Education: Tips For Success When Taking An Online Course

Black African Woman working on laptop with notebook and pen - Online course success tips
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Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have an alarming failure and drop-out rate. Some studies put the average completion rate at between 5-15%. Others say that 90% of people who enrol for a MOOC don’t finish and those who don’t finish do not enrol for another course. Enrolling is the only easy part unless you count the ease with which people drop out. Here are some tips for success when taking an online course.

Before class begins

Choose carefully

There are thousands of courses to choose from. Choose something you are interested in. Self-directed learning requires you to have an interest in what you are studying. Don’t succumb to the pressure to select an online course on the basis of what is currently being hyped and considered marketable.

Review the website

Review the website to better understand the course structure, participation guidelines and what is required of you in order for you to successfully complete the online course. Familiarize yourself with the interface through which you will be learning as well as communicating with your instructors and fellow learners.

Figure out how you best learn

One of the best things about self-directed learning is the subversion of the one-size-fits-all way of teaching and learning. People learn differently and online learning gives you an opportunity to figure out what works best for you and focus on that. Are you a morning or evening person? Are you a visual learner who needs to see and read the content or do you learn best by listening to audio? You get to choose your own study strategies based on how you best grasp concepts increasing your chances of success when taking an online course.

Set correct expectations

Once you’ve selected an online course, go through the course content and set expectations and goals based on your findings. Don’t fall into the trap of setting goals and expectations that are so steep and difficult to reach. Disappointing yourself so early in the course will lead to quitting. For example, don’t set an expectation of studying five hours a day, perhaps start with a half-hour daily, then increase as you see fit. Set a goal that will keep you focused and energized throughout the course, encouraging you even when the going gets tough.

During the course

Dedicated study space

Set up a dedicated learning space with few distractions. Determine what works best for you and set up a work area with that in mind. People are most productive in organized spaces. Set up a regular work area, keep it organized and keep the rest of your online files organized as well. With online courses, it becomes even more important to be organized when it comes to important dates, files, forms, syllabi, books and assignments.


Time management is a critical skill when it comes to self-directed learning. The flexibility of online courses can be deceptive leading to a failure to meet course requirements and complete the required work.

Make a study plan taking note of readings and assignments. Create a weekly schedule that you follow designating certain hours each week to reading, watching lectures, completing assignments, studying and participating in forums. Consider using a service like Google Calendar to block out your time for the duration of the online course. One of the best strategies is to set a regular time to study the same time each week because it creates a rhythm and promotes consistency. Treat those blocks of time as seriously as you would a face-to-face class and let people know you will be unavailable at those times.


Human beings learn best in social environments when they are learning with others. Online learning has the disadvantage of not being as social as in-person learning environments. Students run the risk of being isolated and feeling alone which compromises their chances of success. We are social beings, so one of the tips to increase your chances of success is to participate in the discussion forums with your peers and instructors. Peer interaction is critical to having a rich, engaging experience in the online course.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to instructors with questions or any other request for assistance. Be proactive in your relationship with the instructors. Build relationships with other students. Participate by asking and answering questions on discussion boards. If you’re able to form or join a study group. It helps to be part of a team that supports each other. If you’re lucky you build your skill set, successfully complete your online course and make a friend or two.

Real course

Treat the online course with the seriousness with which you would take a “real” course. Dedicate yourself to it and follow through on the work. Hold yourself accountable, keeping in mind the goals you set at the beginning of the course. If you need it, enlist the friend of a friend or family member to help keep you focused and accountable.

Open mind

Have an open mind and approach the entire online course with a willingness to learn and engage.

Celebrate your wins

Online learning can be tough. Celebrating your wins and rewarding yourself keeps you motivated. Don’t just wait to celebrate completing the online course, instead, set small goals throughout the course and reward yourself when you reach them.

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