How to Succeed Online When Others are Failing (a student guide to success)

study online 3So many people have been studying online these days that chances are you have heard tales of how hard it is to complete a course or find time to fit it into one’s schedule. Most likely, these stories are from people that have failed. As an online teacher for many years, I have had the pleasure to work with several hundred students, the majority successful at completing their course, reaching their goals and fulfilling their expectations. Their success is based upon 10 simple rules.

1) Set a goal

It is important to want to learn and succeed. Make sure that you are ready to commit yourself to the course, to learning, and mostly, to finishing. Make the course a priority in your life. Remember that this is to improve you. Focus on finishing and fulfilling your goal. 

2) Do the math

Figure out how long the course should take to complete; how many hours, units, projects etc. and divide that into the time constraints set by the course or by you. Realize how many hours you need to commit per week so you can map this out from day one. If you are going on vacation, figure this into the schedule or better yet, finish before it or start after it if you can. Most students that let vacation interrupt their course never return as they lose their momentum and focus.

3) Set a schedule

With the math done, take out your agenda, calendar or make a chart. Chart out what needs to be done when and be sure to highlight any deadlines or due dates. You need to visualize this daily and stick to it like glue.

4) No excuses

This may be the hardest part for most. It is easy to procrastinate. As with anything in life, stop trying to find ways to justify not studying or not taking a class. Stick to the schedule no matter what and when something does come up to throw off your plan, make it a priority to get back on track. 

5) Catch up before you are behind

A little trick that has worked for me as an online student is to try to get a little ahead early on. This will not only put you ahead of schedule but adds to the feeling of accomplishment and motivates you to stay ahead for the whole course. Human nature makes us feel that once behind, always behind. Why not reverse it? If nothing else, you have built a buffer for when life’s little foibles happen. 

6) Use everything

When taking the course, check out the extras. Extra material, extra information, extra face time with a tutor or mentor. A well-designed course was created for your benefit by someone who took the time to offer additional resources. Use them. In the courses that I teach, we offer free orientation classes that give hints on how to use everything and make the most of what the course offers. I find that most people who take the orientation complete the course, and complete the course in half the time.

 7) Interact with others

A great course offers interaction. Interaction with peers, mentors, tutors etc. Talk to these people. Join the discussion groups, the Facebook groups, the Twitter feeds. The worst part of studying alone is feeling alone. This is why courses include a way to interact. No man, or woman, is an island.

 8) Listen to your tutor

Like any good teacher, having tutored multitudes of students over the years, I have a pretty good idea of what students need to flourish. Your tutor is there to help you progress, improve and succeed. Listen to them. You should not only wait for their feedback and advice but, instead, solicit it. Tell them about your challenges and doubts and let them help you. As I say to my students all the time, “My success is based upon your success”.                                                                                 

9) Organize

I recommend setting up a file for the class with folders in order to organize easily your materials and resources. You can keep it on your computer, or use a cloud system like One Drive or Google Drive. Take pictures of the materials shown in your online classes (print screens) download videos from class, copy the chat if you can and even use your smartphone to record. This makes for an easy reference in the future and much of what is learned in the class can be anecdotal and not in the regular materials. Go back and study it. Make it easy to access. 

10) Reward yourself

Finally, when you have finished the course, do something great for yourself. Enjoy! You have worked hard to achieve this goal and you deserve a treat to reward yourself. Maybe another course is a nice treat for you.

000Rob Howard is the owner of Online Language Center. He is a teacher, tutor, trainer, material designer and author for English as a foreign language. He is also a consultant and has been a frequent speaker internationally regarding online retention as well as using technology in and out of the classroom. Originally from Boston, Massachusetts in the U.S., he is currently residing in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

You may e-mail him at


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