments and rewards…whatever works to get you to study.

4. Learn the technology before class starts
The online school requires you to have some technology: a good computer that will run the programs and plugins necessary to use the school software, sometimes a webcam or microphone, and a good email program, for starters. Most online schools will list the technology requirements on their website, so check them out. If you are not sure whether your computer meets the requirements, ask a tech-savvy friend to help. You should also know how to use the technology, of course. Do not leave this until the day before class starts.

5. Read the syllabus
Most of the dilemmas you face will be answered by this helpful document. Do not just store it away in a folder buried deep in your hard drive. Print it out, read it several times, and think about what it contains. When you have a question or problem, consult it to ensure it has not been answered before going to your online school instructor for help. Syllabi frequently contain hints for how to succeed in the course, plans to help you know which material to study at what point in the class, and more. Never underestimate the usefulness of the course syllabus!

6. Study in the same spot
Consistency is a powerful tool to help keep you motivated, organized, and on track with your learning just as you would if you attended a regular school, study in one spot, and keep all your school-related paperwork, stationery, and reference materials nearby. If you can devote a corner of a room, so much the better. Those without much space might have to be creative and use the kitchen table instead, so portable boxes and file folders stored in a cupboard may be your saving grace. In any case, you should have your study materials at hand when you go to study and the separation between living and learning space in your mind. Studying on your bed is a no-no.

7. Network
You are not in an online school to learn silently. Even if you are shy in real life, interacting with your classmates can have many positive benefits, including the ability to quiz each other and make sure you all do better while studying for exams, get hints on hidden bonus questions, learn more about a topic you are studying, and have fun. Remember, it is a serious environment. By being professional and using proper spelling and grammar, you can win your instructor and fellow students’ respect.

8. Manage your time
Most online students educate themselves alongside work, family commitments, or other reasons they cannot participate in “regular” school. This means you are going to have to be careful how you manage your time. Do not let other things prevent you from getting your schoolwork done, but do not neglect the rest of your life, either. This school-life balance is a delicate one, so it will take time to perfect. For now, expect to spend 20 to 40 hours a week engaged in school activities if you are taking a full-time course load.

9. Ask questions and help others
Active participation will help you learn the material and endear you to your instructors, most of whom are faced with a class full of silent participants. Try to ask questions in your mind about the material you learn, make connections with other material, ask if the relationships are valid, and so on. If you do not have a class chat in which to raise your questions, email your instructor. At the same time, if you see others asking questions that you know the answer to, help them out, and they will help you out in return if you ever need it…plus, it is good karma to help others.

10. Don’t give up when the going gets tough
Being an online student is not easy. Succeeding as one is even more challenging. But millions of students have gone through online school before you, so take heart: You can, too! If you remember nothing else, remember this: Persistence will always win in the end. If you put your best effort into your education, no matter what your final grades are, you will be able to say you did the best you could and pushed through to finish your education. The feeling of victory once you finish your last exam will make the journey worth it!

As you begin and eventually finish your career as an online student, keep these ten tips in mind and refer to them often. Most dilemmas you will encounter can be solved or prevented entirely if you do this. Have fun learning!


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