Online courses can seem daunting, whether you are a first-time student or a veteran test-taker.\r\n\r\nTo succeed in online courses, you need to master four basic principles: communication, organization, motivation, and time management.\u00a0 You should have a plan to communicate with classmates, organize resources, motivate yourself, and manage your time.\r\n\r\nBefore you take on the challenge of an online course, make sure that remote work is right for you.\u00a0 To learn more, check out my article on the pros and cons of telecommuting.\r\nOnline Course Success Principle #1 - Communication\r\nGood communication skills will help you to find online course success.\u00a0 They will also help you to succeed at work, in business, and in personal relationships.\u00a0 Communication with your instructor and classmates will ensure that you understand class expectations.\u00a0 The following can help you to establish communication and start the class on the right foot.\r\nEstablish Rapport with Instructor and Classmates\r\nMost online classes will have a discussion board.\u00a0 Here, the instructor and students can post comments.\u00a0 Look for a "Welcome" thread.\r\n\r\nIf you do not see one, then start one yourself!\u00a0 Share some information about yourself, such as your area of study and other classes you have enrolled in.\r\n\r\nAlso include some personal interests, such as sports and hobbies.\u00a0 You will often find that some of your classmates share the same interests, which can create an instant bond.\u00a0 In addition, your instructor will learn a little about you and your interests.\r\n\r\nIf there is no discussion board, send a brief email to the instructor, sharing the same information as above.\u00a0 You can also request a way to contact other students in the class to form study groups.\r\n\r\nI would suggest using Skype to coordinate study groups, especially if your classmates live all over the country.\u00a0 You can read my post about Skype calls here.\r\nAsk About Tutoring Resources\r\nIf you have trouble in the course and need extra help, contact the instructor and ask what is available.\u00a0 The college may offer tutoring in-person or online.\u00a0 Sometimes, a little time spent one-on-one with someone knowledgeable can clear up any confusion.\r\n\r\nYou might also find a list of tutors at colleges and universities.\u00a0 These tutors often charge by the hour, so you can simply pay them for help when you most need it.\u00a0 Some students hire a tutor to help them study for a midterm or final exam.\r\nGet a Sense of the Instructor's Style\r\nRead the syllabus carefully at the start of the class.\u00a0 If anything is unclear to you, ask the instructor to clarify.\u00a0 When you receive a grade for the first assignment, look it over to see what you missed.\u00a0 Learn how the instructor grades your work, and adjust accordingly.\r\n\r\nSometimes, an instructor will tell you exactly what he looks for in an assignment.\u00a0 If not, ask for a rubric, or the way he grades assignments.\u00a0 Also ask how you can improve and do your best work in the class.\u00a0 As an online class instructor, I can tell you personally that I love it when students want to succeed.\u00a0 It shows drive and initiative when you demonstrate the desire to improve.\r\n\r\nBelow, I have included part of a screenshot from the online course that I teach:\r\n\r\n\r\nFind Friends for a Study Group\r\nAs mentioned previously, you may find that you share common interests with other students.\u00a0 Go ahead and ask them if they would like to form a study group.\u00a0 This does not have to be formal.\r\n\r\nFor example, you can send out an email to the group with any questions.\u00a0 Anyone who knows the answer can reply to the whole group and share his knowledge.\r\n\r\nAs an alternative, everyone can pick a time to get on Skype and ask questions.\u00a0 If someone else can answer, you may gain a valuable insight.\u00a0 If nobody knows the answer, you can ask the instructor and share what you learn with the group.\r\n\r\nYou can also use Skype to quiz each other on class material.\u00a0 A study group can save you a lot of time spent chasing answers that others already know!\r\nAsk Specific Questions\r\nThis applies to questions for your instructor or classmates.\u00a0 If you ask a more specific question, your instructor or classmates can give a more helpful answer.\r\n\r\nThe following question is too vague, and makes it difficult to help you without going through every step in detail.\r\nExample (vague question)\r\nI could not get #4 on Homework 2.\u00a0 Can you tell me how to do this one?\r\nThe following question communicates your problem.\u00a0 The question also makes it easy for your instructor or classmate to help you at a specific step.\r\nExample (specific question)\r\nOn Homework 2, Question #4, I was able to factor out the greatest common factor.\u00a0 I could not factor the remaining quadratic.\u00a0 Can you give me a hint?\r\nMake sure that you ask a specific question, so that you will get a helpful answer!\r\nAsk for Feedback - and Use it!\r\nThere are a few steps to improving at something.\u00a0 First, you learn about it, either from a teacher, course, book, or other source.\u00a0 Next, you try to do it yourself.\u00a0 Then, you receive feedback about your work.\u00a0 Finally, you act on the feedback to improve your next attempt.\r\n\r\nThis process sometimes works in a cycle.\u00a0 After the first time through, you will know a lot that you didn't know before you began.\u00a0 If you read about the topic again, you will pick up on more details.\u00a0 You will also have a better understanding of what the author is talking about.\u00a0 Your next attempt will likely go more smoothly, as well.\r\n\r\nWhen you ask your instructor for feedback, you will see what the instructor considers good work.\u00a0 You will then know that to include in future work.\r\n\r\nWhen you ask your classmates for feedback, you might learn something that you completely missed.\u00a0 This is why a different perspective is important: it can help you to learn more effectively.\u00a0 It can also help you to understand topics more completely.\r\nLearn the Vocabulary\r\nWhen taking a course, you will usually see a huge amount of new vocabulary.\u00a0 Make a list and study the words until you know them all!\u00a0 This is important in mathematics and in most other disciplines as well.\r\n\r\nFirst you learn the basic definitions, and then the more advanced ones.\u00a0 Once you "speak the language", you can understand more complex ideas in the course.\u00a0 In addition, you can express yourself better, and ask questions that make sense to others.\r\nCommunicate Properly\r\nWhen writing papers, group assignments, or even emails, make sure that your grammar and spelling are perfect.\u00a0 Also, take the time to check your tone and style.\u00a0 You don't want your writing to sound arrogant or snide in any way.\r\n\r\nOne benefit of writing well is that others will have a better understanding of your ideas.\u00a0 Another benefit is that it will be easier for your instructor or classmates to help you and communicate with you.\r\n\r\nThere is one more thing to consider.\u00a0 You might have trouble reading, writing, speaking, or understanding the language used in the course.\u00a0 If so, consider taking a remedial course to learn the language before the actual course starts.\r\n\r\nThis investment of time and money might even pay for itself.\u00a0 With the language barrier removed, you will be able to learn more from your instructor and classmates in less time.\r\nOnline Course Success Principle #2 - Organization\r\nGood organization skills will also help you to in your quest for online class success.\u00a0 Good organization will also make your life less hectic.\u00a0 The following will help you to organize and make the most efficient use of your resources.\r\nReview Course Prerequisites\r\nSometimes, you must pass a basic course before you can take a more advanced course.\u00a0 We call this earlier, more basic course a prerequisite course.\u00a0 For instance, you need to pass pre-algebra to take algebra.\u00a0 Take some time before a new course begins to review any prerequisite course material.\r\n\r\nYou might only have time to spend a few days reviewing your old notes from a prerequisite course.\u00a0 However, this will give you an advantage over students who go into the class "cold".\u00a0 This is especially true for students who took the prerequisite course months ago, and have forgotten some of the material.\r\nExample\r\nIf you plan to take a calculus course, make sure to review relevant concepts in algebra.\u00a0 You need to understand topics like factoring, functions, and graphing to do well in calculus.\r\nIf you don't know what to review, or where to start, ask your instructor.\r\nFind and Setup Your Work Space\r\nFirst, you should decide on where you will do your work.\u00a0 You can choose a couple of different places to change things up.\u00a0 The following can make good work spaces, depending on your tolerance for noise or solitude:\r\n\r\n \tHome office - you can work at home, unless family will make it too distracting.\r\n \tLibrary - you can work in solitude without interruption at the library, and you can do research as well.\r\n \tCoffee shop - you will find a social atmosphere, but this might distract you!\r\n \tBookstore - similar to the coffee shop, know that you will find more distractions here than at the library.\r\n\r\nNo matter where you choose to work, you will need the right equipment.\u00a0 Make sure to bring your computer!\u00a0 Also bring any accessories, such as headphones, USB mouse or keyboard, etc.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nIn addition, bring any books you will need for reference or studying.\u00a0 Finally, bring some scrap paper and pens or pencils, to do scratch work.\r\n\r\nIf you choose to work at home, ensure a comfortable area.\u00a0 Find a comfortable chair, a desk, and good lighting.\u00a0 Communicate to family and friends that you will study during certain hours.\u00a0 Ask them not to disturb you.\r\nFix Technical Issues Early\r\nWhen I teach, I like to see students fix technology issues early.\u00a0 On the other hand, some students tell me two weeks into the course that they cannot access the homework.\u00a0 This makes me wonder what they were doing for the first two weeks.\r\n\r\nIf you have a problem, ask a classmate or your instructor for help!\u00a0 The instructor has likely seen the problem before, and can help you to solve it quickly.\u00a0 In the worst case scenario, he can point you in the right direction to contact IT support.\r\n\r\nSome of the most common technology-related problems I have seen include the following:\r\n\r\n \tPopup blockers - these may prevent animations or videos from playing in the course.\r\n \tSoftware versions - you may need to update to the latest version, for example: Java, Adobe Flash or Reader for PDFs\r\n \tBrowser - you may need to update to the latest version, for example: Firefox, Chrome, and Edge.\u00a0 Remember, some courses will simply work better on one browser than another.\r\n \tOperating system - you may need a certain minimum, for example, Windows 10.\u00a0 Keep in mind that some courses will simply work better on Windows than on a Mac, or vice versa.\r\n\r\nThis list may solve your technical issue.\u00a0 If not, ask your instructor for help early!\r\nOrganize Your Resources\r\nFirst, make sure that you know what you will need to succeed in the course.\u00a0 This includes physical resources such as your computer, textbooks, pens, pencils, calculators, and paper.\u00a0 It also includes digital resources, such as electronic copies of textbooks, documents (PDF, Word, Excel, etc.), and the course syllabus.\r\n\r\nOnce you know what you need, put all of the resources together.\u00a0 Keep your computer, textbooks, etc. together on your desk.\u00a0 Create a folder on your computer desktop to store all of your files, including course handouts and the syllabus.\u00a0 It may help to create subfolders in this folder to stay more organized.\r\nExample\r\nThe folder on your desktop could say "Fall 2018 Semester, Alpine College".\u00a0 Within this folder, you could have a folder for each course, such as "College Algebra" and "Chemistry 101".\u00a0 Within these folders, you could have subfolders for "course handouts", "essays", "assignments", etc.\r\nKeep your materials organized, and update your filing system as necessary.\u00a0 You never know when you may want to look back on your work!\r\nTrack Missed Questions\r\nMake a list of any questions you miss on a homework assignment, quiz, or test.\u00a0 Also note the type of question you missed, and what mistake you made.\u00a0 Also try to explain the correct answer, what you did wrong, and how you would solve it now.\r\n\r\nIn addition, you should check your list and see if you can find any patterns in what you missed.\r\nExample\r\n\r\n \tHomework 1, Question 2 - I misread the problem and solved for the wrong value.\u00a0 Read carefully and understand vocab words.\u00a0 Know what the question asks for.\r\n \tHomework 2, Question 5 - I did not know how to use the quadratic formula.\u00a0 Memorize formula, and practice!\r\n \tQuiz 1, Question 4 - I did not know how to factor a difference of squares.\u00a0 Memorize the formula, and know what to look for to recognize a difference of squares!\r\n\r\nDo the Toughest Work First\r\nI know it is tempting to complete the easiest work first.\u00a0 However, you might not have the motivation for a tough assignment after spending all day on easy ones.\u00a0 You tend to have more willpower earlier in the day, and it wanes as time goes on.\r\n\r\nIn fitness, some people suggest that you start with a warmup.\u00a0 Next, you do your heaviest lifting and exercises.\u00a0 Then, you work your way down to lighter weights until you finish your workout.\r\n\r\nThe same reasoning applies to course work.\u00a0 If you have trouble tackling your toughest assignment first, then do a warmup.\u00a0 Start off with a light, relatively easy task or assignment.\u00a0 Once it is complete, let that sense of accomplishment carry you into the beginning of the tough assignment.\r\n\r\nAfter you complete the tough assignment, you can breathe a sigh of relief.\u00a0 Then, you will feel good about tackling some of your easier work.\r\nOnline Course Success Principle #3 - Motivation\r\nMotivation will keep you going, even when you want to quit.\u00a0 The following will give you some ideas to stay motivated and push through to the end and pass that class!\r\nTry Before You Buy\r\nBefore you enroll in an online course, it might make sense to see what you are going into.\u00a0 Try out a free online course first.\u00a0 There are many options available.\u00a0 One is MIT OpenCourseWare, which you can check out here.\u00a0 Another option is Coursera, which has free material, but in some cases charges for access to graded assignments and feedback.\u00a0 You can check out Coursera here.\r\n\r\nChoose a course that interests you, and read through some of the material.\u00a0 Take notes on what you read.\u00a0 Then, try some of the quizzes or course exercises provided in the course.\u00a0 This will give you a sense of what some online courses are like.\r\n\r\nYou might also do this with a friend who is taking an online course.\u00a0 Together, you can talk about the material, discuss what you learned, and review what you struggled with.\r\n\r\nYou might decide that you don't like the course.\u00a0 In that case, decide if it is the material, the presentation, or the online format that is bothering you.\u00a0 It might be that online courses are not for you, but only you can decide this!\r\n\r\nIf the trial run did not scare you away, then you should be ready for your online course!\u00a0 By the time you begin, you will know what to expect.\u00a0 Also, you have already begun building up the self-discipline to do any required reading and work.\r\nRemember Why\r\nRemember why you enrolled in this class in the first place.\u00a0 For example, you might need this course as a prerequisite for a later course or for a specific degree.\u00a0 You might also want to prove to yourself or others that you can pass your first online course.\u00a0 You might take the course to earn a pay raise or promotion at work.\r\n\r\nWhatever the reason, let that motivate you when you want to quit.\u00a0 Think about how good it will feel to succeed.\u00a0 Do not trade short-term gratification (Netflix!) for long-term rewards (degrees, raises, promotions, knowledge).\r\nMake Goals, Set Milestones, & Take Action Steps\r\nYou should have goals, so that you have a clear direction and purpose.\u00a0 For example, you have a goal to earn a bachelor's degree.\u00a0 This can seem overwhelming before you begin (and even after you begin!).\u00a0 For this reason, split the goal into milestones.\r\n\r\nFor instance, you might need 32 credits for your bachelor's degree.\u00a0 Set a milestone of 6 credits per year, or 3 per semester.\u00a0 Finally, you should set action steps to achieve each milestone.\r\n\r\nAs an example, you might decide to take the action of studying 2 hours per day for your Algebra class.\u00a0 Once you form this habit, the action takes care of itself each day, and success will come much more easily.\r\nHave a Plan & Follow It\r\nPlan your week in advance, and stick to the plan!\u00a0 Lay out your work schedule and your time spent studying.\u00a0 Set aside time for your study group (as mentioned earlier).\u00a0 Also make time for family and friends.\u00a0 Communicate to everyone your plan for the week, so that they will not sabotage your study efforts.\r\nSeek Support\r\nTell other supportive people about your plans, and check in with them regularly.\u00a0 This might mean talking to your boss about the business course you are taking.\u00a0 This might also mean telling your family about something you learned today.\u00a0 When other people become invested and interested in your success, you will find your motivation enhanced.\r\nTackle Difficult Material in Layers\r\nWith a difficult topic, you won't master it the first time you read it.\u00a0 Instead, try to get a general idea on your first read.\u00a0 Then, take a little break from it.\u00a0 Go back later with your general understanding, and dig a little deeper.\u00a0 Keep on doing this, and eventually you will have a deeper understanding.\r\n\r\nYou have probably already done this, without realizing it.\u00a0 Do you have a favorite movie that you watch over and over?\u00a0 If you get something new out of it every time, then you are processing the movie in layers.\r\nFind an Accountability Partner\r\nThis could be as simple as asking someone to check in with you every few days.\u00a0 You could ask a family member, friend, coworker, or classmate.\u00a0 Your partner can help to ensure that you finish your work on time.\u00a0 Otherwise, you will feel guilty when you have to admit that you are not completing your work.\r\n\r\nAnother benefit is that you have someone who can encourage you and refuel your motivation.\r\nReward Yourself!\r\nThere is nothing wrong with rewarding yourself when you finish your work.\u00a0 However, make sure that the reward matches the accomplishment.\r\n\r\nFor instance, let's say that you complete one homework assignment out of 40 in the semester.\u00a0 That might not warrant a night out on the town!\u00a0 However, your reward could be to read a chapter from your favorite book.\u00a0 You could also watch an episode of a show you like.\r\n\r\nOn the other hand, let's say you complete a major course milestone.\u00a0 For instance, you score well on a midterm or final exam.\u00a0 In that case, you can have your night out on the town!\r\nOnline Course Success Principle #4 - Time Management\r\nGood time management practices will help you to achieve success in your online class.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nThe following ideas will help you to make a schedule that works for you.\r\nEstablish a Routine\r\nSteve Jobs wore the same turtleneck every day.\u00a0 That way, he did not have to think about what to wear.\u00a0 I eat the same breakfast every day.\u00a0 That way, I do not need to think about what to cook.\u00a0 A routine saves you time.\u00a0 It also saves you willpower, or mental energy, since you do not need to make so many decisions.\r\n\r\nResearch has shown that even making small decisions (clothing or breakfast) can sap your willpower.\u00a0 This leaves you with less willpower to work and study later in the day.\u00a0 Establish your routine, form good habits, and watch your successes grow!\r\nExample\r\nEvery day, I will study for an hour after I wake up, from 6-7am.\u00a0 After breakfast, I will study from 7:30-8:30am.\u00a0 After work, I will study from 5:30-6:30pm.\u00a0 Before bed, I will study 9:30-10:30pm.\u00a0 This gives me 4 hours per day of studying.\r\nYou can change up your weekday routine for the weekends to get more studying in if needed.\r\nEstablish a Schedule\r\nSet aside time each day for each area of your life.\u00a0 This includes family, friends, work, study, exercise, sleep, food, and fun\/relaxation.\u00a0 Make sure to give yourself time in each area every day.\u00a0 When you sit down to study, make it clear to others that you need to study now.\r\nReview Missed Problems\r\nYou should make the most efficient use of your time.\u00a0 Focus on the topics where you can improve the most.\u00a0 It might feel good, but do not waste time reviewing what you already know!\u00a0 Spend time on material that you missed.\u00a0 If you cannot solve a problem, ask classmates or your instructor for help.\r\nConclusion\r\nTo succeed in your online class, remember the four principles: communication, organization, motivation, and time management.\u00a0 You need to adapt these principles for your class.\r\n\r\nIf you are ready to begin your journey with online classes, then it is time to make sure you have the right equipment!\u00a0 To get started, check out my article on the best tools for telecommuting.\r\n\r\nI hope that this article is helpful in achieving online class success.\u00a0 If you have any questions or comments, please leave them in the comments below.