How to succeed in online courses


Don’t underestimate the appeal of online study. Uptake of online courses has steadily increased through the 2010’s with 2017 seeing 1 in 6 students studying exclusively online.

It’s clearly why it’s tempting for students to choose a digital course over a physical one. Online courses are far more flexible than physical courses; you can study whenever and wherever suits you. Whether you’re bound by a work schedule or have accessibility issues, the need to be in a certain place at a certain time is no longer a barrier to education.

Despite the obvious advantages of online study, many potential students remain apprehensive. A key concern of students is that online study is more challenging than campus-based, and therefore they won’t succeed. Nothing could be further from the truth – in fact, a study by the US Department Education showed that students learning online perform better than those on campus.

Of course this depends on individual abilities, but to put your mind at ease, here are some general best practices that can help you succeed in online courses.

Open diary

Manage your time effectively

Time-management can be a struggle for online students. When there are no dedicated lectures or study times, you’re relying entirely on self-discipline.

It’s easy to let study fall on your list of priorities, so you need to plan your time wisely. Create a study routine if possible, and stick to it. Trello is an excellent tool for planning your study schedule. Keep a calendar of important dates, like assignment deadlines and online workshops. This way you won’t miss them – something that’s easily done when you don’t have dedicated study times with professors to remind you. Google Calendar is great for setting reminders.

Use the resources and help available

Are tutors offering extra sessions before exams? Is there an online library available? Or courses on language improvement and academic writing? If the help is there, take it. Don’t be afraid to accept or ask for help, especially when it’s on offer.

Student on iPad

Connect with other students

“Learning from peers in your assigned group really widens your potential learning experience,” says Andrea Pentelow, a Senior Clinical Research Nurse from the UK, a former student of ours. “You all grow together through the year, and feel like a family too. It’s a very supportive environment.”

That’s something people forget about online study – everyone’s in the same boat, just like at a physical university. So talk to your fellow students, connect with them in online discussion groups, and make the most of your online learning experience. You’ll get a really diverse group of people from different backgrounds, so you can look forward to making a lot of international friends.

This is important as participating in discussions is a key element of our courses. You’ll take part in a combination of module activities that may be group-based, so developing good communication with other students is essential. Plus, it’s always good to be able to approach your peers if you need some extra help, or even just someone to talk to.

You can also use sites like Study Buddy to find other people who learn at your pace to help you stay on track.

Create good learning habits

It’s easy to fall behind in your studies by developing bad habits but there are some things you can do to help you learn more effectively:

  • Minimise distractions – studying with the TV on or with your mobile phone close to hand only results in procrastination and poor absorption of knowledge.
  • Doing things last minute is a pitfall of many busy students. While it’s easy to keep putting off assignments, this only results in more stress later down the line when the due date approaches. Get started well ahead of deadlines to give yourself plenty of leeway in case anything occurs later on that may affect your ability to turn in assignments.
  • Studying to remember, not to understand, is another mistake many students make. Fact-remembering has its place, but studying is about learning to interpret data rather than take it at face value.
  • Long study sessions without sleep are counterproductive because the brain can only retain general aspects of the information. Try several small study sessions instead -to help you retain more details about the subject over the long term.
  • Struggling with self-discipline and accountability? Join a study group or partner with a fellow student to help you stay motivated and disciplined.

Student studying together on a bench

Figure out your learning style

Everybody learns differently. Online courses give you the freedom to work in whatever way suits you – whether that’s studying in the middle of the night instead of in the day, or studying outdoors vs inside. Without dedicated lecture times or places, you can choose exactly when, where and how you want to study. So find your learning style and use this to your advantage.

Looking for more information about learning online? Try “How online courses conducted” or “Why study online courses?”. Or, if you would like to complete a PgDip or MSc online, visit our homepage.