5 top tips for online study success

Online study is fantastic for convenience. You never have to turn up to a class in person. Literally, you can study wherever and whenever it suits (e.g. on the bus or in bed). But achieving success has its challenges and that's where these top 5 tips come in.

Success in online study depends on creating structure around your study efforts. You need to be mentally engaged and putting in enough hours. Getting good learning results – each and every study session – is also important. For most students, not all of these things happen automatically.

By following these tips and strategies, you should be well on your way to success. The guidance is based on a university essay competition to find the best online study tips. Hundreds of entries were received and we selected the most popular and insightful pieces of advice.

1. Establish a Study Schedule

To study consistently well, establishing a solid routine is essential. Ideally, you should establish a study schedule early in the course, perhaps using a weekly planner. You want to make online study a habit.

Distance courses usually don't have regular classes that give you a natural structure and timetable. So you have to establish a routine of you own. It needs to fits into your lifestyle, be sustainable over the long run, and provide enough study time each week.

As a guide, you should log on to your course a minimum of 5 days per week. An individual course unit with an Australian university typically requires a minimum of 6 hours of quality study time a week. Although it may be tempting, it’s not smart or effective to leave coursework until deadlines arrive. It's tremendously important to do some work each day, just as you would in a traditional course with regular classes.

2. Find Your Inspiration

Students often assume online programs require less work and are easier than on-campus courses. In reality, online classes are designed to be equally as rigorous and demanding as traditional courses. You need to genuinely apply yourself to get through.

  • Australian universities typically require distance education students to cover the same material and sit the same exams as everyone else.

To stay motivated – even on the bad days – keep reminding yourself of why you're doing it. For example, an education student told us that she often imagined the faces of the children whose lives she would one day affect for the better. That kept her going.

Even on a session-by-session basis, you can use motivation tricks to get results. You could, let's say, set a fixed period of time to study hard (say, an hour) and complete a given amount of work. Then picture yourself in an hour's time having completed the task and enjoying a well-earned break.

3. Use the Material Provided

Online instructors often give you more material than you need to complete graded assignments. You should cover all of it or, at least, as much as you can within your allotted study time.

Don’t run through a course with frequent skipping of videos, animations, and ungraded self-assessment activities. These are meant to help you achieve course learning objectives. Even if something doesn’t have a grade attached, it offers supplemental learning and helps you prepare for exams.

To you give yourself every possible advantage, spend time to explore what online resources are available. Figure out how everything works in the university's online environment. Follow links to recommended sites and see if they are useful. Check out guides and tools.

4. Learn Actively

Learning happens when the neurons in your brain are firing off in a significant way about the subject. That's not the case when you're sitting down and watching a course video and daydreaming about something else. To learn effectively, you must engage your mind.

Some tricks to get your mind into gear are to

  • rewrite material – e.g. write notes in your own words during a presentation or for exam preparation, or convert text into diagrams
  • apply concepts, such as by answering questions, solving problems and taking old exams
  • recall information – say what you know about a topic without using notes (in writing, internally or out loud).

Active learning requires attentiveness. Many students stress the value of finding a quiet time and place to study, free of distractions. Also, try to study when you're most alert (such as in the morning, or early evening).

5. Be a Good Online Communicator

When doing an online course, you don't get the chance to have casual conversations with other students before class or catch the instructor after class. So it's important to embrace online communication, which includes email and posting in student forums.

Good communication helps clear up problems. It also helps keep you engaged and motivated. If you're polite and follow netiquette guidelines for students, there's also a good chance of making some online buddies.