Taking a course online is very different to the more familiar classroom experience. Here are some practical tips to help you succeed.

1. Check your motivation

Online learning is best suited to self-directed people who are hungry to learn, as motivation and discipline can become a challenge. You will need to carefully consider the reasons for taking an online course rather than a campus-based one, and check you have the necessary drive and organisational skills needed to successfully complete an online course.

2. Set your goals

Once you have found a suitable course, you’ll need to take some time to set some realistic goals for yourself. First, check what workload is required by the course and consider if and how you can fit it around your other commitments. Think about what you realistically want to get out of this course, and what you hope to achieve afterwards. It’s a good idea to make a list of your goals that you can refer back to if you need reminding. This will give you clear objectives which will help with your motivation, too.

3. Get organised

Before starting, check the course structure and write out a schedule with the start and end dates, the number of units, the assignment due dates etc, and set out your weekly study time around this. You can set up a calendar with reminders of key dates, and create paper or online folders for each week where you collect notes, downloads and assignments to keep on track with your work. Creating an e-mail folder for all the course e-mails you receive can also help with managing your learning.

4. Understand how your course works

Make sure you know how to navigate the platform delivering the course and familiarise yourself with all the features and tools on offer. These may include discussion forums, chat rooms, webinars, progress trackers, calendars, and more. This will help you make the most out of your learning experience once the course starts.

Find out how your course will be assessed, how to enrol for exams, if there are any contact hours, and whether you have to be online at any set times. Check if your course offers any form of accreditation, such as certificates or badges, whether these are free or paid-for services, and whether they are recognised by employers or colleges.

4. Create a learning environment

It’s important to have a dedicated space to study that's free of outside interferences and where you can keep all your course materials together. Make it clear to other family members or house mates that they should not interrupt you when you are studying. Try to keep your work space clean and free from clutter which will help you focus.

5. Participate in the discussion forums

Many online courses will have discussion forums linked to the course and course material where students can ask and answer questions and get help and support when needed. The more you interact in these forums, the more you will learn, meet people with similar interests and get helpful feedback. You can also look out for social media groups that have formed around your course, or create one of your own!

6. Reward yourself

To keep motivated, it is important to reward yourself when you achieve a study goal. It could be a tasty snack, a walk in the sunshine, a meal out with friends. Decide beforehand what rewards will make you happy and what you have to achieve in order to earn them.

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