Five Tips for Success in an Online Course

By Allison Quinn, student, SUNY Empire State College

October 26, 2017

Online and distance learning is one mode of study offered at SUNY Empire State College. Many undergraduate and graduate students at ESC will take an online course at some point in their studies and in some programs, students can complete their entire education online. A benefit to for taking courses online is it provides flexibility and convenience for busy or working students which is not always possible in traditional college setting.

Without the face-to-face interactions, lectures, or discussions provided in a classroom setting, online courses may seem challenging with their own set of expectations, practices, and forms of communication.

Here are some tips for success in an online course:

Participate in Discussions:

Most distance learning classes at ESC have group discussions online within the course modules. Instructors encourage online discussions to mimic what would occur face to face in a traditional classroom so, for students, it is important to engage in conversation and provide feedback to classmates. Instructors grade students on the discussions they contribute online and also consider how students engage in the online discussions with their peers. Asking questions, citing course materials, or adding links to related websites and videos can enrich the discussions. Actively participating in discussions throughout the module leads to a more complete understanding of key topics and issues within the subject.

Use Academic Writing:

In online classes, writing is the primary means of communication. Whether students are writing for an assignment, participating in a discussion, or contacting the instructor by email, it is crucial to properly use academic writing and language. When students present work or correspondence with academic writing skills, it demonstrates their high level of effort and professionalism.

As many students are returning back to college or starting anew, the rules for academic writing may be unfamiliar.  ESC offers an abundance of resources through the Empire State College Online Writing Center. Within the writing center, students can access Writing Resources, which offers a variety of materials that help students gain understanding and confidence in academic writing, research writing, critical reading & writing, grammar, and punctuation. Here, students can also find Writing Exercises and ELL/ESL Resources (English-language Learners/English as a Second Language).

Cite Sources Correctly:

Citing sources correctly is crucial in college and students should understand how to cite, and know which style of citation to use. The SUNY Empire State College Online Library provides information about the proper use of citations on the resource page: Citing Your Sources: Citing Basics. Here, students can also find materials about the different styles used to cite sources. Citing information is mandatory and must be done to avoid plagiarism or claiming someone else’s work as his/her own.  SUNY Empire State College provides resources to ensure students maintain academic integrity

Make a Schedule:

Keeping track of assignments and due dates is important when taking online courses. At the start of a semester, it is helpful and beneficial to look at each course schedule and combine them onto one calendar. This can set the pace for organizing time to start and complete assignments and help students avoid missing due dates or feeling overwhelmed during the course.

Seeing a visual outline of course assignments and due dates can also prevent procrastination or falling behind on work. SUNY Empire State College offers The Assignment Calculator, a tool which can help students schedule enough time to complete an assignment and provides a step-by-step timeline for how the assignment can be broken up. Online courses test students’ organizational and time management skills.  By keeping up-to-date and staying on schedule, shows instructors that their students are organized and have the self-discipline to succeed in an online course.

Complete the Assigned Readings:

To fully understand the topics and subjects in a course, students must complete assigned readings. Instructors require certain course related readings that help students gain a comprehensive knowledge of a subject. Many students make a schedule for when the readings should be completed. One tip to stay focused while reading, is to look at the instructor’s commentary on the reading, look at the discussion topics for a module, and look at the written assignment topics before beginning the readings. By knowing what key ideas or themes the instructor would like students to focus on, students can be mindful of what they are reading and how it connects to the course. While reading takes time, the extra effort will show in a student’s assignments and assessments.

Online courses at SUNY Empire State College, offer students the opportunity to earn credits and learn about a subject without travelling to a campus. While distance learning offers convenience, online courses challenge a student’s ability to write and communicate academically, manage time, and work independently. By following these tips, students will gain an appreciation for their studies, and will have success in their online courses.

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