Successful Online Student: 20 Tips for Hitting Your Goals

Successful Online Student: 20 Tips for Hitting Your Goals

successful online student
successful online student

A successful online student must develop unique habits and best practices that support online learning.

In the past, students hoping to earn a degree would be required to attend a school in person and attend lectures, group projects, and exams face to face. Widespread technological developments have transformed traditional education and created online schools and virtual classrooms that offer students a rich learning experience remotely.

Although course content may remain consistent, the way in which students learn is changing drastically.

Distance learning is increasingly popular in the United States. In 2016 alone, more than 6.3 million students took at least one online course.

Online classes present a different set of challenges for students. Rather than avoiding distractions from other students in a lecture hall, online students must avoid distractions from other tabs on their computer or social networking sites on their phone.

Modern problems call for modern solutions, which is why we’ve thought up 20 tips on how to be a successful online student in the modern world.


successful online student start semester

1. A Successful Online Student Starts the Semester Right

The first few weeks of a semester often set the tone for the rest of the year. The first tip to becoming a successful online student is to start the semester with a game plan.

It’s important to become aware of course expectations, the upcoming workload, and the course online. If you’re taking multiple online courses, prioritize these courses and predict which courses will be more assignment-heavy.

A number of ways to prepare for an online course include the following:

  • Understand online learning practices and expectations
  • Make sure you have reliable internet access
  • Create a dedicated study space
  • Outline your goals and self-expectations


successful online student syllabus

2. A Successful Online Student Doesn’t Ignore the Syllabus

An important tip for successful online students is to never neglect the course syllabus. The course syllabus is an outline that breaks down the introduction to the course, the timeline, the upcoming assignments, and other rules and responsibilities for students.

Many course syllabuses introduce students to their professors and provide background on the professor’s pedagogy and experience in their discipline. In a traditional classroom setting, the professor will usually review the syllabus on the first day of class and walk students through the basics.

Successful online students should conduct their own thorough review before jumping into course content.


positive study environment

3. Create a Positive Study Environment

A positive ambiance and pleasant learning environment is an essential component for helping you to become a successful online student. Your learning environment impacts productivity and the ability to retain information.

There are a number of ways you can manipulate your space to optimize your study environment.

Background Noise and Music

Noise can be distracting, but the right background noise can actually promote learning. Opt for noise-canceling headphones if you struggle to concentrate with sound.

If you excel in environments with minimal sound disruption, cue up a classical music playlist or a drum and bass playlist. Instrumental playlists reduce distractions when compared to lyrical compositions.

Comfort Level

The optimal study environment should be comfortable but not too comfortable. Create a space where you can sit or stand upright at your computer.

Avoid chairs with too much cushion. A successful online student never turns their bed into a working station.

It’s important to differentiate workspace from lounge space.


successful online student workplace

Temperature and Lighting

Determine the optimal temperature and lighting for your space. A warm room can promote lethargy.

Try to keep the temperature cool, without being cold. Avoid artificial lighting and reduce the brightness on your computer screen to protect your eyes.

Clean and Tidy

According to The Journal of Consumer Research, evidence has shown that a messy workspace can be a self-defeating environment that produces substandard work and even causes people to abandon unfinished projects.

Clutter is yet another distraction that should be avoided. Tidy up your workspace before trying to study.

Keep your space organized so that you can focus on work without feeling the need to clean.


study schedule

4. Build a Study Schedule With Custom Notifications

It’s easier to maintain work/life balance when you’re studying in a classroom. The classroom environment provides a clear divide between school time and home time.

It’s important that a successful online student creates a study schedule to create boundaries and ensure these lines aren’t blurred.

According to The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People, “People who construct their goals in concrete terms are 50% more likely to feel confident they will attain their goals and 32% more likely to feel in control of their lives.”

Students can gain control by planning ahead. First, map out deadlines on a calendar.

Next, determine how much time you will need to complete each assignment or study for the scheduled tests and exams. Work backwards and schedule a work session each day.

If you want to get more granular, you can determine the time of day that works best for your schedule. Some applications and online calendars allow you to send yourself notifications so you can stay on track.


successful online student time management

5. A Successful Online Student Uses Time Management Tools

Time management is one of the most important skills for a successful online student to master. However, not everyone is a natural born Type A personality.

How can students better manage time to hit deadlines and avoid burnout? Researchers have discovered time management tools that anyone can use to improve productivity, including the Pomodoro Technique.

The Pomodoro Technique was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals, separated by short breaks.

Use the following steps to successfully manage time with the Pomodoro method and become a successful online student:

  1. Select a specific task to get done
  2. Set a timer for 25 minutes
  3. Work on the task until the timer sounds
  4. Draw a checkmark on a piece of paper
  5. Take a short 3-5-minute break and start over from Step 2
  6. Once you have five check marks, take a 15-30-minute break
  7. Start over from Step 1


learning style

6. Determine Your Distinct Learning Style

Everyone learns differently and determining your unique learning style can help make you a successful online student. In fact there are a number of widely researched learning categories people fall into, including the following:

  • Visual (spatial): You learn using images and pictures.
  • Aural (auditory-musical): You learn best by listening to podcasts or lectures.
  • Verbal (linguistic): You learn through speech.
  • Physical (kinesthetic): You learn and retain information through gestures.
  • Logical (mathematical): You learn best using logic and reason.
  • Social (interpersonal): You learn best with other people.
  • Solitary (intrapersonal): You learn best independently.

In order to discover your learning style, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What time of the day do I get the most done?
  • How can I best retain information while studying? (Visual, audio, writing, etc.)
  • How long can I concentrate on one task?
  • What motivates me to finish a task?

After you have answered the questions above, you can curate a study plan that conforms to your needs. For example, one student may schedule study sessions early in the morning and listen to audio lectures to retain information for 20-minute sessions.

This student could then reward himself or herself with time to go outside for a walk. A successful online student knows how to support their own learning style to optimize their learning experience.


successful online student technology

7. Familiarize Yourself With the Technology

Successful online students must be proficient with technology and understand how to navigate the online classroom. Different online schools use their own software to deliver assignments and interact with students.

Don’t allow a lack of technological understanding to lead to a missed assignment or frustrating online experience. It’s best to browse through the course dashboard at the beginning of the semester.

Try to locate each item in the learning portal at the beginning of the semester, including the following:

  • Overview: This should include the course syllabus and sometimes the professor’s introduction to the semester.
  • Grades: Stay updated on graded assignments and check this tab to see your cumulative average throughout the semester.
  • Discussion forums: Many online classes ask students to introduce themselves and engage in discussion in a forum. The discussion forum is also used in group projects and when students ask the professor general course questions.
  • Resources: The resources section provides students with all the lecture slides, referenced articles, videos, podcasts, and other multimedia used to support the course content.
  • Course info: Additional course information that was not included in the overview or syllabus is often found in a course info section.
  • Quizzes: There is an important section where students can view upcoming quizzes and complete quizzes and online exams.


independent learner

8. A Successful Online Student Is an Independent Learner

Learning online requires a degree of independence. Of course, online students still have the support of their fellow students and professor, however, much of the coursework must be completed independently.

Distance learning offers students flexibility for their schedule, convenience through remote access, and the freedom to dictate their own learning styles. This freedom comes with a small caveat: a successful online student must work on becoming an independent learner.

Ways to improve learning independence include:

  • Reading outside of the course material
  • Establishing self-discipline
  • Knowing when to ask for help
  • Remaining optimistic about one’s own abilities



9. Keep Files Organized

Employees spend roughly 25% to 35% of their time looking for the information they need to do their jobs. However, most people now organize their documents and assignments in an extensive online hard drive.

One of the downfalls of this virtual file-keeping system is that it’s easier to throw unnamed files into random folders and avoid intentional organization systems.

At the beginning of the semester, create a “parent” folder that contains the semester and year. Fill this parent folder with “child” folders named after each course code.

Enter the child folders and segment the course into specific assignments. One research paper may have its own network or resources and file attachments.

If you start the semester with an organizational system it will be much easier to review course material during exam season. The successful online student can sift through her files and pick out important information with ease.


successful online student active participant

10. A Successful Online Student is an Active Participant

Dr. Michael Schmoker is a former teacher and educational author who shares tips on how to engage students and promote better academic results. He conducted a study that found out of 1,500 classrooms visited, 85% of them had engaged less than 50% of the students.

This means that only 15% of the classrooms had more than half of the class at least paying attention to the lesson. It’s even harder for teachers to determine whether students are engaged in online classes, which is why students must actively participate.

Many online courses rely on course participation to grant students a fraction of their grade.

Participating in a virtual classroom can be as simple as sharing a comment in the discussion forum. Start by introducing yourself in the forum at the beginning of the semester and respond to comments left by other students.

Establishing yourself as an active student will set you up for success and ensure the professor and teaching assistants take notice of your presence in the classroom.

As the semester continues, create meaningful course-related discussions in the forum. Ask other students questions and answer questions left by other students thoughtfully.

Unlike an in-classroom setting, online participation doesn’t have to be anxiety-inducing.

A successful online students will be confident enough to have her voice heard in a virtual setting.


take breaks

11. Take Regular, Short Breaks

It turns out breaks are an essential part of learning. In 2012, researchers at two universities used an fMRI scanner to examine neural activity during the brain’s state of rest and determined that this default mode is crucial for consolidating memories, reflecting on past experiences, and retaining information.

When we exercise our muscles, we take regular rest periods and even rest days in between to promote muscle recovery. The brain works in a similar fashion and requires regular short breaks to store information and make sense of new information.

A successful online student knows when it’s time for a break. Students can use the Pomodoro Technique as mentioned in point No. 5 to break up work periods with timely breaks.


know professors

12. Get to Know Your Professors

Online students may not interact with their professors face to face, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get to know their teachers online.

According to the American Psychology Association, improving students' relationships with teachers has important, positive and long-lasting implications for both students' academic and social development.

Students taking online classes don’t have to miss out on these important relationships. Send an introductory email to the professor and establish a rapport at the beginning of the semester.

When questions come up throughout the course, you will feel more comfortable reaching out directly and seeking additional help.

Many successful online students interact with their teachers and even ask them to act as references for upcoming program applications or job opportunities.


successful online student creative

13. Get Creative About Being Self-motivated

Researchers set out to investigate the relationship between motivation and academic achievement.

In the conclusion of their study they determined, “it is not a matter of whether a student is motivated, unmotivated or more motivated than other late childhood school students — it’s a matter of understanding what motivates students.”

Whether you’re a late childhood student or an adult completing a masters program, it stands true that students are motivated by different drivers and must find their own forms of motivation.

Self-discipline is a quality many people struggle with. Working or studying independently requires a degree of self-discipline that is free from outside consequence or reward.

Stay self-motivated by creating self-imposed rewards and punishments. For example, you could clock in one solid hour of studying and reward yourself with 10 minutes to scroll on your phone.

If you fail to clock in the full hour before reaching for your device, lock your phone up for another full hour as a consequence. You may feel silly placing rules on yourself, but a successful online student benefits from tools that promote discipline and motivation.

Another way to remain motivated is to study in a public place like a library or a coffee shop. This can prevent at-home distractions and create a sense of accountability.


read detail

14. Read Everything in Detail

Online classes often require students to consume more reading material to support the coursework outside of the classroom.

In order to become a successful online student, it’s essential that you become a comprehensive reader. A traditional lecture involves a professor reviewing textbook material in class.

Successful online students must grow accustomed to reviewing textbooks independently.

Take sparknotes in a separate notebook to keep track of the core teachings in each chapter. If you struggle with large quantities of reading, ask the professor if there is an audio version of the lecture material for easier consumption.;


successful online student online communication

15. Improve Online Communication Skills

Do you have netiquette? Online etiquette or netiquette is appropriate communication, respect, and proper behavior in the virtual world.

Successful online students should examine their own virtual communication style and ensure they are being respectful and cooperative in group projects, class discussions, and course messaging forums.

Robinson, Segal and Smith from Effective Communication: Improving Communication Skills in Your Personal and Work Relationships stated that, “Effective communication is also a two-way street. It’s not only how you convey a message so that it is received and understood by someone in exactly the way you intended, it’s also how you listen to gain the full meaning of what’s being said and to make the other person feel heard and understood.”

There are a number of ways students can improve netiquette, including the following:

  • Avoid typos and grammatical errors
  • Avoid short form “text language”
  • Be clear and concise
  • Read all comments before hitting send
  • Avoid sarcasm
  • Be credible and fact-check your responses
  • Respect diverse opinions


successful online student help

16. A Successful Online Student Isn’t Afraid to Ask for Help

Online programs encourage independent learning and self-motivated students, however, they don’t discourage asking for help.

Many learning portals offer question and answer forums where students can ask their professor or other students general course questions. Professors and teaching assistants also provide contact information that allow students to email them directly about their assignments, grades, and more.

Asking for help is also a great opportunity to socialize with other students. Socializing with like-minded online students can open doors for job networking in the future.

Who knows? You could create essential connections in an online classroom. Successful online students aren’t afraid to ask for help.



17. Pay Attention to Deadlines

In class, professors have a tendency to remind students about upcoming assignments, tests, and exams. It’s easier for online students to miss deadlines if they’re not regularly checking the learning portal.

A successful online student doesn’t rely on the professor to flag upcoming assignments. The headache-free method to stay on top of deadlines is to enter them in your personal calendar and schedule automatic reminders.

The following are helpful applications for successful online students to stay on top of deadlines:

  • SimpleMind: You can create a central event in the app, such as an exam, and attach associated events, like study sessions.
  • Remember the Milk: You can make a virtual to-do list and assign custom notifications to each item.
  • Evernote: You can sync your data to the app and add assignments, notes, PDF files and more.
  • Trello: You can keep track of upcoming tasks, turn on automatic notifications, and upload attachments.
  • MyHomework: You can set due date reminders and sync across devices so you never miss a deadline.


positive study habits

18. Turn Positive Study Habits Into Routines

What do the world’s most successful people add to their routine to be more productive? It turns out everyone's routine looks a little different—whether you’re waking up at 5 am like Richard Branson or not using an alarm clock at all like Arianna Huffington.

The key to being successful is by creating your own positive habits and making them routines.

Starting a new habit can be challenging at first. Online students may decide to add new time management tools or file organizing tactics into their daily life, and quickly slip back into old ways.

The best way to make new study habits stick is to create a routine around them. A successful online student turns study sessions into rituals with a familiar sequence of events.

Try to schedule work periods at the same time every day to cement the routine. For example, if you’re a morning person, wake up at 7am every day and sit down with a coffee to read coursework for one hour.

Take a short break to eat breakfast and spend another hour on an assignment. Breaking up the day into a series of organized work sessions creates consistency.

Successful online students use the repetition of positive habits to create success over time.


right school

19. Choose the Right School for You

More schools are offering distance learning to their students, meaning students have access to the same programs of study offered by a variety of different schools.

How do you find the right school for you? When you research schools, look for the school credentials, the student satisfaction rate, the course offerings, and the school’s core values.

Yet another important factor is school size. St. Bonaventure University Online has a 10:1 student to faculty ratio, meaning students receive one-on-one attention and are able to stay motivated learning online.

Another thing to search for when selecting the perfect school for you is the school’s value. St. Bonaventure University is rated No. 2 in New York State for best value by U.S. News and World Report, meaning students are able to earn a high-quality degree for an affordable tuition.

Groups such as active military personnel are also able to receive 30% off their tuition for the university’s online Master of Arts in Strategic Leadership program. You can investigate financial assistance programs at schools and find the right school for you within your budget.


have fun learning online

20. Have Fun Learning Online

There are so many benefits to learning online. Online programs offer unparalleled flexibility.

Gone are the days when you have to compromise your work life or social life to accommodate an inconvenient course schedule. Studying online also helps you to balance more courses, reduce time spent in transportation, and even reduce overhead cost.

Online programs offer students affordable tuition plans and financial support options. With all the benefits one can enjoy learning online, why not have fun and appreciate learning a new set of skills?

Having fun while learning is one of the best motivators to be a successful online student.


st. bonaventure university online

Are you Ready to Become a Successful Online Student?

There has never been a better time to start learning online. St. Bonaventure University offers students an extraordinary education online and prepares students for success in their life at school and beyond.

Whether you’re interested in earning an MBA with an Accounting Concentration or an MA in Strategic Leadership, SBU offers a unique learning experience for an exceptional value.


Learn more about the online degree programs offered at St. Bonaventure University.


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2. Coping With Isolation: 25 Strategies for Optimizing Mental Health

3. Where Does a Mental Health Counselor Work?

4. School Counselors: Overcoming 9 Key Challenges to a Rewarding Career

5. Leader Versus Boss: What’s the Difference?