Online learning has its obvious advantages: learning on your own time, spending more time outside of a classroom, and developing lifelong skills, like time management and being proactive. But sometimes, it can also be a little bit intimidating, especially to students who have yet to try it.

For those times you’re feeling a little overwhelmed or unprepared, Dr. Jennifer Bachner, an online professor at Johns Hopkins University, suggests a few simple habits to adopt that will make your online academic life easier.

Bachner says that one of the most imperative strategies is to allocate regular chunks of time to the class. Don’t fall for the temptation to procrastinate because by the time you come back to it, it might be too late. By scheduling in consistent multi-hour blocks of time for online coursework, you won’t get caught in the all-too-familiar habit of ‘finding time later in the week’ (because I know we’re all guilty of doing that). Instead, make time for it.

Another essential online learning strategy is communicating regularly with your instructor. It’s never going to hurt to ask questions, clarify or confirm. Often times, instructors appreciate and acknowledge the effort and thought that goes into asking questions and engaging with course materials. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to establish a relationship with your instructor or teaching assistant for your professional network.

It’s not only your instructors you should be communicating with; Bachner says it’s essential to engage with your classmates as well. Add your perspective and question other students’ discussion posts. Share a relevant article or study that relates to the course content. You could be helping a classmate with an essay topic or you could be introducing a new perspective that they hadn’t though of. Help each other through the course. Something that is often forgotten when you’re enrolled in an online class is that you’re not alone.

As for tackling the actual course work, it’s also a good idea to start your work early. Not a day before the deadline, not a couple of days before the deadline; begin your work well in advance. Besides technical difficulties that may arise (especially for first-timers), you want to give your instructors enough time to respond to any potential questions and to give yourself enough time to submit something that you’re proud of.

Lastly, remember that online classes can vary, and sometimes they vary greatly. Research course offerings, instructors, materials and structure to make sure you’re setting yourself up for success…and not for a class that isn’t a good fit for you. Find out how you learn best and choose a course that meets your needs.

By Bianca Chan

For more articles, see CUOL’s story archive.

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