Congratulations. You’ve taken the leap into online education. Don’t worry; even though online classes have been available for years it still remains challenging for people. And to some, it’s still “alternative” type of schooling.

This is the 21st Century, where more people are walking around with Internet-connected devices in their pockets than ever before. Of this population, if you include work hours, and just having the devices near us while not always checking, it’s not unreasonable to think we’re ON the Internet more than we’re OFF of it.

The term “alternative” should be removed from online education’s reputation now.

The Internet is digital real estate and online education is still underutilized land by the acres.

Despite accessing our mobile devices and computers daily, an online course can still be a challenge for some.

Education online is a different beast. Let’s outline the structure.

With an online course, you have subject matter just like a “normal” course. There’s usually a syllabus to follow, given by an instructor or professor. The difference is the professor may be non-local, somewhere else just like your classmates. Imagine being in a class with peers who live thousands of miles away from you. They have their own lives, goals and purposes for being in your class, just like an in-person classroom.


Assignments are given to you usually ahead of time; always check your syllabus. Unless you’re already familiar with the content, don’t jump too far ahead. The course is paced for a reason, so you can move along gaining the appropriate learning layers. As with an in-person class, your course is designed to provide you with concept learning. Each week is strategically formed. You should be more proficient in week 5 than week 2, if you do what you’re supposed to.

You have deadlines.

The due dates should be apparent as with any course. Since you have the syllabus already and you’re with the convenience of doing your work at home, there’s even less excuse to turn in work late. Work isn’t an excuse. Family responsibilities aren’t. Personal issues aren’t. Some schools have submission systems that automatically track your submission dates and time. If it’s sent at 12:01pm and it’s due at 12:00pm, the system will catch it and your professor has proof. So do you.

You still have to participate.

Just because you’re away from a physical classroom doesn’t mean you can avoid contributing to the course. The more reserved student dreads that class environment when the professor asks a question and it’s time to respond.

“So who would like to answer this question?” the professor stands in front of the group. He scans the class and purposely checks for those who hardly participate. Other students, the more rambunctious among them, raise their hands and start calling out. The professor ignores them and then…chooses you!

Online students still have to participate. There’s usually a discussion forum with these systems. In them your professor or classmates will ask questions and share feedback. Sometimes you have a minimum of participation points to reach before you earn credit for that week. Threads may be created in these forums specifically targeted to urge you to ask questions and share insights.

And why wouldn’t you? If you’re paying for this, don’t you want to maximize your experience by digging into the topics as much as possible? One peer’s response could include a link or resource that might be the key to getting something done in your life. And if you’re not paying for it, you’re still paying for it in time. So take full advantage.

Trust me; this all sounds rudimentary but you wouldn’t believe how many people of various ages have a hard time with just these basics.

Meeting deadlines, participating, reading the syllabus, progressing each week. All sounds simple right?

The main factor that determines your success in an online course is your self-discipline.

Distance learning should be easier, ideally. But it can actually be a tougher environment to work with.

If you work, you have to give your focus to a job for 9 hours of your day. If you have children also, add a few more hours to give attention to them. If you’re married or partnered up, add some more hours to keep your relationship healthy. If you have hobbies or any other business or interest, add more hours.

Since we know the deadlines and the assignments and all the data points are lined up for us, we can be seduced by that enemy called procrastination. The big P will tempt us to put work off until the last minute. We’ve all done it. Why not? The computer is right there. I can do it anytime today or tomorrow. Problem is, the longer I remove myself from thinking and working on the assignment, the less familiar I am with it.

Then when it comes time to actually put in the work, I’m lost. Or disinterested. Or something gets in the way; I allowed it to.

While completing my masters online, there were assignments I decided to put off and experienced this karmic backlash. I wasn’t incapable of doing the work; I felt less interested because the time between reading and preparing for it extended far too long. Did I get it done? Certainly, but rather than finishing a 3-4,000 strategic analysis on a business within one day I could’ve done it over 7.

To help you avoid this self-discipline trap, here are some strategies that will help you become an efficient online learner:

Maximize your note taking resources. Your phone has a Notes app. Your tablet or pad also has a Notes app. If you can invest, purchase Microsoft Word or Pages along with Keynote or PowerPoint. These software will help you to create your documents while on the move. If you’re traveling, for example, instead of surfing Instagram or Facebook, you could open up your Notes app and start writing down ideas for your assignment. These systems are useful because they’re transferable; you can sync your devices or simply send your writing to your computer by E-mail.

Create Online Class Hours. You have time for family, friends, work and hanging out. So set specific time out to focus on your assignments. Go in your room and close your door. Choose a room you usually don’t do work in. Set the stopwatch app on your devices for that time. Do this enough and it will become a habit, a part of your daily schedule.

Participate in your discussion forums. You’ll find this is a hidden gem, a wealth of knowledge and insight, but you have to help it grow. Give yourself a quota to ask 2-3 questions per week. Challenge your classmates’ ideas and share your own. It’s amazing what a simple dialogue can create for everyone involved.

Online education doesn’t have to feel like a necessary evil. Treat it the right way and it can give you benefits well beyond the course curriculum.

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