Time Management Tips for Online Students

An online course can help to boost your GPA, catch up or get ahead with classes, take a class not offered in another format, and study remotely and flexibly. This post will discuss why taking an online course could be a challenge and how to manage your time wisely.

Why an Online Course Can Be a Challenge

Online courses require you to take control. You must review the syllabus thoroughly and keep track of deadlines. It also requires you to actively engage in the classroom and interact with classmates and instructors through emails, online discussions, and/or other means. Your real challenge as an online learner is self-discipline. You have to provide the structure you would normally find in a classroom.

The second challenge is that online classes are shorter than face-to-face classes but have the same workload as a full-semester course. It may seem impossible to take a full credit course in such a short time period. Here are some useful tips for you to be successful in an online course.

Have Reasonable Expectations

Online courses typically have similar academic rigor to their face-to-face counterparts. Some students report spending even more time for online classes than for traditional ones. However, just like face-to-face classes, each online class is unique and will require different expectations of you. Plan on spending about 3-4 hours per credit hour per week on your online course. So, if you are taking a 3-credit-hour course, plan to spend 10-12 hours a week on it. Be careful not to commit yourself to more time than you can comfortably give. As soon as possible, review the syllabus, schedule, and other documents and make notes. The sooner you do this, the sooner you will know the expectations of your instructor. Try to identify any unique requirements from your instructor. Ask questions about the syllabus in the first week, and about any assignment as soon as it is given—not near the assignment’s deadline.

Communicate with Family and Friends

If you are taking an online class during a break from school, let your family and friends know before you make any travel plans. It’s not a good idea to plan to take an online course while you’re on vacation. You need to schedule time (and enough of it) in your personal calendar to study the materials in your online course and complete assignments. Even if you aren’t traveling, communicate your schedule to family and friends, so you won’t be distracted by other activities while trying to study. Enlist your family and friends to help you succeed.

Create a Productive Study Environment

With an online course, all of your time is spent outside of the classroom. Therefore, it’s important that you have a good place to do your work. Set up a quiet place where you can be fully engaged in learning. A laptop and high-speed internet are basic technical requirements for an online course (sometimes you may need a headset and/or microphone). But sure there is power nearby and a place to write on paper if you study that way. Put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door and silence your phone to stay focused on the course. It is very easy to get distracted by many things, such as a message from your friends or new emails. Therefore, it is important to take an online course as serious as a face-to-face course.

Stay Organized

You don’t want to waste time looking for a file. Organize all of your files in a way that makes sense to you. You should also keep a copy of anything you submit in case a technology problem requires you to resubmit it—even your discussion forum posts. Don’t forget to take good notes while doing your readings or watching online lectures just as you would in any other class.

Online classes are not independent study courses; you are still required to "show up" and participate actively. Since online courses are asynchronous, they will continue developing and changing even if you are not online. You need to be online frequently enough and log in at least three to four times per week in order to keep up with the content flow, complete assignments, follow discussions and communicate with your classmates and instructor. Some courses may even require you to log in every day.

Break Projects into Small Chunks

Sometimes, the hardest part of an assignment is starting. Think of this Chinese adage: The longest journey starts with a single step. When you have a big project to do, break it up into small manageable tasks. It can be helpful to write down all the steps in a project (e.g., decide on a topic, submit it for approval, conduct online research, consult with a librarian, write a draft, submit for review, revise, submit for review, revise again, submit final draft). By starting to think about the project, you may realize that there are some things you have not planned for. Details of an assignment are not always evident until you begin the assignment. If you’ve broken your large projects down into small chunks, you’ll know exactly what’s next when you have a few minutes to spend studying.

Mark Your Calendar with All Due Activities

Use the calendar to mark important dates, such as assignments, quizzes, and exam deadlines. Whether you use a paper planner or an electronic calendar, it’s important to schedule your daily activities. Be sure to schedule time for sleep, eating, exercise, and social time, in addition to studying and participating in your online course.

Never wait until the last minute to complete your assignments. You may have a technical problem or run out of time, which will cause frustration. One of the major reasons for failing online classes is procrastination, since it is very easy to fall behind in the online environment. Make sure to set aside specific time on a regular basis to participate in your course. Schedule specific times to log in and to study.

Use “Down” Time

Think of times when you can study for just a few minutes—like when walking, riding the bus, or standing in line. Perhaps you've got music to listen to for your course in music appreciation or drills in language learning; can you do them during this “down” time? Can you review flash cards while waiting in line?

Study Ahead

You will notice that some assignments or exam deadlines may fall on a holiday or a weekend; online classes do not take a “day off” on such days. Most of the course material is open at the beginning of the class, which makes it possible to study ahead. For example, if you are planning to take trip on a certain week during the break, you might want to study one week ahead before traveling so when you return you will be caught up on all material covered.

Ask for Help Immediately

Never hesitate to ask for help from your instructor. It is fully understandable that technical and pedagogy issues could happen to anyone. Shooting an email or sending a notice through D2L is pretty effortless. Your instructor cannot read your body language like he or she can in a face-to-face class, so he or she won’t know if you’re struggling unless you reach out. Never hesitate to ask any questions or wait until the last minute, especially if your class is running during holiday break.

Remember that your instructor is not the only source of information. Most of the time you will be able to post your question in the discussion forum and your classmates will help you as well. The library and Student Help Desk are other sources of help.

Managing your time wisely is not only a good skill for taking an online course, but also for your life-long career. We wish you success in your online class!