5 Tips for Avoiding Online Student Struggles

Dec 9, 2016 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

Today’s vast online learning options open many doors for students for whom the conventional “bricks and mortar” college experience may not be feasible or preferable. However, online studies also come with their own unique set of challenges. Wondering how to overcome some common obstacles encountered by online students? Start with these five tips aimed at supporting online student success.


1. Manage and Organize Your Time

Many conventional college students struggle while learning to balance their time in college. After all, most are away from home for the first time and experiencing their first taste of “freedom.”

For online students, this adjustment period can be amplified. Because while the flexibility offered by online education is definitely a plus, there are still deadlines to meet across everything from tests to assignments. And without scheduled classes, regular face-time with instructors, and other structural mechanisms built into the conventional college experience, it’s easy to fall behind.

The best way to avoid this trap? Make your own structure. At the beginning of the semester, review the syllabi for each of your courses, entering all deadlines and due dates into your calendar.

This also means scheduling firm, subject-specific study times. According to Intelligent.com, most college professors recommend studying two hours per week for each credit hour you’re taking. The more detailed you are in setting your schedule, the more likely you’ll be to follow it. Eventually, it will become a routine. This applies whether or not due dates are imminent. You’ll be grateful to have kept up with your work when the end of the semester approaches and the deadlines start piling up. Not to mention that these invaluable time management skills will stay with you throughout your life.

Keep in mind that as an online student, you may have different time constraints than your peers in the classroom. Building all of these considerations into your schedule can ensure that you’ve got enough time for all of them. 


2. Equip Yourself to Learn

Technology is very much part of the contemporary college student experience. From wifi-equipped libraries to computer labs with printing facilities, conventional college students have a wealth of on-campus resources at their fingertips.  Conversely, online students are largely on their own when it comes to technology -- a serious potential issue when you factor in that lack of access to an internet connection or dealing with a slow old computer isn’t just frustrating, but can quickly become a barrier to your goals.

Before enrolling in an online course or program, confirm that you meet all of the technical requirements. The good news? Many retail stores and manufacturers offer computer discount programs for students. While the price tag of a new computer or a fast internet connection may initially be hard to justify, think of it as an investment in your education...and your future.


3. Set the Right Standards

If you’ve enrolled in online courses because you think they’re all “easy A’s,” think again. Just as with conventional college classwork, every online class is different and most come with very high expectations for students. Not only that, but many online courses also move at an accelerated pace -- particularly those offered during the summer or in the winter session between fall and spring semesters.

Think of it this way: As an online student, you’ll graduate with the same degree as your classroom counterparts. In setting lesser expectations for yourself merely because the coursework is delivered via a different format, you’re not only potentially compromising your academic success, but you’re also doing yourself a disservice. You get into college what you put into it. Why not expect to put in -- and get out -- a lot?


4. Connect and Collaborate

Contrary to common misconception, online studies aren’t a form of independent study. Most online classes won’t only offer opportunities for you to interact with your classmates, they actually expect it.

Don’t just go through the motions when it comes to connecting with your professor and peers. Instead, truly commit to adding meaning to discussions and be open to feedback from others, as well. Doing so can only improve your experience. Plus, who knows when or where your paths will cross again? Building relationships is an important part of college -- both offline and on. Nothing says these relationships must be built face-to-face.


5. Ask for Help

“Online” does not mean “alone.” While you may never meet your instructor or classmates in person, this doesn’t mean they aren’t available to you. If you’re struggling with a particular concept or have a question about an assignment, reach out for help.

Many colleges and universities offer resources designed specifically to support online students. Use them. Even better? When choosing a college for your online studies, make sure to look into what programs and services are available to online students.

The number of students enrolled in online courses has been steadily rising for more than a decade, and with good reason: They present unique and appealing educational opportunities for the contemporary student. These five tips can help you maximize these opportunities in order to thrive in your online studies.

Want to study online? Find out more about online education here


Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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