Time Management Tips for Online Courses

Posted on February 26 2020

Student sitting at desk writing in notebook and listening to headphones.

Online college education has arrived. After years of playing second fiddle to traditional brick-and-mortar colleges and universities, online degree programs now surpass their on-campus counterparts in the quality of education students receive and in student satisfaction, Forbes reports. In fact, a study conducted in 2018 by Learning House found that 85% of students who had attended both in-person and online courses rated their online experience the same as or better than their classroom experience.

Online college degree programs are gaining popularity for many reasons, but online college students face unique challenges, particularly when it comes to time management for online courses. To overcome this challenge, students need to create and stick to a comprehensive study plan, build in enough flexibility to accommodate unexpected events, and design a study environment that minimizes distractions during online study sessions.

This three-step plan will help online students harness their full potential and increase their chances for success. The result is a college experience that prepares students for their future careers while also allowing them to explore new interests and achieve their professional and personal goals.

Step One: Come Up With a Master Study Plan

The key to success in any endeavor is preparation. Start each semester by creating a document that lists all the assignments and test dates for each online course for the term. The file can be a calendar, spreadsheet, text document, or any other form that best fits your style and organization preferences. Next, designate weekly or monthly class times, study periods, due dates, and downtime. The schedule should make time for relaxation and fun, and also needs to be flexible enough to accommodate unexpected events. The Order Expert describes five steps for creating an online student’s master study plan:

  1. Create a calendar that shows the days and times you will attend class, study for each course, and complete specific assignments. The calendar should highlight important dates, such as when major assignments are due or tests will be held.
  2. Include in your daily schedule the time you allow for using social media, email, games, and other apps, and be sure to close the apps at all other times to avoid study distractions.
  3. Reserve time for reviewing the course material after the initial class, seminar, or lecture. A typical schedule will include at least two study sessions for each class lecture.
  4. Give equal time in your schedule to each online course you’re attending, and rotate study sessions for each course to avoid spending too much time on some and too little time on others.
Step Two: Create a Distraction-Free Study Environment

Today, devices have invaded all aspects of modern life, demanding our attention from the time we wake up to the moment we fall asleep. Online students are especially susceptible to these pervasive attention-stealers because so much of their classwork and study sessions take place via a computer, tablet, or other device.

To succeed at time management for online courses, students have to unplug from their devices and anything else that might create distractions. Entrepreneur offers seven techniques for eliminating distractions:

  1. Create a “closed” study environment that discourages unexpected visitors and excludes anything other than the material you’re studying at that moment.
  2. Set a handful of goals for each study session — no more than three — and focus on the most important goals first.
  3. Limit each study session to about 50 minutes to an hour — or even less if you find your attention waning. When you feel stuck, talk yourself into studying for just two more minutes and you’ll likely regain your momentum to finish the current session.
  4. Keep tabs on the times when your mind starts to wander so you can identify what triggered the distraction, such as the urge to check your social media news feeds. In time, you’ll be trained to recognize the source of the distraction, dismiss it, and refocus on the task at hand.
  5. Make a game out of the task by rewarding yourself with a 15-minute break for every 45 minutes you spend studying. After the break, return to studying refreshed. (If 45 minutes is too long, reduce it to 25 minutes of studying, followed by a 10-minute break.)
Step Three: Know When to Motivate Yourself and When to Give Yourself a Break

Studying takes persistence and dedication, especially when the subject isn’t your favorite. The Penny Hoarder offers techniques to help busy college students give their best effort on all of their assignments, regardless of the subject: 

    • Take copious notes with pen and paper rather than on a computer. Researchers determined that students who write notes on paper use their own words, which leads to “deeper processing.” By contrast, those who take notes with a computer record the information word for word, which makes it less likely they will recall it.
    • Start each day focusing on your most important task. Only after that task is completed will you switch focus to your second priority of the day. Whatever doesn’t get finished is moved to the next day’s list.
    • Take advantage of opportunities to have fun. You’re your most important investment, and you deserve to have a good time far away from your studies. When the opportunity for some unexpected fun arises, do your best to take advantage of it.
  • Don’t undervalue extracurricular activities. Get involved in some campus activities outside of your coursework. It’s important to make connections with students, teachers, and other members of the school community. This is also a great way to develop skills that will make you more employable.

  • To Succeed in College, Use Your Time Wisely

    By mastering time management for online courses, you make it more likely you’ll stay ahead of your course requirements and other student responsibilities. The American Academy’s College Readiness course equips students with the skills they need to successfully complete an online college degree program

    Learn more about how the College Readiness course helps students apply the time management skills that are the cornerstone of success in college.


    ArtVoice, “Best Time Management Tips and Apps for College Students”

    Daniel Wong, “45 Time Management Tips for Students (Advice From a Life-Long Straight-A Student)”

    eLearning Industry, “The Importance of Time Management in Online Learning”

    Entrepreneur, “7 Proven Strategies for Overcoming Distractions”

    Forbes, “Manipulate Time With These Powerful 20 Time Management Tips”

    Forbes, “Online Education: From Good to Better to Best?”

    The Order Expert, “5 Practical Time Management Tips for Online Students”

    The Penny Hoarder, “8 Smart Time Management Strategies for Insanely Busy College Students”