How to Succeed in an Online Course During COVID-19

by Brendan Gawlowski

Updated September 13, 2022 • 4 min read is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Are you ready to discover your college program?

As COVID-19 spreads, colleges and universities throughout the country are increasingly boarding up their classrooms and moving courses online.

Given the CDC's recommendation to avoid gatherings of ten or more people over the next several months, your school will inevitably require professors to host their courses exclusively online.

Many students are already familiar with online college courses: Per the National Center for Education Statistics, approximately one-third of college students took at least one online class back in the fall of 2017, and the format has only become more prevalent since.

If the coronavirus has turned you into a temporary online student, you may be in for a bit of an adjustment. Some students find it difficult to follow lectures and discussions outside of a classroom setting, and the lack of direct human interaction takes time to get used to.

Here at TheBestSchools, we've been covering online college for a while. We know how the format works, what it takes to succeed in an online course, and how we can help you through this challenging time in your academic career.

Ultimately, you can do more than just survive your online classes. With a little planning, you can learn to use the tools of online learning to your advantage. Maybe you'll even perform better academically than you did before.

Tips for New Online Students

Take Care of the Basics

This may seem obvious, but it bears mentioning: To succeed in an online course, you'll need a computer and a reliable internet connection. You shouldn't count on public computers, like those in a library, even in the best of times and it's definitely not an option during a pandemic.

Similarly, you should find out whether your professors teach their courses synchronously or asynchronously. In a synchronous online class, the professor broadcasts everything live; students are asked to log in at that time and may be required to participate.

In an asynchronous class, there is no live component; all material will be uploaded after the professor has finished recording and will be available to students at their convenience. However, asynchronous courses still have deadlines, so you'll need to keep track of those.

Attend online classes in a quiet space

Think of an online lecture as a class you're attending rather than a video you're watching. You wouldn't listen to music or have the TV on in a normal classroom, so you shouldn't do those things during an online course either. Find a quiet place free of distractions where you can watch or listen to your lecture. It's okay to bring some comforts of home: Snacks and a glass of water can help you concentrate. Just make sure you're in the right place and headspace to pay attention.

Take notes

If you take notes in a normal class, you should do so in an online course as well. Some students prefer to record notes on their computers, and that's great if it works for you. You may even find that you can take better or more thorough notes on your computer than by hand.

However, computers can also be distracting, especially with the internet and other assignments competing for your attention. If you're easily distracted, taking notes by hand might work better for you.

Don't procrastinate

This is a bit like telling a puppy "you really shouldn't chew on that sock right now," but it must be said. Procrastination is a constant temptation, all the more so now that you don't have to physically show up for class.

Still, most people perform better when they stick to a routine. For a college student, part of that routine is attending class and consuming course material in digestible quantities. Keep to your schedule, and don't let lectures and assignments pile up as the semester winds to a close. At the very least, don't procrastinate any more than you'd be inclined to do in a normal term.

Besides, odds are that you're stuck in your house or apartment anyway. What could you possibly be doing that is more important than attending class?

Make Online Education Work for You

Take advantage of recorded lectures

Online class sessions are delivered over video, and many professors make the stream (or at least an audio recording of it) available to students. This is a valuable resource for the wily student.

You can — and should! — take notes like normal, but you should also sketch a rough outline of what the professor covers in five- or ten-minute increments. That way, when it comes time to write a big paper or study for finals, you'll be able to quickly reference when your professor covered each bit of material, queue up the lecture, and find the professor's exact words.

Watch online classes at your convenience

Hate getting out of bed for that 8 AM course? Find it hard to focus during the hour before lunch? If your new online courses are asynchronous, you're in luck. Your newfound flexibility allows you to pick the time of day when you learn best and use those hours to watch lectures or participate in discussions.

Of course, this won't work for everyone: Some teachers will expect their students to log in at a particular time, and if that's the case, you'll need to adhere to that requirement. For everyone else, though, it's nice to attend class and do your homework when it works best for you.

Office hours

Some of your professors already have experience teaching online, but many are doing this for the first time. There are some disadvantages to that — it's hard to lecture without a live audience if you aren't used to it, and there are some nuances, especially with synchronous courses, that make the job a little tricky.

But professors are conscientious by nature, and most of them want to do everything they can to make this a productive experience for students. Many will offer virtual office hours, and some professors will want to make themselves extra available during this difficult time. If you need help, online office hours are a fantastic resource, particularly if you can get one-on-one time. Come prepared with questions you need answered, and don't be too shy to ask for help.

Hopefully, these tips will help you excel in your newly online course. Want one more for the road? Keep an open mind: While online education will be a nuisance for some, many students find that it's a better delivery method for their academic needs and responsibilities. As you adjust to online classes, perhaps you'll find that it's right for you, too.

Popular with our students.

Highly informative resources to keep your education journey on track.

Take the next step toward your future with online learning.

Discover schools with the programs and courses you’re interested in, and start learning today.

woman in an office