How to Succeed in an Online Course

For some of you, this will not be your first experience with an online course. Online classes can be just as rich and rewarding as face-to-face ones, but they are different, and require a different approach. You need to be organized, proactive, and prepared for whatever comes your way. For more resources, visit UCSC's KeepLearning.

Some basics for successful online learning:

  • Begin building relationships right away. While you might not meet your instructor, TAs, or classmates in person, you should take advantage of every opportunity to interact with them in discussion forums and videoconferences when appropriate. Learning is better when we do it together.
  • Post a profile pic (external site) in Canvas. A photo with your face in it is best, but you can also post an image of something that represents you. 
  • Have clear expectations. Online courses are convenient because of their flexibility, but they take just as much time as a face-to-face course. (A 10-week course takes 15 hours a week, an eight-week course takes 18, and a five-week course takes 30.)
  • Set aside several sessions for working on the course throughout the week. All-nighters and cramming sessions are the least effective ways to learn and retain new information. For each unit that your course carries, you are expected to spend three hours per week studying. For a five-unit course, that's fifteen hours per week. 
  • Because online courses require a written presence and participation, it is important to not only read and compose your posts and other assignments early in the week, but to also leave time to edit and proofread them.
  • Add major assignments to your calendar and work on them a little each week, rather than try to complete them all at once.
  • Read the syllabus and all course resource documents (rubrics, major assignment descriptions, and so on).
  • Ask questions! In an online course, the instructor can't see your confusion or frustration. If you’re having a problem, send a message or attend office hours. Don’t wait until an assignment is due to ask for clarification.
  • Make sure you have all the books and other resources you need.
  • Take notes when you watch video lectures, just as you would in a face-to-face course. One of the advantages of an online course is that you can watch the lectures at any time of the day or night, and as many times as you need to.
  • Save all of your work somewhere safe, like Google Drive. If your computer stops working, you’ll still have all your files and can work on a different computer.
  • Download and save course resources you want to use often. Download readings posted in Canvas, especially if you’re traveling or have unreliable internet—that way you can always do the reading.
  • Read all announcements. They will often have notices of changes, hints, or previews of upcoming assignments, and they’re always important.
  • Make sure your Canvas notification settings are correct (external site).
  • Check your email often. This is how your instructor, your TAs, and the university communicate with you.
  • Use the course question and answer forum, whether it's in Piazza, a Canvas discussion, or some other platform. It will allow you to get answers from the instructor and colleagues about general course topics.

Our goal for this course is that everyone succeeds and is transformed by the experience. Good luck and enjoy!