If you’re new to online learning, first of all, WELCOME! Learning online is a fantastic way to increase your knowledge and skills in a unique, flexible environment with its own distinct strengths and opportunities.
Whether you’re trying online classes for the first time or looking for ways to strengthen your current habits and approaches, there are a few key areas to consider to set yourself up for success and take full advantage of all online learning has to offer.
In this collection of online learning tips and best practices from our team of learning designers, industry experts, and fellow learners, we share strategies to help you succeed in your learning journey, including ways to:
- Get the most out of your learning
- Keep your mind and body healthy
- Effectively manage your time and minimize distractions
- Forge connections with your virtual learning community
- Conquer logistics
"Success in learning is dependent on good study habits and study methods, not some innate ability."
Online Learning Tips
"I realized that some of the best students have very good study habits and study methods. I used to think success in learning was dependent on some innate ability, but then I realized the techniques you use are even more important," said Olav Shewe, Educas CEO and instructor for Learn Like a Pro on edX.
In our modern learning landscape there is vast amounts of content about virtually any topic to watch, read, and listen to, but knowing is different from doing. To get the most out of online learning, make sure you develop new knowledge and skills in a way that you can retain, apply repeatedly, and adapt to new contexts.
- Make your learning stick: Take advantage of the established learning science principles of practice, application, and reflection. To ensure your newly learned knowledge and skills stick with you, it’s important to repeatedly practice skills, apply knowledge in different contexts, and reflect on what you have learned, especially as you practice and apply in new settings. A well-designed learning experience will provide you with opportunities to practice, apply, and reflect, but you can reinforce your learning outside of a class by connecting it to your everyday life and work.
- Video strategies: For recorded video, pause and write a brief summary of what you have heard in notes every few minutes. For live video, especially if the video is available to watch later, avoid taking notes. Pay attention to what you are hearing and participate in the discussion to help keep your focus. Raise your virtual hand or ask a question in the chat.
- Take advantage of video break-out groups: If offered, these live, small group discussions will give you a chance to hear other perspectives or review challenging material as a group.
Research shows that watching a video twice is not as impactful as spending the same amount of applying, discussing, thinking about, and writing about what you learned. Hear more common online learning misconceptions in our Office Hours video with learning experts and instructors for Learn Like a Pro, Dr. Barbara Oakley and Olav Schewe:
Self-care is important to your successful learning experience. A healthy mind (and body) is a mind ready for learning.
- Advocate for your learning needs: Ask for flexible ways of participating in the class that work for you. This is important for learners who require specific accommodations, such as a note taker or extended test time, but is also important for all learners.
- Schedule breaks: Get up and walk around, go outside, schedule your distractions, don’t forget to move. Plenty of apps exist to keep you on task and turn off distractions, as well as remind you to get up and take breaks.
- Maintain healthy habits: Your brain, like your body, needs rest and exercise. Get sleep, stay hydrated, go outside, eat well.
One of the biggest benefits of online learning is flexibility, but too much freedom can pose new challenges. Find ways to structure and optimize your time for when and where you learn best and keep your learning on track.
Track deadlines: Add important due dates to a calendar so you don’t miss important deadlines.
- Minimize distractions: As much as you can, minimize distractions both in your physical environment and your digital environment. Close web browser windows not relevant to your learning, keep the TV off, etc.
- Set aside time for learning: This doesn’t mean you need to find four-hour blocks, three days a week. Online learning is designed to be modular and flexible. You may find 15 minutes to watch a short video lecture and write a three-sentence reflection post. But of course, other learning activities will require more time. Be planful and dedicate time to learn as you would to exercise or spending time with friends.
“The courses are set up so that you can watch the videos and then go back to do the hands-on activities. I was doing my work on nights and weekends, and it was nice that I didn’t have to necessarily sit down and focus for an extended period of time,” said Courtney, an edX learner who completed NYUx’s Introduction to Databases MicroBachelors® Program.
Community and Social Learning
Online learning comes with connections to both world-class professors and a global community of passionate classmates. Find ways to connect with these rich learning communities, from participating in forums to networking with peers.
- Keep your instructor informed: Ask your instructor for help when you need it—let them know if you are ill, unable to log on, etc.
- Virtually meet and interact with your learning peers: You are not alone! Introduce yourself, answer questions posted by the instructor in the discussion forums, and respond to your peers’ posts.
- Create a social network group: In addition to forums, create a distinct space, such as a Facebook group or a Whatsapp chat, for you and your fellow students to connect, share interests, and support each other.
- Create virtual study groups: Keep the line open and find ways to connect with your learning peers in small study groups. Video chat apps are a great way to do this.
- Give and expect respect: Especially during asynchronous communication like discussion boards and email, it can be easy to misconstrue someone’s meaning. Like you, your peers are real people. Do your part to foster a respectful, supportive community.
Last but not least: logistics. Nailing the details of your learning experience can pay back dividends.
- Make relevant information easily accessible: Collect the phone numbers, email addresses, and support links for your institution in one place so, if and when you need it, you don’t have to go hunting. For example, who are the TAs for the course and how do you contact them? If you have technical issues, which department do you contact?
- Gather your tech: If the course requires video conferencing software, download the app and test well before a live lecture begins. If assignments are uploaded to a cloud service (e.g., Google Drive, Dropbox), make sure you have the required account details or access information in advance of a deadline.
- Minimize reliance on WiFi: If possible, use an ethernet cable and download course materials to work offline. Many online courses work in mobile, too, but others do not. Have a plan for Internet access.
- Always save your work: Save your work locally on your computer and/or in the cloud where you can easily access it. For example, draft essays in a word processing application or in an email to yourself then cut and paste your work into the course LMS (learning management system) to turn in your assignment.
Looking for more strategies for online learning success? Learn about online learning while experiencing it: Take our How to Learn Online course, where you’ll dive into some of the most powerful, science-backed techniques that you can start using right away and on any learning platform.
Explore edX online courses and programs across a broad range of subjects, find more tips and inspiration in our collection of advice from edX online learners, and share your own tips on our Instagram stories and Facebook group.