The flexibility to learn and earn a degree online allows students nationwide — from full-time employees to single parents and more — to achieve goals while managing family and life. Millions of students study online today, and those numbers are only increasing.
While online education provides students with a range of opportunities, it also can present challenges of learning in a new environment. Arizona State University staff and students who teach and study online offer their tips to help ensure your success.
Set yourself up for success
Before starting a degree program online, plan ahead. Give yourself space and time to study, as well as technology tools to do your best.
Give yourself space
“A quiet workplace without any interruption from roommates or family is necessary for success in an online course,” advises the university's director of student services, Joseph Chapman.
If your space isn’t completely quiet, noise-canceling headphones can help you focus. For shared spaces, let roommates or family know when you’re in study mode.
Check your tech
Lauren Permoda, program coordinator for ASU Online, recommends using a desktop or laptop for all your studies, as a tablet or phone may not be the best tools for most tasks.
Familiarize yourself with your school's learning platform and keep information about tech support handy. Ensure that you have multiple browsers (such as Chrome or Firefox) available, as one might work better for some programs than others.
Organize your time
Time management is key to learning online, as you must take the initiative and be accountable for your own work, without instructors or parents looking over your shoulder.
Master of Healthcare Innovation alumni Alicia Gillum said her first task at the beginning of each semester is to review every class syllabus and put due dates for papers, assignments and exams in her calendar — plus reminders a few days ahead of each due date.
“My advice is to start your assignments ahead of time,” says Gillum. “It’ll be so much less stressful than waiting until the last minute to do it.”
Miranda Gaona, who’s graduating with her Master’s in Digital Audience Strategy this month, says she treats every online class like an in-person class, scheduling it in her calendar as an important appointment. Gaona also sets reminders and alarms for study time — building in breaks for snacks and resting.
Stay connected to your instructors, classmates and school community. Take advantage of opportunities to collaborate, share insights and ask questions. Goana says she joins social media groups and participates in class discussions as much as possible.
Add your instructors’ virtual office hours in your calendar, so you know when they’ll be available. Email instructors or use class discussion boards to ask questions or offer comments. Instructors like seeing student engagement and participating will improve your overall experience.
Master of Art in Sociology student Drew McDowell also recommends communicating regularly with your “offline” support network — your friends, family and/or coworkers who may need to be patient as you devote more time to completing your coursework.
Find the right program for you
If you haven't begun your studies, or you're looking to transfer, find a program that meets your needs. Research universities that offer the degree or certification program you're looking for online, and that are specifically designed and have dedicated resources to work with online learners.
Find an accredited degree program associated with a reputable university that offers the same curriculum and instructors as ground schools. U.S. News and World Report provides helpful rankings of universities and degree programs.
Look for a program offering a support system. For example, ASU’s 360 Life Services program is one of the first university programs to provide a comprehensive support system for online students. It offers clinical and personal care, as well as legal and financial assistance — plus success coaches who work with students to help them meet their academic goals.
When things get challenging, remember the reasons why you're pursuing your education. Post verbal or visual reminders near your workspace to keep your goals top of mind.
To learn about ASU Online's more than 200 degree programs, visit ASUOnline.asu.edu.