Students think that taking courses online is easy because they can do their work at anytime they wish. However, when most students begin classes online they learn that this is not the case. As a professor who teaches online courses, has taught on-ground, and has taken classes in both the traditional and online setting, I have seen and learned a lot.

Taking classes on ground is easier because you are in front of the teacher. You are being lectured and are able to ask questions at that time. However, you are required to drive to a campus at least two days a week, sit in a classroom for various hours and then have to go home to study and do homework, not counting doing whatever activities such as tests/exams in class. Online, depending on the school, you log into a classroom at any time, collaborate with your classmates through discussion, write papers, maybe take tests or quizzes, and attend live seminars if the college or course is designed this way. All of this can be done as late or as early as you want and you can even be dressed any way you want (pajamas included).

However, taking classes online requires discipline. It is up to the student to be responsible with the amount of independance in order to be successful online. The student is responsible for their own learning. Professors are there to assist in any way that the student needs, but it is also up to the student to take the initiative to communicate with them if they have questions and facilitate the course learning.

So what can a student do to be successful in their courses online?

  1. Read your textbook and course materials.
  2. Complete assignments well before they are due. Do not leave them until the last minute. This way should questions or emergencies arise you will not be “cramming” to get the work done.
  3. Seek help from the professor if you have difficulties.
  4. Prepare your week in advance. If your course has a calendar showing what work must be done each week then plan on when you want to do each assignment. Below is just a sample.

Discussion Boards

The purpose of a Discussion Board in class is to help the professor determine if you understand your readings and collaborate with others on a subject. Most professors consider the Discussion Board the “heart” of the classroom. So in order to be successful in the your posts, make sure that you have read the information prior to answering a question. I suggest to my students that they write their response in Microsoft Word. This way they can check their grammar, spelling, mechanics, and word count since the directions have this. Also, you should try to post to the Board early so 1) it is done and posted on time should things happen, and 2) it allows others to read and reply to your post. When you are replying to a question, make sure that you include any sources such as your textbook that does not come from your own knowledge or experience. Refer to the rubric supplied in the course to determine what the expectations in the Discussion Board are. You can use this as a checklist. Also, confer with your professor in case there are other expectations.

When you reply to others, do not respond with “I agree” or “I really liked your post.” You want to add to the discussion. Perhaps share your experience or what you have researched on the subject. Just as when you answer your question, make sure to provide any reference to material you may have used. You want this to be a time where you learn from each other because what may be your weakness will be another person’s strength and vice-versa.


If your class has a seminar make sure you have read your material prior. Also, jot down any questions you had from your reading in case you need to ask the professor. The seminars are also great ways to get to know your classmates better. While in the seminar, participate to make it more meaningful.


The more engaged you are in your course the better you will do. Become what is termed a “self-directed learner” and take control of your learning. Dedicate the time and focus to take everything your course and college has to offer. Use your resources that are available. Remember that you can do anything you set your mind to. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. You just have to jump over some pebbles, and sometimes some rocks, to reach your goal(s).