Organizational tips for successful online learning

Posted on May 18 2020

Student setup for online learning.

You can go to school in your pajamas! You can study at 2 a.m.! You can take a day off if you need to!   

You’ve heard this about online learning, right? We all have. And to some extent, all these things are true. You don’t have to “dress for school” when you are learning online. You often don’t have to attend your classes at a specific time. And if you’ve got an emergency, you can often take some time off to address that before returning to your school work. 

But we’ve worked with tens of thousands of online students around the world, and we can tell you that if these sorts of ideas are the guiding principles of your online education, you’re not going to be a very successful online learner. In fact, our best and most successful students are almost always those who don’t do these sorts of things on a regular basis.

Whether you are learning or working online, organized routines are exceptionally important. That’s why we strongly suggest these five organizing tips for online learners: 

Get up

Just because you can sleep in doesn’t mean you should sleep in. And while it is absolutely true many students aren’t at their best at 7 a.m., the most productive time of the day for learning is an hour or so after you’ve gotten out of bed and many, many hours before you go to sleep. Waiting too long in the day to work on school usually means your brain is already too tired to take in more information. Start organizing your life by getting started with your work at the time in which your brain is most ready to learn. For almost everyone, that’s mid-morning.

Get dressed

Your skin is the largest organ in your body. It is responsible for a big part of how your body perceives the world. So when we wear the clothes we sleep in during the day, what signals are being collected by our skin and processed to our brains? Please don’t get us wrong: It’s totally OK to wear comfortable clothes, but the act of changing into day clothes sends a physical and psychological signal to your brain that indicates your body is ready for the day.  

Schedule your school time

Yes, online learning can be very flexible. But that often winds up being a detriment to students who already have a problem with organization and procrastination, because they tell themselves “I’ll get this done later.” Hold yourself accountable to “attending” school during a scheduled set of hours each day. Stick to it. And if you struggle to do that, find someone who will help you. Many of our students, for instance, get together each day either in person, on the phone, or over a video conferencing app to study with one another.

Make school a part of your day, every day

When you’re sick, dealing with a family emergency, or working a double shift, it’s certainly great to be able to take a day off of school once in a while. Online learning makes that possible. But the trap that a lot of students fall into is treating a lot of things in their lives as emergencies that warrant a day off. All those days off add up, and pretty soon they’ve fallen way behind. The trick that many of our most successful students use -- especially those who do face a large number of true emergencies that warrant a day off -- is going to school every day. Yes, that includes Saturday and Sunday. Students who do that consistently get ahead very quickly. That means that when they do need to take time away from school, they can do so without the added stress of worrying about falling behind. 

Check in

Whether you need help or not, check in regularly with your teachers. Good virtual learning environments provide opportunities for students to connect with their instructors. Use that to build a deeper understanding of the course material. Ask them questions about the material. Talk to them about your last assignment or the ones coming up. Seek information about how the material connects to the real world. The more you can build a relationship with your teachers, the more you’ll feel obligated to doing the work you need to do -- and doing it well.

Yes, you can go to school in your pajamas! Yes, you can study at 2 a.m.! Yes, you can take a day off if you want! But these are once-in-a-while benefits of online learning. If you want to be successful, get on a schedule, stick to it, and watch how fast you progress!