The Adult Learner’s Guide to Online Classes

adult women in classroom
How can you put your best foot forward in online classes? Here are some tips for success
How can you put your best foot forward in online classes? Here are some tips for success.

Many students prefer the immediacy and social interaction of a brick-and-mortar classroom. But for many adult learners, online classes provide the flexible scheduling that they need to complete their degrees while working or supporting a family. Whether you are taking real-time remote classes that meet on a regular schedule or are engaging in a self-paced, asynchronous program, here are our tips for helping you stay motivated and achieve success in your online courses.


Tap into your motivation

One of the most significant challenges of college is getting and staying motivated. Self-paced online courses can pose a particular challenge: when you’re just not feeling it, it can be harder to find the energy to tune into a video lecture on your laptop than to show up to class at its regular meeting time.

One way to keep your momentum going is to define your goals and your reasons for completing your degree. A smaller goal could be completing a single assignment or project. Broader goals could include finishing what you started, gaining skills or knowledge in a particular subject, or preparing for a more fulfilling career. Writing down your objectives and keeping them next to your computer can remind you of what you’re trying to achieve—whether that’s today, this week, or by midterm.

Then, when you fulfill your goals, celebrate by rewarding yourself! This practice can help you avoid procrastination and keep you accountable as you move through each online class.


Set up a dedicated study space

Try to create a study space where you can limit distractions and concentrate. An ideal workspace would be fairly organized, feel comfortable, and have limited distractions.

At home, this could be a specific room, a desk, or a kitchen or dining table. You could also try a café, a table at your campus library, or a study room at your local public library. It might take a few tries to find the right spot for you, but once you have, make it your designated space for attending your online classes and completing your homework.


Get familiar with the tech

At minimum, you’ll want to get comfortable doing most of your reading and writing on a computer, including on websites and PDFs. You’ll also need reliable access to a desktop, laptop, tablet, or other hardware as well as to the Internet. Your school may also recommend specific browsers that work best with their courses. 

So if you’re sharing devices with loved ones, make sure you’ve agreed on a clear schedule of when you’ll be using the computer. Develop a backup plan in case your Internet goes out or your device stops working. For example, if your campus or local public library has computers and wired or wireless access you can use, write down their contact information, and keep that note handy. It’s also a good idea to write down the contact information of your Internet provider and your school’s IT department so you can call or text for help if your login isn’t working or you can’t connect.


Pay attention to professors’ policies

A lot of online classes will require you to access class readings and submit homework or exams in something called a learning management system, or LMS. Common platforms include Blackboard, Canvas, Moodle, and Google Classroom. It helps to explore your LMS thoroughly in early days and familiarize yourself with the various sections and links for your class.

Once you have the lay of the LMS land, read each instructor’s syllabus closely. Note on your calendar any due dates. Find out where your professor will post announcements, and check in regularly. And look for your professor’s expectations for participation so you won’t be caught off-guard with reading quizzes, discussion boards, and other parts of your course grade that can be easy to miss.


Repeat as necessary

The beauty of online learning is that you can always rewatch videos and relisten to lectures. In some courses, you can even revise essays or projects or retake quizzes and tests. So if you’re struggling to process your assigned readings or just want to improve your understanding of specific topics within the course, try revisiting those sections during multiple study sessions. Repeating parts of a class can help you better comprehend, retain, and ultimately apply the material you’re learning.


Stay on schedule

Managing your time as an online student is crucial, and avoiding procrastination is key. Set aside designated study and homework times each week. You may need to set boundaries with loved ones to make sure they respect those study sessions. And whenever possible, try to work ahead when it comes to bigger projects, papers, and exams so that you’re less stressed as deadlines approach. 


Communicate regularly with faculty and classmates

Try to avoid “lurking” in your online classes—that is, simply attending but not actively participating. You’ll get more out of a course if you take part in class discussions and communicate regularly with your professor, such as during online office hours or through email. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or share concerns as they arise. This will take more effort than simply raising your hand during an on-site class, but staying proactive will help you get more out of the experience.

The same goes for interacting with your peers. Remote classes can feel somewhat isolating at times, but if you’re the kind of person who prefers connecting online to talking in person, distance courses can be a great opportunity! So try reaching out to classmates through discussion boards, email, and study sessions. For example, if an instructor requires you to post response papers to a forum, take the time to add praise or thoughtful reflections of your classmates’ work to start discussion. Creating this kind of community can help you learn more from the course and feel less alone.


Get the support your need

Even beyond your instructors and classmates, who can you rely on when you want to vent, need a little encouragement, or want to celebrate your wins? Identify your support system—and lean on them!—when you need accountability, advice, and motivation. Remember: you’re human, and you don’t have to do this alone.


Need support for your online courses?

Our Success Coaches are here to help you create and implement an action plan so you can survive and thrive in your online classes. Ready to connect?