Step One: Read the Syllabus
The syllabus is a key resource for every student. It is the road-map for the entire course. Get to know it well! Print a copy on the first day of class and read it through twice. If there are due dates for assignments, discussions, or tests in your syllabus, record them in your personal calendar and consult your calendar weekly. The key is not to lose track of what needs to happen when.
Step Two: Read Carefully
Since all interaction online consists of reading and writing, it's important that you carefully read what others (your instructor and your classmates) have written. This will help prevent many misunderstandings, and will often allow you to answer your own questions about what someone has said, without having to ask, and then wait, for a clarification. Similarly, without any in-class lecture to help illuminate a topic, online instructors may rely more heavily on textbook readings and assignments, or other printed material, to provide information and to illustrate ideas. This means that you will need to read the material more rigorously than may be customary for you. Make notes of the parts that don't make sense, and be sure to ask for clarification online.
Step Three: Schedule Weekly Class/Study Times
In an online class you are allowed to work when it is most convenient for you. This means that you can "attend class" at two in the morning if you like, or every afternoon at 3:00 pm. There is no set time when you must appear online. However, your instructor will require regular and active participation, and will have deadlines for assignments, discussions, and tests. Time management is vital for online students, considering the multiple responsibilities that students need to juggle these days. Successful online students schedule a regular study time, blocking off set times each week. Plan a schedule and stick to it!
Step Four: Login to Your Course a Minimum of Three Times per Week
Most courses are offered on a term basis, which means specific start and end dates. There are assigned weekly activities and students should login a minimum of three times a week to participate in class discussion, receive information from the instructor, and submit assignments. Get into the habit of checking in consistently. Students who do, tend to get higher grades than those who don't. Be aware that you should be spending approximately 9 hours per week for each 3 credit class that you take.
Step Five: Ask Questions
If you have a question about course content, need clarification on a difficult concept, or are just not sure about something, ask. Your instructor won't see the puzzled expression on your face, and then ask if you have understood. Instead, you need to take the initiative whenever you need information or clarification. Use the discussion board, email, or even the phone to get answers to those important questions. Don't rely on someone else to lead you by the hand.
Step Six: Participate Actively in Your Online Class and Make Connections with Fellow Students
In a traditional classroom, discussions are often an important part of the curriculum. In an online class, participation is a requirement and may be a significant factor in determining your final grade. Online interaction may seem impersonal at first because you are not communicating in person. However, not being face-to-face may actually make the discussion more open and relaxed. You needn't worry about how your voice sounds, if your hair is a mess, or if the other person looks intimidating. All that is irrelevant when you're online. Your ideas and the ideas of your classmates are what count. You will have more time to think about what you want to say and more time to reflect on what others have said, before you respond. Getting involved in a true exchange of ideas is exciting, but you need to participate for the full effect. This may seem risky at first, but once you start sharing your ideas, you won't want to stop. Connecting with online classmates allows students to create a sense of community and will make online classes much more enjoyable.