Online Learning Tips

In a traditional classroom, you may have sat through lectures or presentations, took some notes and waited to understand what the instructor thinks about the subject. In an online environment, the subject matter will likely be presented to you in many different media, including text, still images and visuals, audio, video, and live or off-line conversations that use text or audio. You will need to become more actively involved with these materials, pulling them together in a way that makes sense to you.

This article explores 5 ways to prepare for online courses:

  1. Time Commitment
    Create a schedule to manage your time between studying and other activities.
  2. Set up a Workspace
    Creating a separate work area for studying will help you focus as well as alerting others that you’re busy, reducing distractions.
  3. Be an Active Learner
    Set goals for yourself, develop self-discipline, use effective study styles.
  4. Set up Technology
    Install software provided by the university and keep your technology up to date.
  5. Distance Learning Resources
    Student support services like tutoring and others are available to you online.

Time Committment

Whether the time you spend on course-related work is more or less than you might experience in a traditional, classroom-based course, it is still time you need to reserve and manage carefully.

Managing Time

Identify what time of day or night you do your best work, and when you are able to access the Internet and your course materials. Set aside a certain time each day, or a few days during each week, to work on your course, and stick to this schedule. Be aware at the start of the course whether you are required to participate in activities at any specific times, and plan for these well ahead of time.

Balancing Responsibilities and Setting Priorities

It’s important to balance your time between course activities, family and friends. To minimize distractions, be sure that people around you are aware that you will be spending time on course work.

  • Know your deadlines.
    These include course deadlines as well as important events occurring elsewhere in your life while you are enrolled in the course.
  • Create a Schedule.
    If you know that your time will be consumed by a non-course-related activity during a particular week, do your course-related activities ahead of time.


Having a dedicated space to work on your courses will allow you to be more productive. Click the checkmarks on the workspace below to learn how to set up an effective workspace.

Choose what works for you and what you're studying. 

Think about what you can do to improve your current workspace to prepare for taking classes online. Can you easily access your calendar? Do you know where you would store your notes?

Be an Active Learner

To be successful in an online environment, actively seek ways you can best understand the course material. Read, listen to, and watch the course materials more than once. Take notes as you do so. Interact with your instructor and classmates through office hours and study groups. Become involved in discussing and defining course topics. By creating your own definitions and models to represent the topic, or working with others to create shared definitions and models, you take ownership in the final product which can help you in understanding and internalizing the subject. Question everything, particularly if it doesn’t make sense or seem to fit with what you already know.  Critically evaluate the information you receive. Everyone stands to benefit from your active learning, including the instructor and your peers as well as you.

Set Goals

Goals keep you on target. If you don’t set goals for learning, then you may not know if you’ve achieved something worthwhile. Make sure you have personal goals in mind, both longer-term goals for your program of study and desired degrees or skills, as well as short-term goals for individual courses and assignments. If you have these goals in mind, you’ll have a much clearer picture of what you need to do to meet these goals, and thus have deeper motivation to improve your work.

Develop Self-Discipline

In face-to-face classes, you have an instructor and peers with whom you interact on a regular basis. You also typically meet at a certain time and place each week. This interaction and schedule help to keep you on task in your coursework. In an online learning environment, especially if you do not meet at specific times, it’s much easier to put off assignments, discussion, and responsibilities. In this context, self-discipline means motivating yourself to pay regular and consistent attention to the work that needs to be done, and doing it without delay or procrastination.

Building a Classroom Environment

Online learning does not mean you are learning alone. You will belong to a class consisting of instructors, fellow students, and perhaps others with whom you will interact. Your instructor will attempt to build a class environment through discussion questions, chats, group projects, and other activities.

You can help build this classroom environment through your participation. Seeing and speaking to others is not a necessary component in getting to know someone. Through your chats and messages, both real-time (synchronous) and delayed (asynchronous), you have the opportunity to develop personal and professional relationships. The classmates you get to know online may come from very diverse situations and can offer a wealth of knowledge and experience. If you are willing to share your thoughts, experiences, and knowledge with your classmates, they may also return the favor.

Study Habits and Skills

When it comes to learning, everyone is different. Everyone has their own preferred approaches to new material. The same studying and learning techniques that work for your friends and peers may not be the best styles and techniques for you.

To understand what style of learning best suits you, you should first try to understand your own strengths and weaknesses and how you approach new learning situations. Assessing your skills and preferences will help you select the type of learning strategies – and perhaps the online courses – that are most likely to keep you interested and motivated and help you reach your learning goals.
In addition to evaluating how you learn best, as you work with others in groups, realize that your peers also have their own preferred methods and styles for learning and completing tasks. These differences can cause conflict if you don’t recognize why others are not seeing things the same way that you do. Through open sharing about learning styles and preferences, and mutual respect for different approaches and ways of thinking, your team may be able to capitalize on differences by integrating them in unique ways. This may lead to unique insights into your course material and to producing distinctive course work projects.

Identifying Study Skills

Having identified how you and your classmates best learn, you can begin to look at specific study strategies and evaluate how well they may work for you in your online course. These techniques may address strategies for reading informational content, taking notes, memorizing information, exploring new concepts, and taking tests to name a few.

  • Set a few practical goals for the next few weeks.
  • Reflect on ways that you can improve your study skills.
  • Identify the strengths that you bring to online learning.

Academic Integrity

Plagiarism is just as important a concept in an online course as it is in a traditional classroom. Even if your instructor does not address plagiarism in the course syllabus or other material, learn your institution’s definition of misconduct and learn ways to prevent it. Ask your instructor for more resources if you need further help understanding and avoiding plagiarism.

The U of A Student Handbook defines cheating and plagiarism:

“As a core part of its mission, the University of Arkansas provides students with the opportunity to further their educational goals through programs of study and research in an environment that promotes freedom of inquiry and academic responsibility. Accomplishing this mission is only possible when intellectual honesty and individual integrity prevail.”

“Each University of Arkansas student is required to be familiar with and abide by the University’s ‘Academic Integrity Policy’ which may be found at Students with questions about how these policies apply to a particular course or assignment should immediately contact their instructor.”


As an online student, your computer becomes your primary interface to your courses, your instructor, and your fellow students. In order to effectively use this interface, it will need to meet certain minimal requirements.


Most online courses will allow you to use the operating system of your choice. Windows-based PC’s and Macintosh systems are the most popular operating systems on personal computers, and often one or both of these are the only systems supported or endorsed by education providers.


Similarly, certain software may be required to access course information, retrieve course components, work collaboratively, or interact with instructors and other students. You can download Office365 for free through University IT Services. A current Web browser will almost always be a requirement for accessing course materials.

Check if you have all the software provided by the University


As an online learner, you’ll be doing a lot of work using the Internet, including reading course materials, research, and interacting with fellow students and instructors. The speed at which you connect to the Internet can affect how productive you are, how well you are able to fulfill your assignments, and how satisfied you will be with your online course experience. This connection speed is measured and commonly referred to as bandwidth (though the label is technically inaccurate). The theory is simple: the higher your bandwidth, the quicker you will receive and send data over the Internet. Whether you are using a dial-up modem, cable modem, DSL connection, or fiber optic network, it’s helpful to know how fast your connection is and whether your course will require a minimum connection speed. 

Prepare your technology by making appropriate updates and installing latest software offered by the university. Add the technology you will be using to your workspace. 

Distance Learning Resources

Your instructor might be your best resource! Check your syllabus to learn when their office hours are.


Bibliography and Attributions


Connick, G.P. (ed.) The Distance Learner’s Guide.  Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. 1999. 

Distance Education Clearinghouse. (2002). Overviews. Retrieved from 

Regent University. (2002). New Student Orientation Manual. Retrieved from 

Illinois Online Network. (2001). What makes a successful online student? Retrieved from 

Introduction to Online Learning. Retrieved from 

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Distance Education Division. (2000). Distance Education Student Handbook. Retrieved from 

Michigan Virtual University. Online Study Skills. Retrieved from 

Penn State University. The Penn State Distance Education Student Guide. Retrieved from 

Prentice Hall. Student Distance Learning Handbook. Retrieved from 

University of Florida. Student Guide for UF/IFAS Distance Education. Retrieved from 

University of Manitoba. (2001). Distance Education Student Handbook. Retrieved from http:// 

University of St. Thomas. (2003). Study Guides & Strategies. Retrieved from 

University of Southern Queensland. (2003). Distance Education Student Guide. Retrieved from 


This article is adapted from Distance Learning Basics: Skills for Being a Successful Online Student. 

Adapted for use by University of Arkansas Global Campus, May 2012 and August 2020. 

The original PDF document is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA. http:/ /

Adaptations were made by Liz Stover (2012) and Charini Urteaga (2020) at the University of Arkansas Global Campus.