6 Online School Tips: How to be Successful in Online Classes

A lot of students in the United States and around the world are starting the school year with remote learning. Away from the usual resources and structure of the classroom, they’ll need to adapt their study and learning skills to the new reality.

At Addition Financial, we’ve been talking to members – and among ourselves – about online school tips to help students of all ages succeed with digital learning. We’ve compiled some of the most useful advice we found to help students learn how to be successful in online classes.

#1: Equip Yourself for Success

The first thing we recommend is thinking about what supplies and tools you need for the new school year and getting them. You’ll need a way to access your classes online and communicate with your instructors and other students. For most students, that means a computer or a tablet.

Dr. Deb Geller of UCLA points out that some students may not have access to the technology they need. If that’s the case, she suggests that parents or students reach out to the school and ask if they have grants available or loaner equipment the student can use.

Other things students may need to be successful in online classes include:

  • Headphones or a headset. A working headset is the bare minimum, especially if you’ve got more than one student in distance learning or if parents are working from home.
  • A memory stick to save assignments and back them up.
  • A mouse, which may make it easier for young students to select items on a screen than a touch pad
  • A dry erase board and markers may be helpful for students who need to show their work to a teacher
  • A planner or a planning app for scheduling assignments and appointments
  • Notebooks, pens, pencils and other basic school supplies
  • A printer
  • A drawer or cubby to store school supplies when classes aren’t in session

Younger students may also need art supplies, while some older students may choose to use a note-taking app instead of a paper notebook. You should tailor your shopping list to the specific needs of each student. And, of course, check with the school and your teachers to ensure you have everything you need.

#2: Create a Positive and Productive Work Environment

School supplies are only part of what you’ll need as you figure out how to be successful in online classes. Your work environment is just as important as the supplies you have on hand.

Evan L. Kropp, Ph.D. of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communication told us:

“Make sure you have a conversation with other household members to let them know how they can help you succeed. These individuals should see themselves as your support team. When you're in your study space, should they limit interruptions? Should they try to keep noise-levels downs in other areas near you? Are they willing to bring you a snack or coffee when you're hunkered down with your school work?”

In a home with more than one student – or with parents working from home – the conversations around work space and quiet may need to be extensive. You may need to set up multiple study and work areas and agree to keep noise and distractions to a minimum during the work day.

Keep in mind, too, that you may not get your arrangements 100% right on your first try. Creating a productive study environment requires some trial and error. Pay attention to what works and what doesn’t, then make adjustments as needed.

#3: Treat Online Classes Like Regular Classes

One of the most difficult things about online classes is that they still feel unusual for most students. The result may be that students don’t treat online classes the same way they would in-person classes.

Several of the experts we asked talked about the importance of creating structure around online schooling. Allen Koh of Cardinal Learning told us that students studying online may be tempted to procrastinate because they don’t need to stick to a rigid schedule the way they would at school. He adds:

“Make a study plan. Pick a time throughout the day and sit in a quiet place to study and eliminate distractions.”

Young students are more likely to have structure built into their days than college students. For example, some college students may have the option of watching or listening to pre-recorded lectures when they choose. On this topic, Dr. Geller also told us:

“Create a schedule for your classes and stick to it, even if you have the ability to timeshift.”

In other words, don’t let timeshifting your classes turn into a free-for-all. Attending your classes on a regular schedule will help you to stay on track with assignments and deadlines.

#4: Avoid Procrastination

Procrastination can be a big issue for students of all ages. Several of the experts we talked to shared advice about how to avoid procrastination.

First, Jennifer Fonseca, M.Ed. of Palm Beach Atlantic University, mentioned that using a calendar app to schedule assignments and classes can help. She says:

“I recommend scheduling class and homework time as calendar appointments. This helps with accountability. I tell students to think of these calendar appointments the same way they would think about scheduling a doctor’s appointment or a date with a friend – you show up, so show up to the schedule that you set that accounts for all of your priorities.

Megan Mwaura of AllDigitalSchool.com expands on that idea. She told us:

“With everything... sent online and accessible online, many underestimate tasks done and do [them] right before the deadline, resulting in poor quality and unpolished work. Setting a deadline and a timeline for a task allowing time for work and fun is a good start. Bumping up your deadline two days before the deadline set by your professor will encourage you to work on tasks earlier and better.”

We love the idea of setting a deadline that’s a couple of days ahead of the due date for an assignment. That way, if you run into a roadblock or have a question for your instructor, you’ll have the time you need to get help.

#5: Remember the Importance of Human Connection

Learning in front of a computer or tablet isn’t the same as learning in a classroom. There’s nothing you can do about that. However, several of our experts talked to us about the importance of being intentional about creating and building connections with both instructors and fellow students.

Evan also suggested one way to make online classes feel personal:

“Turn on your video camera. Even if your instructor doesn't require it, knowing your camera is on will encourage you to pay attention and it will encourage others to also turn on their cameras. This will help the learning environment feel more personal.”

Being able to see your instructors and fellow students may help you to feel connected to them. You can also build connections by forming study groups with other students. Stacy L. Peazant of the University of Florida told us:

“Students are most open to meeting and connecting with others early in the semester. Nurture ties and invite classmates to form small virtual study groups.”

You should also reach out to your teachers. Dr. Kevin Corsini, the President of San Diego Christian College, offers this advice:

“Be intentional to learn the names of your classmates, reach out to your professor and initiate dialogue, work to create connections with those in your course. This is the most significant factor that determines whether your online class will be rich and vibrant or stagnant and dry.”

Teachers want to hear from their students – and they want to help. If you run into trouble, need guidance or even need an extension on a project, just ask.

#6: Take Care of Your Emotional Health

Our final piece of advice about how to be successful in online classes is to be gentle with yourself. This is a challenging time for everybody and some students may feel lonely and isolated as they study from home. There’s no shame in admitting you need help and support.

Evan also offered us these words of wisdom:

“These are uncertain times that have resulted in increased levels of stress, depression and anxiety. This goes for students and instructors. If you are struggling, don't hesitate to reach out to your instructor and ask for help. There are many resources available to you. Your instructor can usually offer extensions on assignments and waive late penalties or they can provide you with information on university resources that might be available including financial support, counseling and more.

“Don't limit yourself to email communications. Pick up the phone and make a voice or video call. This will help you feel better connected, build relationships and often save time.”

There is help available, including both academic help and emotional support. Taking a few minutes to explore the resources your school offers will ensure that you know what’s available to you if you find that you need help coping with the challenges of online school.

Adapting to virtual learning may be difficult, but the six online school tips we’ve provided here will help you adapt to this new way of attending school and have a successful school year.

Do you need help with financial resources to pay for your education? Click here to learn how Addition Financial can help!

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