Are You Ready to Be an Online Learner?

Online Learning can be more convenient, but the truth is…it is NOT easier! Taking courses online means taking greater personal responsibility for your learning. With the freedom and flexibility of the online classroom comes responsibility. It takes real commitment and discipline to keep on track. This page outlines the qualities and skills you need to be a successful online learner.


1. Be able to establish a routine at the start of the semester and stick to it!

  • Find somewhere quiet and free from distractions to study.
  • Establish a regular study time – log onto the course frequently. Pay close attention and follow instructions given by the instructor.
  • Print a copy of the syllabus, but don’t file it away – check it early and check it often!
  • Stay on schedule/plan ahead. You can’t afford to get behind. Know the deadlines and meet them. Don’t expect the instructor to be available 24/7. Sending an 11:57 p.m. email about an exam that closes at midnight is not a successful strategy.
  • Keep an organized study file. Backup all work that you have downloaded and completed.
  • Participate in online class discussions. By doing so, you will gain a better grasp of the course material and avoid feeling isolated.
  • Look for study partners. Other students can help you study, answer your questions, and remind you of any upcoming deadlines. And sometimes, it’s nice to just chat with someone who knows exactly what you’re going through.

2. Stay motivated.

  • Online learning is an endurance sport. When you’re feeling burned out and tired of staring at a screen, don’t give up. Remember that everyone has good days and bad. The key to online class success: Never Give Up!

Personal Responsibility

3. Be able to meet the minimum requirements for the program.

  • The requirements for online are no less than that of any other quality educational program. The successful student will view online as a convenient way to receive their education – not an easier way.

4. Read all course materials and communications carefully and completely.

  • Reading for comprehension is critical for online learning.

5. Accept critical thinking and decision making as part of the learning process.

  • The learning process requires you to make decisions based on facts as well as experience. Assimilating information and executing the right decisions requires critical thought; case analysis does this very effectively.

6. Be willing to “Speak Up” if problems arise.

  • If you experience difficulty on any level (either with the technology or with the course content), you must communicate this immediately. Otherwise, the instructor will never know anything is wrong and will be unable to help resolve the problem. Please don’t hesitate, if necessary, to communicate with your instructor by phone.

7. Be able to communicate through writing.

  • In the virtual classroom, nearly all communication is written, so it is critical that you feel comfortable in expressing yourself in writing.

8. Think through ideas before responding.

  • Meaningful and quality input is an essential part of the learning process. Allow for careful consideration of your responses in online class discussions. The testing and challenging of ideas is encouraged; you will not always be right, just be prepared to accept a challenge.

Study Habits

9. Be willing/able to commit enough hours per week per course to prepare.

  • Online is not easier than the traditional educational process. In fact, many students will say it requires much more time and commitment.
  • Students enrolled in 3-credit undergraduate online courses that are 12-15 weeks in length have reported spending approximately 8 to 12 hours per week on readings and assignments (and for a similar 6-7 week course, students could spend 12-18 hours per week).
  • Plan to spend extra time when you have papers, projects, or exams!
  • Graduate-level courses will likely require more time per week.

Technology Availability

10. Make sure you have unlimited access to a computer and internet service.

  • Open access to a working computer and a reliable internet connection are essential to success in completing your online course.

Want to see if you are ready for online learning?

Take our Online Learning Readiness Questionnaire!

Need help preparing for college?

Penn State World Campus offers a New Student Orientation Webinar. For more information or to register, please contact the World Campus: U.S. Toll Free: 800-252-3592/Local/International: 814-865-5403

In addition, the following are recommended self-paced tutorials designed to help you prepare for online learning:

Components of this document have been adapted by the Penn State Online Faculty Engagement Subcommittee, with permission and our appreciation, from similar work University of Illinois & the Illinois Online Network.

Except where otherwise noted, this content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Page Contact: Ann Taylor