Tips for Success in an On-line Learning Environment

Online classes offer learning on your schedule. But flexibility does not mean easy. In fact, Online Success requires a robust set of study strategies and skills, and a good dose of self-regulation. Check out these tips to maximize your online learning experience.

Studying for online classes is a lot like studying for in-person classes. It starts with a good plan, and is backed by research-proven strategies that will maximize the impact of your study time. Get started by checking out these strategies from The Learning Scientists.

Organization is the most important skill you need to master for success in your online courses. To avoid a semester of confusion, use a planner or electronic calendar. Consider setting up reminders or notifications for important deadlines (and, when you should start working on those big projects, not just when they are due).

Make sure you also understand the following:

  • How to access lectures (live-stream, lecture capture, etc.)
  • Whether your class is synchronous (everyone has to log in at a specified time) or asynchronous (you can complete all components of the course on your own time)
  • When your major assignments are due, and where to submit them
  • Where to go if you need help, especially how to contact your professor
  • There are several downsides to multitasking:
    • Assignments take longer. Each time you come back to that assignment (from Instagram or Twitter), you have to re-familiarize yourself with it, find your spot, remember what you were going to do next, etc.
    • You’re more likely to make mistakes. Distractions and rapidly switching between tasks tire out your brain.
    • You’ll remember less. When your brain is divided, you’re less able to commit what you’re learning to long term memory because it doesn’t get encoded properly into your brain.
  • What do to instead:
    • Focus on one task at a time.
    • Take breaks between tasks.
    • Remember the Learning Scientists and the power of Interleaving to help you focus. Study one topic for 25-50 minutes and then reward yourself with a short 5-10 minute break. Then, switch to another topic.

Video lectures have a different feel to them than listening to someone in person, and it is tempting to not give them your full attention. Consider these tips to increase your retention of video lecture material:

  • Find out how to ask questions. Is there a chat feature? A discussion forum?
  • Close distracting tabs and apps.
  • Continue to take notes as you would if you were there in person. This will help keep your brain actively focused on the material.
  • Watch recorded lectures at normal speed, not 1.5x or 2x. Research shows that faster playback speeds lower your retention and can result in lower scores on assessments.

In online classes, it is tempting to procrastinate. Combat procrastination and boost motivation by setting, and keeping, a schedule for yourself.

  • If you don’t already use a calendar or planner – START NOW. You will not be successful in online classes without one.
  • Make a daily schedule for yourself. Here is a blank one you can download and fill out. Setting a daily schedule will keep you focused, productive, and motivated.
  • Remember, according to the Learning Scientists, Spacing out your studying is foundational to learning.

Do you love studying in groups? Try a virtual study session with Zoom, Google Hangouts, or Microsoft Teams. You can share your screen (and see your friends’ faces!) All WU students have a FREE basic Zoom account.

Remember these keys to success for online group work:

  • Do not procrastinate.
    • That group project may be out-of-sight, out-of-mind if you don’t see your group in person. Resist the urge to put that project off. Use Study Buddies within the Navigate App to build a success group.
  • Meet regularly.
    • Consider a quick text on your group chat every couple of days. Have a real conversation over video conference any week that you’re working together.
  • Set a purpose for meetings and use a shared notes document.
    • Setting a purpose will maximize everyone’s time (online students are busy!) and keep you on task. Taking notes on a shared doc will allow everyone to contribute and follow along. You can do this easily in Google Docs.
  • Keep your video on.
    • Whenever possible, keep your video turned on so you can see the expressions of your teammates (and they can see yours!) It will help you feel more connected to one another.
  • Check on each other and ask for back up.
    • If someone has been absent from your group meetings or chat, ask them if they’re still able to participate in the project. If you aren’t getting a response in a day or two, let your instructor know.
Visit our Success Skillshops page to watch videos that will help strengthen your learning & study skills.

Like a team prepares for gameday, you need to have a game plan. Here are some tools to help you create your own finals plan.

Finals Prep Checklist

Mapping Out Your Finals

GPA Calculator

GPA Pit Stop

Remember the strategy of Spaced Practice from the Learning Scientists? It is better to space out your studying over several days rather than cramming at the last minute. Refresh yourself on how to do Spaced Practice, and all the other Learning Scientist strategies, here:

Spaced Practice

Retrieval Practice


Dual Coding


Concrete Examples

There are also many Success Skillshops on the topic of academic success. Be sure to check out Checking Your Recall and Understanding and skillshops on mindfulness.

And don’t forget, you can create virtual study groups through StudyBuddies in your Navigate App! Learn more about StudyBuddies.

We also have tips for working with Online Study Groups.

Yes! TutorMe is a 24/7, virtual tutoring solution that is FREE for Washburn students. This fantastic resource lets you get tutoring on your own time, even if that is 2am. Want to get started? Simply email and we will pair you up with your own personal tutor.

In addition, your faculty members continue to hold office hours, so be sure to check your syllabus, or send them an email, to find out when those are. Remember, office hours are specifically dedicated to helping students be successful, so do not be afraid to use them if you have any questions.

There are many spaces on campus to study, but successful students come to Mabee Library! We have quiet places to study on the third floor, or, if you want to study with friends, try the main level or the basement. Whichever space you choose, we have computers, movable furniture, tons of whiteboards, and markers available for you to use. Be sure to check out our library hours.

You are not alone in this struggle! The best way to combat procrastination is to force yourself to plan out your days and weeks ahead of time. If you have a set of small goals or “to dos” for each day, you can fight back procrastination by checking off one or two tasks at a time. Try these tools to help you get started.

Prioritization Mapping

Week at a Glance

For the most part, you will prepare for an online final just like you have an in-person one. There are a few differences, though, that you’ll want to be aware of. Check out this document for tips on how to rock your online finals:

Rocking Your Online Finals

First, deep breath. You got this! Second, remember that you are not alone. There are many resources on Washburn’s campus to help you, especially Counseling Services. Cardio is also an amazing stress reliever, so be sure to stay active while you are studying. And, don’t just eat Doritos and Snickers—your brain needs good fuel in order to perform at a high level. Finally, get some sleep. Lack of sleep will only compound your anxiety (and harm your ability to retain course material).

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