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Going to college is a big move, for new and returning students alike. While most of us think of higher education in terms of on-campus learning, the college landscape has steadily evolved.

How Online Students Can Stay Ahead Academically The first priority of any student should be solid academic performance and success. No matter what age you are now, when you were growing up, going to class meant making your way to a specified classroom and sitting at a desk at a designated time, for a given length of time. Online education has changed the shape of the traditional classroom so that now students log into their virtual classroom environment on their own time and in a private setting. While having this flexibility in their academic schedule is great for students with family and professional obligations, most students still have to adjust their thinking to adapt successfully to online learning. Therefore, it is imperative to keep several aspects in mind.

1}Create a Consistent Workspace In online learning, there is no physical classroom. So as a student, you don’t have a regular desk to sit at day in and day out. As much as traditional students may complain about having to drag books and binders to an academic hall each day, the campus-based format gives them the benefits of consistency and minimal disruption. As an online student, you absolutely have the opportunity to create

along the lines of “OK, this is the place I go to get work done.” Unless you thrive on the challenges brought about by noise (and some people do), your space should be quiet and free from distractions such as a noisy television or crying children.

2} Keep to a Schedule Traditional students know that they must attend individual classes at certain times and usually have time in the evening to complete any associated homework. Online students have the freedom to create their own timetable, sometimes with the caveat of having to work around life’s obligations. In any case, it is essential to keep yourself on a steady schedule. In some instances, your professor will define when you should login on the class’s online portal in order to check assignments and turn materials in. However, this is usually your responsibility. So, set aside blocks of time on specified days to do work for each course (5-7pm on Mondays for Organizational Communication, for instance). Depending on external commitments, this may require a degree of flexibility, but doing your best to maintain a routine will keep you on track in a similar fashion as would in a traditional course.

Online learning has surged in popularity for a number of reasons: cost, time constraints that prevent traditional on-campus attendance, geographical distance from campus, and other factors. Online programs are every bit as legitimate and beneficial as on-campus study, making these options no-brainers Stay Organized for some students. However, others fear that they will have difficulty performing In addition to maintaining an organized coursework schedule, online students must successfully without the presence of set course also organize and prioritize assignments and materials. Having a messy desk and no times and locations. clue as to when assignments are due (or even what they are) is a recipe for disaster. Still more question the this for yourself. Depending on your work social opportunities available to online In addition to maintaining an organized style, designate a space for completing learners. At its core, college is what YOU coursework schedule, online students must make of it, on-campus or not. Having said coursework, be it your home office, living also organize and prioritize assignments that, current and future online students room or a coffee shop. A specific study and materials. Having a messy desk can still benefit from some extra advice. space helps to develop the frame of mind



and no clue as to when assignments are due (or even what they are) is a recipe for disaster. One strategy is to print each course syllabus to keep in a tidy binder, or to use personal reminder tools to make note of what is due when. Everyone’s style is different, so these tools can vary from post-it notes to a whiteboard to a written planner. This will allow you to write down assignments and keep track of the corresponding deadlines for each. Additionally, each course should have a separate folder or a tab within a larger binder stored in your study space for easy access.

4} Read Assigned Materials You’ve already gone through the trouble of enrolling in an online degree program and have made arrangements for successful at-home study, so make the most of it by reading all of the assigned materials for each course. Instructors generally don’t assign reading for the fun of it; the content is relevant to the course. To succeed in a class, reading required texts is necessary in order to be prepared for associated quizzes, tests and papers.

5} Participate via Online Forums If there is no traditional classroom environment for online courses, what about student participation? Teachers grade your performance not only on papers and other assignments, but also by how you engage with the class. Online learning requires instructors to approach this differently, so some request that students contribute to online discussions. Sometimes a particular topic is given for each individual to comment on in an online forum, while other times it may be a free form conversation. Instructors want to see that you are able to talk intelligently about the topic at hand, so he or she will grade your participation based on how frequently you use the forum, as well as on the quality of your comments. It is important to stay on-topic in online forums, and not simply “talk to hear your own voice.” If the class forum is talking about effective leadership strategies at work and you comment on how awesome your dinner was last night, don’t expect a good grade for that day. Also be mindful of deadlines for posting to online discussions.

Networking Strategies for Online Students You aren’t enrolled in a traditional on-campus program, so the social aspects of a campusbased experience are gone. It is important to connect with others during school, however, so consider how best to do it.


Team Projects as Networking Tools

While most work in online programs is done independently and submitted online, instructors will occasionally require collaborative projects. When this happens, take the time to get to know the students you will be working with. They may not become your best friends, but they are people who share common goals and interests. When working with others, show your dedication by producing quality contributions, by sharing the workload, and by displaying a positive attitude.

2} Join an On-Campus Group You may not be on the campus for classes, but campus-based student groups and organizations afford online learners the opportunity to engage with the physical college environment. What’s more is that there’s usually something to get involved in that is relevant to career goals, such as a marketing society group. Here is where students have a better opportunity to make friends and potential career connections.


Use Social Networking to Connect with Students & Professors

People use social networking every day, for work and for play. Career-oriented, online learners gravitate toward tools like LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter and Facebook. Students typically already use these tools to stay in touch with friends and colleagues. They can use these same tools to keep the communication going with their peer students. It should be noted that the learning management system also has communication tools, and can be used for course communications, but, once the course is closed so are these communication options. Using social media allows students to continue the dialogue beyond the last day of the course. Additionally, students should be mindful of reaching out to professors, as not only can they help to clarify course material and expectations, but these same teachers could also become indispensable references when you search for a job.

Success in an online learning environment is certainly possible. With the right organizational strategy and mindset, any student has the potential to achieve high grades and learn applicable career lessons. Not only this, but online learners needn’t miss out on the social benefits of a college education. Collaborative projects, on-campus groups and social networking all help to keep students connected to the larger university experience.


Duquesne University’s School of Leadership and Professional Advancement provides unparalleled training to nontraditional students through online bachelor’s degrees, online graduate school programs and certificate programs. The University is committed to academic excellence and innovative education opportunities and respects students’ family and professional needs. For more information about the School of Leadership and Professional Advancement and online program offerings, visit:




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Higher education is challenging no matter who you are. Young students and nontraditional adult students all need to adjust to college life...

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