"In other online programs, I could maybe
check in once or twice a week and still get a
decent grade," says Finley, who took seven
online courses previously while earning a
bachelor's and master's degree. "For this, I
actually had to set up dedicated times for
when I had to log in just to check that there
weren't things posted overnight. I had to
change my whole thought process of how to
attack these courses."
Finley says that students should not have a
carefree attitude when taking an online
course, because some may prove to be more
difficult than traditional classes. "In my opinion,
I think online courses are actually a little
harder," he adds. For students who are
considering online courses over in-class
instruction, here are five tips for success.
1. Confirm technical requirements: Online
classes can benefit students with busy
schedules, but only if they can access the
"You're going to need to understand what the
technical requirements are," advises Andrew
Wolf, coordinator of online learning at the
University of Rochester School of Nursing .
"Make sure before the course starts that your
computer will work with [all the online tools],
and that you know how to navigate them so
that you don't have to spend time during the
course trying to figure out the technology."
2. Connect with instructors early: After taking
online courses in the past, Finley says he
assumed his previous experiences would
dictate future successes at Wake Forest.
"I know initially for me, I didn't contact my
instructor because I felt like [the course] was
going to be really easy for me," he
acknowledges. But after multiple writing
assignments were returned to him to revise,
he says that he quickly changed his approach
to the course and reached out for help.
"Once I started coordinating with [my
instructor], I realized I needed to change my
writing style," Finley says. "You have to really
stay in contact; it's extremely important."
While instructors are available to help
throughout the courses, Finley advises
students to also find answers to class
questions independently, if possible. "Help is
available but it's not going to be available at
the snap of a finger," he says. "You can't just
think you're going to be able to reach right
out with a problem. You have to be willing to
go out and find things on your own."
3. Create a schedule: Quality online instructors
will create courses that are easy to navigate
and have clear expectations, notes Wolf.
"Really good professors will help you put the
framework in place," he says. "If you don't
have that type of framework in place, you'll
have to do it yourself."
When Finley began his online course, he says
he needed to dedicate two-to-three hour time
blocks to log in and complete assignments. "I
had to change around my entire schedule to
complement my course," he adds. "I'm using
Microsoft Outlook more than ever to set up
when projects are due and to stay on track
with the assignments. You have to dedicate
time to this."
4. Stay organized: Students enrolled in
traditional courses usually have a consistent
schedule to follow each week, with in-class
instruction followed by out-of-class
assignments. For online courses, students
may have to find their own ways to stay on
top of their work, notes Karen Stevens, chief
undergraduate adviser of the University of
Massachusetts—Amherst 's University Without
"Students really, really need to be organized
from the beginning to be successful in an
online course," Stevens wrote in an E-mail.
"All assignment due dates should be in their
calendar, online or paper folders should be
created for each week, [and] the work area
should be not only quiet but clean—keeping
all coursework materials together."
5. Have a consistent workspace: One thing
online and in-class courses have in common
is that students still need a place to study or
complete assignments, whether that's at a
coffee shop, the school library, or at home.
Wherever students choose to study and
complete assignments, they should make it a
consistent location that's free of outside
interferences, notes Rochester's Wolf.
"I've actually had students who have told me
that they've been in the middle of an exam
and their 2-year-old starts crying," he says.
"You need a place to study that's quiet for a
time that's set aside where you can focus on
your work without distractions."