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Student Guide to Online Learning

Being a Successful Online Learner

What does it take to succeed in online courses? While online classes offer flexibility and convenience, especially for those juggling competing responsibilities and obligations, being a successful, efficient, and productive online learner requires you to demonstrate certain strengths and qualities as a learner.

Everyone has unique strengths and challenges when it comes to learning, so be honest with yourself as you reflect on the qualities and characteristics below.

To succeed as an online learner, you need to be:


Study the Syllabus Carefully
This is especially important for online learners. In a traditional face-to-face class, the instructor will usually spend some time explaining the syllabus and course agenda to the whole class and answer any questions that come up; however, an online course doesn’t operate in the same way. The syllabus, therefore, is the most important source of information for you, including the learning content covered in the course, grading methods, assignments, and participation requirements. Read the syllabus carefully and take note of specific deadlines and assignments. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to email your instructor or post questions to the Discussion Forum.

Allocate Regular Time to Study and Create a Schedule
You will want to allocate time to get your coursework done so that you don’t fall behind. Any coursework that involves collaboration with other classmates will need to be done in advance of any weekly deadlines to allow time for revision and feedback.

Stay Organized
As you watch your instructor’s video lectures and/or review their slide decks and other material, take notes the same way you would during face-to-face class time. Identify how you are most comfortable taking notes and establish an organization system that makes all of your notes easily accessible. Tools such as Evernote or Microsoft OneNote are excellent options for the digitally inclined and makes your notes searchable, though pen and paper works just as well!

Block out Distractions and Avoid Multitasking
Keep yourself focused by blocking out distractions when studying. It can be helpful to set up a designated space to help concentrate. Avoid multitasking by trying the Pomodoro technique or other strategies to help you be more productive.


Get to Know Your Instructor and Your Classmates
The instructor will usually post a brief written or video introduction about themself on the course site. Take this as an opportunity to learn about your instructor’s expertise. The instructor may also ask every student to post a self-introduction on the Discussion Forum. This assignment will allow people to get to know each other and to foster a sense of community.

Leverage Office Hours to Your Advantage
Your instructor may host optional office hours and other opportunities to connect with them and your peers during the semester. Using these opportunities to connect synchronously live, remembering to abide by standard etiquette guidelines on Zoom. Synchronous meetings can facilitate connection in a way sometimes more challenging asynchronously. For best results during synchronous class sessions, ensure your device meets the minimum technology requirements to properly run Zoom and broadcast your camera and microphone.

Be Flexible And Proactive When Working On Group Projects
It is likely you will encounter one or more group projects while taking classes online. With many online courses being fully asynchronous, finding time to connect with your teammates synchronously can be a challenge. Use collaborative workspaces such as Google Docs, Slides, etc. or Microsoft 365 to gather ideas asynchronously and plan accordingly and in advance for synchronous meetings. Remember that your peers are likely juggling other obligations professionally and academically, so schedule meetings in advance and be as flexible as possible.


Get Fully Involved
There are many differences between online classes and face-to-face classes, but one thing that does not differ is student participation. Participating in online communication and collaboration helps to foster a learning community, and allows you to share ideas and co-construct knowledge with your classmates. It is important to frequently visit and contribute to the Discussion Forums. We suggest that you visit the Discussion Forum at least three times for each Learning Unit. Don’t wait until the deadline to post. Learning can be most productive when every participant is committed to and engaged in thoughtful and sustained discussion.

Stay Informed
Typically, your instructors will send out weekly (or more) announcements introducing that particular week’s content and detailing what’s expected of you. Read these announcements and review all of the resources related to course content and assignments available to you in Canvas. It’s likely you will find answers to many of your questions in those announcements and/or assignment instructions.

Set Up Notifications And Reminders
Canvas allows you to set up notifications that come to you via email, SMS, or other methods. You can adjust the notification preferences based on how you would like to be informed of changes in your courses.


Get Familiar with the Canvas System
You are going to be using Canvas for all your courses, so give yourself some time to get used to the features. Click and explore the course navigation, online Discussion Forums and Learning Modules. The sooner you familiarize yourself with the system, the sooner you can focus on the course content. Visit the Canvas Student Orientation course for additional information.

Make Yourself Aware of Other MSU Resources Available
MSU offers many student services. These include Academic Tutoring Services, Center for Writing Excellence, Counseling and Psych Services (CAPS), Dean of Students, University Career Services, and more. Many services offer virtual as well as in-person support. Online courses may require the use of some applications and tools. Seek out resources to help you learn how to use technologies that may be new to you.

Seek Technical Support When Needed
Learn about IT services and support available to you by referring to the Quick IT Guide for Students. Contact the MSU IT Service Desk directly at 973-655-7971 or for support with log-in, network access, email, and university software and hardware.

Are you considering taking an online or hybrid course for the first time?

Have you enrolled in one, but need guidance on how to get started? You have come to the right place. This website is a guide for students interested in taking online or hybrid courses at Montclair State University and wishing to learn more about what they are like. It provides essential information for students to get prepared for taking online courses. Before you get started, you may want to take a Self Assessment for Online Learning Readiness Survey. This survey will help you identify your overall readiness for online learning.

Online learning is different from face-to-face learning in many ways. Students can generally attend an online class with more flexibility in time and place than traditional in person classes. Although there are deadlines, and may be live online meetings, online courses offer much more flexibility than face-to-face courses. Instead of face-to-face communication, students are likely to use email, discussion boards, and or other communication tools.

This guide is designed to help you understand what online learning is like and provide you with some tips on how to succeed in online courses. This website includes information on the following:

Why Online?Montclair State University OnlineTips for Success