How to succeed when taking an online class

Students may use many of the same strategies for success in an online class that they do for a class they are taking face-to-face.   Some students are not as well prepared for online classes as others; even certain temperaments are not as well-suited for online courses.


The positive side of online education is that you can that you can show up for class in your pajamas and usually on your own time schedule.  But you have to show up and showing up means checking into the “virtual” online classroom several times a week and following the schedule on the syllabus. 

Getting behind in an online course most often ends in failing a course.  Please note that completing your class on your own schedule does not mean that you have an unlimited amount of time to complete the work.  Most classes follow a weekly schedule that makes assignments due once or twice a week. 


Online classes require the same type of work as face-to-face courses.  Students will need to read the textbook, interact with other students and prepare class/homework.  However, to facilitate a “virtual” online classroom other exciting technology is employed to maximize the learning experience.

Using Learning Management Systems

There are many different ways that courses can be conducted online.  Discussion and/or lecture will occur in the “virtual” online classroom through the learning management system.  An instructor might upload a narrated PowerPoint for students to view.  Students may upload homework/essays into a digital dropbox or post it to a collaboration/discussion board in the learning management system.

Some professors use email to conduct some online course, but most will be conducted through a learning management system like Blackboard or Moodle.  Bluefield Colleges uses eLearning which is part of the student portal myBC.  Every Bluefield College student is given an id number and password for myBC and this allows access to eLearning.    

After a student has signed up for an online class at BC then he/she should receive an email from the instructor of the course one week prior to the start of the class.  Students who do not receive this email should contact the registrar’s office to verify his/her enrollment in the course.  The registrar’s office should be able to clear up any problems regarding the student’s enrollment in an online course.

Once the student has access to the course in eLearning, he/she should take some time to become familiar with the setup.  Tabs on the left-hand side of the screen will be labeled with selections such as course information, syllabus, coursework, collaboration, grades, etc.  The syllabus should outline where students can find specific information.

Most professors post a welcome announcement that gives information about where to begin.  If questions occur, always ask.  If the student is directed to ask questions on a discussion board or under the collaboration tab, please do so and do not worry about embarrassment.  It is likely that some of the other classmates may have the same questions or concerns.  Other web tools that might be used in the virtual classroom are chat rooms, instant messaging, Facebook, and even Skype.  For the student not familiar with these tools, please take the time to do an internet search to learn about them early on in the course.

Applying Appropriate Time Management

Any student must assess the amount of time it will take to complete the course work. Students are encouraged to perform an assessment of  time management needs.  Check on myBC under the ACE quick link to find tools to help with time management. The time management/goal setting worksheet is under the Academic Seminar tab.  The standard for the average college course is that one should expect to spend 2 to 3 hours per credit hour studying and preparing class work.   In order to perform well in a three hours credit course, a student should expect to spend 6 to 9 hours studying and preparing work. 

Many students chose to take online classes because they may have full-time jobs that will not allow them to participate in many traditional classrooms.  The online student should create a detailed schedule that will allow him/her to study and balance other responsibilities.  Weekends and after-work time will need to be maximized for study if the student works.  Many students with families sacrifice time their quiet time after the children are in bed to complete their school work.  

It is also important to remember that most online classes are accelerated and it is not the professor’s responsibility to make sure that the student is keeping up with the assignments and participating in discussions.  The student is solely responsible for checking into class and getting work in by the professor’s deadlines.  Meeting class assignment deadlines is one positive step toward success in the online class.

Getting behind in an online course most often ends in failing a course.  Please note that completing a class on the student’s own schedule does not mean that the student has an unlimited amount of time to complete the work.  Most classes follow a weekly schedule that makes assignments due once or twice a week.   Following a schedule and meeting deadlines cannot be stressed too often because putting off work until the last minute will not allow a student to successful learn the material and succeed in the course. 

Meeting Technology Requirements

Make sure the computer equipment matches the requirements or suggestions made by the school.  Different levels of technology may be needed for particular courses.  High-speed internet connections are very important when taking online courses because slower connections often cause technical difficulties with the learning management systems and computer programs used by schools delivering the online education.   Bluefield College recommends using high-speed cable or DSL service to succeed in the classes it offers online.

Appropriating an Adequate Study Space

After meeting the proper technological requirements, the student should choose a study area that will allow for minimum distraction as well as be clean and comfortable.  A home office or study is ideal but a bedroom or other quiet area will work.  Studying at the kitchen table in the middle of a busy family will likely prove to be too distracting.  Be sure to stay away from spaces that have too many distractions like the television or stereo.  Being tempted to multi-task will also affect successful performance so if possible, turn off the cell phone and do not keep applications like Facebook open on the desktop while doing school work online.

Enhance study by using the resources provided by the instructor and Bluefield College.  The instructor may provide links within the eRacer platform but also utilize the resources for study and help under the ACE quick link on myBC.  The ACE online writing lab offers help with improving writing skills.  Most online classes are writing intensive so be sure to utilize a writing handbook or the links to writing handbooks found under ACE.  ACE also contains links to math videos and many other resources to help students be academically successful.

Engaging with the Material and with Other Learners

A common misconception is that online courses are completed in a vacuum.  The student must engage with the material and (in most cases) with other learners to complete the course work successfully.

A recently research study indicated that “within the online environment, social interactivity is a necessity to the formation of knowledge. Learning, in order to be truly affective, must embody a social element that nurtures an individual through the multi-intelligences of a group while it also embraces and fosters an individual to recognize self-efficacy.”  In short, students can successfully learn from each other when engaging together in academic inquiry. 


Discussion boards, forums, collaboration and group work are all part of the online activities that a student should be prepared for when taking an online course.  Typically, discussion boards are where the students “talk” to one another by making posts and responding to posts.  Many instructors will require students to post to a discussion board by a certain time of the week and then ask for students to respond to student posts by the end of the class week.



Online Test Taking


Course may include online quizzes or tests to assess the learning of individual students.  Often instructors will create tests and quizzes that are timed and must be taken with within a certain timeframe. 


For example, an end-of-week quiz may be given to test students on the textbook materials.  The test may be may be 20 multiple choice questions that should be completed in thirty minutes.  In this case, the instructor is expecting that the student will have read the material completely before starting the timed test online.  Other tests may not be timed but completed before a certain date.  In any case, fully understanding the perimeters of the assessment would be best for the student before he/she accesses the test.  Ask questions before starting the test.


Know what the instructor’s policy is on technological malfunctions.  If a student’s computer crashes or if the student loses power during the test, he/she may be shut out of accessing the test and not be able to restart it without the instructor’s permission.  Always know what the class policy is before starting a test.  Find out what to do in case of a failure in technology or a personal emergency.  Planning ahead for the test is always the best course of action for success.




Staying on top of the work in the course as well as engaging with the material, the instructor, and fellow learners should insure success.  Proper time management and personal commitment to the student’s learning goals are also part of this success.  One of the most important tips is to ask questions if anything is unclear or a matter of concern.  Personal responsibility is the single most important aspect of a student’s academic progress and particularly when engaging in online education.



Written by Crystal Kieloch (revised 2017)