Center for Distance Learning

Tips for Success as an Online Student

As an online student, you will:

  • work at times which fit into your schedule
  • enter the "classroom" as often as you like.

Preparation and participation in your courses will make demands on your time. Keep in mind that the average time required for successful completion of a 4-credit study can be as much as 10 hours per week.

Keep a regular schedule. This is vital to meeting course deadlines and completing assignments in a timely manner.

While online learning offers tremendous flexibility it also requires consistent and dedicated participation.

Expand the topics below to view tips for being a successful online student.

Getting Started

Passwords and Orientation

  • Before you register for courses, you must participate in the Center for Distance Learning (CDL) online orientation for new students. Access to the online orientation is provided within our course management system.
  • Be sure you have activated and tried your Empire State College login. If you have not activated your login, you can do so at MyESC.
  • Your Empire State College login will give you access to the required CDL online orientation. You will use this same password to access all your online courses after you have registered.

Register for Courses

Order Books and Materials

  • After you have confirmed your registration, go to the Empire State College Bookstore.
  • For each course, fill in the center, term, and course number to see a list of the required course materials.

Preview Your Courses

  • Course links become active one week prior to the start of the term so that you can get online and review the course materials and requirements.
  • Check to make sure you have all of the course materials.
  • Review the required readings and discussions.
  • Read the descriptions for written assignments.
  • Record important due dates for each assignment on your course calendar.
  • Plan your study schedule to meet coursework deadlines.
  • If you have difficulty accessing the course, contact the college service desk, either by phone (locally at 518-587-2100, ext. 2420 or toll-free at 800-847-3000, ext. 2420) or online at


  1. Most courses group coursework in weeks. Give dates to those weeks, counting from the official starting date of the term. The term calendars are available online.
  2. Plan study time. If your life schedule is full, you may need to prioritize study time over other activities.

Learning from a Distance

  • Review course criteria for evaluation of assignments and participation.
  • Identify learning goals for each assignment and for the whole course.
  • Read critically.
  • Take notes.
  • Do sample problems and self-tests.
  • Ask questions.
  • Contribute to the online discussion.
  • Reflect on assignments.
  • Keep a learning journal.
  • Stay organized.


  1. Learn the course's "language" and basic concepts. Be able to apply those concepts to real-life situations, case studies and problem solving. Analyze and judge the quality of those concepts. Compare and contrast theories. Develop your own informed thoughts, ideas and perspectives from course readings.
  2. Evaluation criteria will guide your learning. You often can identify the learning that is expected by reviewing the course criteria for evaluating assignments.
  3. Schedule time to reflect upon what you have learned, how you have learned it, how you can apply the learning and how this new learning relates to other things that you know.

Course Access

Who Can Read Your Course Documents

Only registered class members and the instructor have access to your course. However, even for participants in your course, different documents within the course have different levels of privacy. Within your course, some parts can be read by all course members, and others only by you and the instructor.

  1. Drop box assignments and your instructor's evaluation of your work can be read only by you and the instructor.
  2. Discussion forum responses, questions (Ask a Question), and your system profile can be read by everyone who receives a password for your course.
  3. If your course has "Team" assignments, only the listed members of the group can read the discussion forum for the team.
  4. Course email and messages are viewable only by the recipient(s).
  5. Your portfolio materials can only be read by people who have received your permission

Course Access by Computer or Administrative Staff

Occasionally, some computer or administrative staff may need to access your course to do their job. They are professional staff who respect the confidentiality of the system and its students. These staff include:

  1. dean or academic supervisor of your instructor, who may observe the course to evaluate your instructor's work
  2. students services staff trying to resolve an academic issue
  3. system administrators resolving a technical problem with the course
  4. service desk staff assisting course members with technical difficulties.

Course Guests

Your course may have guests. These may be new instructors who are going to be teaching online, guest speakers or participants, or a student who has made special arrangements with the instructor. A guest will request permission to "observe" from your instructor and your instructor will follow Empire State College's policies about course observations. This includes:

  1. Posting a notice. The announcement will tell you who the guest is, why they wish to observe and during what time period they will be online.
  2. The announcement will indicate that you should email the instructor if you have any concerns or objections to being observed. Be sure to express any concerns to your instructor.
  3. If the guest does receive permission to observe, your instructor will post an announcement telling you when the guest begins observing and post a second announcement when the observation period is over.
  4. The guest will be able to see the online discussion of the full group. The guest will not be able to see your written assignments or evaluations.


From time to time, the college conducts research related to its online courses. This research is related to general principles of online learning effectiveness and not tied to any particular student or course. No identifying information related to students or professors is tied to college research activities.

All research projects are approved by the college's Institutional Review Board (IRB).


  1. If you have concerns or objections to being observed, contact your instructor and express your concerns.

Submitting Assignments

  • Draft and "spell-check" written assignments in a word processing document. Then, copy and paste (or attach) the document in the course template assignment area. Keep a copy of your work.
  • Be sure to put your name on the assignment. For example, if you name your document "SmithMODULE1essay," your instructor will recognize your submission as the essay assigned in Module 1, submitted by "Smith."
  • Submit assignments according to the course schedule — assignments cannot be "bunched." Use feedback from the instructor to improve your subsequent work.
  • If your assignment is going to be late for any reason, communicate with your instructor by sending a message through the course communication system. Indicate when you expect to submit the assignment and then follow through with that schedule.
  • If you have questions about the course material or instructor comments on your work, use the course messaging system to ask the instructor for clarification.


  1. For research paper assignments, ask your instructor about the preferred style of documentation (ESC Online Writing Center).

Online Discussion and Collaborative Work with Peers

Most courses engage students with the course material through discussion and group projects. These learning activities center learning in context through dialogue.

Course instructors vary in their expectations of student and instructor participation in discussions. Some instructors "sit in the back of the class" and listen while students dialog about topics. Other instructors participate frequently to direct student dialog.

Regardless of your instructor's style, you will be expected to substantively participate in required discussions.


  1. Participate fully in the discussion by posting a comment that adds new information or insight to the dialogue. Draw on the reading or make a connection between two comments posted by others — relating them to the course material.
  2. Draft your discussion posting first, then type the "subject" line to provide some information about your post rather than just "I agree" or "response to Tim." This helps your fellow students follow the discussion, and helps you make sure your comment is substantive.

Communication with Your Instructor

Course-related questions should be posted in the public question area where all students can benefit from the instructor's response. Often, students engage with each other's questions.

Personal questions should be posted to your instructor using the course messaging system. Be sure to only send your message to the instructor.


  1. If you have a question about something in the course, chances are that others also have the same or similar questions.


Instructors evaluate your learning and respond to each written assignment (usually within seven days).

Instructor comments, based on the course evaluation criteria, explain what you did well and how you can improve on future assignments.


  1. If you do not understand your instructor's comments on your work, be sure to ask for clarification.

Requesting an Incomplete

When extenuating circumstances arise, a student may request an outcome of incomplete (IN) from the instructor.

The instructor normally submits an IN outcome only when the student has consistently engaged in learning activities and has successfully completed at least 50 percent of the work before the end of the enrollment term for the study/course. The instructor is not obligated to grant an incomplete.

A student who is awarded an IN outcome is allowed no more than 16 weeks after the term end date to complete the course.  The instructor may establish an earlier completion date.

If the instructor submits no further outcome, an IN outcome automatically becomes a no credit outcome after 16 weeks, or earlier if the instructor has specified an earlier completion date.

Additional information about incompletes can be found in the college's Undergraduate Student Evaluation and Grading Policy.


  1. If you need extra time to complete the course, you need to ask the instructor for an incomplete.
  2. Be sure that you understand the instructor's expectations and timeline for your successful completion of the course.

Final Grades

You can expect to receive a grade or outcome after the end of the term — if you successfully complete all course work on time.  

Grades/outcomes are due according to the schedule below:

  • no later than 14 calendar days after the end of the Fall 1 term
  • no later than 10 calendar days after the end of the term for the Fall 2, Spring 1, Spring 2, and Summer 1 terms
  • no later than 7 calendar days after the end of the Summer 2 term.

Additional information about final grades can be found in the college's Undergraduate Student Evaluation and Grading Policy.

If you require a final grade or outcome sooner than the days shown above, for issues such as employer reimbursement, please request assistance from your instructor prior to the end of the term.


  1. Instructors exercise academic discretion in allowing students to complete coursework after the term deadline. For further information, please see the college's Undergraduate Student Evaluation and Grading Policy.
  2. Do not wait until the end of the term to let you instructor know that you require your final grade early.