young woman typing on a laptop in her kitchen

Many online students are working professionals who have incredible demands outside the classroom. The luxury of only focusing on coursework is a pipe dream. With so many competing priorities, what makes online students successful? While there are various strategies you can implement into your online experience, you can also mold your study and work habits to fit with characteristics that make an online student successful. While you currently may not see yourself fitting into every characteristic, look at the “application” section to see how you can cultivate these attributes in your life and be successful in your online journey.



ABOUT THE ATTRIBUTE: Successful online learners are responsible. They are proactive in making sure all their assignments and tasks are completed by their due date. Online students are aware of their responsibility and independence, as no one is reminding them (in person, anyway) to finish coursework. Not only are they responsible for tangible tasks like projects, but they are responsible for their learning process: making sure they reach out when they need help (aka, communicating), using self-discipline to make sure they watch all their lectures, meeting the technical requirements of the course, etc.

APPLICATION: Be responsible in your online courses by making sure that you read all the information you have, for what you are doing, in advance. For example, check the technical requirements before you start the course to make sure you can meet them; if you don’t, proactively figure out a solution. (Technical requirements can be anything from ensuring your current web browser is compatible with the course operating system to checking if your computer has video capability, if needed). Use self-discipline to get your tasks done. For instance, eliminate distractions like social media by putting your cell phone on silent before you work. Another way to be more responsible is to stay organized. (Many traits go hand-in-hand with one another). Planners and to-do lists will help you go far!


man smiling while typing on his white laptop



ABOUT THE ATTRIBUTE: Successful online learners are self-motivated. Online students find ways to persevere and motivate themselves to get things done. They are committed to their goals and are ready to tackle the work that lies ahead to meet them. They have a growth mindset, believing they can accomplish even the hardest of tasks with a strong work ethic.

APPLICATION: In “7 Strategies for Success as an Online Student,” we mention why understanding your purpose is important. Understanding purpose and knowing one’s ultimate goal (for example, I want to take a medical billing and coding course so I can start a new career and create a better life for my family) often serves as great motivation for students. First, spend time identifying your ultimate goal and purpose. From there, break your overarching goal into smaller, more attainable goals (for example, by dedicating one hour a day toward studying). Once you’ve identified your goals, write them down on notecards or Post-Its and place the notes where you will see them often. For small tasks, reward yourself in fun, creative ways, like with a favorite snack or candy. For long-term projects, motivate yourself on a bigger scale, like with a meal at your favorite restaurant.



ABOUT THE ATTRIBUTE: Successful online learners are resilient. They remain persistent, even when the going gets tough. If they don’t make the grade they wanted on an exam or don’t grasp concepts as quickly as they would like, they don’t let themselves get easily frustrated. Instead, they persevere and rely on their strength and confidence to know they will do better next time. They have a tough mentality and know that adversity does not define them or their abilities as a student.

APPLICATION: First, avoid the tendency to panic. Remind yourself that everyone faces challenges in all aspects of life, and you are not the first person to face your current situation. If you are struggling, take time to reflect and think through the struggle. Pinpoint the source of your frustration. Once you have a better understanding, begin to strategize how you can conquer the obstacle and move toward your goals. If you are falling behind or need help, reach out to an instructor or another student in the course.


woman intently staring at her laptop



ABOUT THE ATTRIBUTE: Successful online learners are conceptual. They critically think about the concepts they are learning and how they are going to apply them; they consider how what they are learning connects to other subjects or aspects of their life. It’s not just how they think, but how they approach what they are learning.  They don’t learn to pass an exam and then forget the information. Instead, they learn with the “bigger picture” in mind and consider how what they are learning will advance their career.

APPLICATION: One of the best ways to make sure you aren’t “learning just to learn” is to ask yourself: “If I am on the field, how could I apply this concept to better the organization I am at?” Think about the real-world scenario and reflect. Memorization and facts can be important, but take time to really analyze what you are learning. Participate in online forums; look at questions that others are asking and think about how you would answer.



ABOUT THE ATTRIBUTE: Successful online learners are resourceful. They know that looking for different ways of learning outside of the online classroom will enhance their experience. They seek out resources and use podcasts, books, subject matter experts, and various online forums to become well-rounded on topics. Your instructor and classmates can also be great resources to expand your knowledge and be a source of academic support. Not only do successful online students use resources to become more knowledgeable, but they use tools like study apps to enhance their studying and make studying easier.

APPLICATION: This one is simple: seek out the resources! Find books to read by going to your local public library; use Apple Podcasts or Spotify to search for podcasts. Google what you’re learning and find reputable articles to help you dig into the subject. Whatever you do, just don’t be passive; immerse yourself in knowledge. Use study apps as a resource to make studying easier (and even more enjoyable).


young man wearing headphones looking at a book with his laptop open



ABOUT THE ATTRIBUTE: Successful online learners are organized. In order to be responsible and keep track of everything, they know that they can’t have printed papers sprawled across the table, scribbled to-do lists on napkins, and five hundred tabs open on their laptop. They take time to plan and find ways to keep track of assignments, projects, etc. They know what tasks are coming up and schedule out time for long-term assignments in advance, so they aren’t scrambling to get things done last minute.

APPLICATION: Whether you use a physical planner, an app like MyStudyLife, or the calendar on your phone, use a planner and schedule out assignments to stay organized. After you get your syllabus, take the time to create a long-term schedule and write it (or type it) in your planner. Organize not only your time, but your materials and space. If you have physical school supplies you use, papers you print, or books you read, keep all your things in your backpack. Clean it out once a week so you can easily reference what you need. And, working in an organized space without clutter enables you to focus more easily.



ABOUT THE ATTRIBUTE: Successful online learners are interactive. They don’t stay in a reclusive bubble; they communicate. They get on class forums and message boards and share thoughts on what they are learning; they answer questions that the instructor posts. Also, interactive students are not afraid to ask the instructor questions via email or ask the instructor for help if they are struggling with what they are learning.

APPLICATION: This one is simple, as well. If you have questions or even just want to ask your instructor for further input on a subject, email them. Talk to your classmates on message boards and forums. If your course doesn’t have a message board, think about potentially reaching out to other students (if you have their contact information) to form a support group where you can work together, even virtually.


young woman smiling and typing on her laptop


Now it’s time for you to put these attributes into practice. Whether you’re just beginning your online education journey, or you’re a seasoned pro taking your third online course, applying these attributes in your own life will enhance your experience so you can live life a little easier, be less stressed—and ultimately, be the best online student you can be.