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7 Best Study Tips for Online College Students

By Charlene Lattea, WVU Online | Wednesday, October 4, 2023

When Honeywell executive Scott Branham took on the challenge of obtaining his master’s degree from WVU Online in his late 30s, he quickly learned that he could not stay up until 1 a.m. every night poring over charts or reading book chapters.

"Instead, I learned to break the work into manageable pieces and work at the times when I am the most focused and energized," he says. "This also changed the way I approach my roles at work and in everyday life."

Like Scott, many online students struggle with challenges that differ from those in the traditional classroom environment, including time management, interruptions, and less face-to-face interaction with professors and classmates.

Because the challenges of online learning are different, study tips and other strategies are essential to success for online students.

7 Study Tips for Online College Students

Learning online may leave some students feeling overwhelmed because they need to learn to do things differently than they have always done them in the past.

In this article, we will help you solve your online learning challenges by providing seven essential study tips for getting the most out of coursework, as well as some "unconventional" tips from our own WVU Online students!

1. Designate a Study Space

It is important to set up a study space that is dedicated to your schoolwork and nothing else. By repeatedly working in the same space, you will establish a routine to help your brain shift gears and enter “study time.”

You could set up your space in the corner of a room or in a dedicated quiet room, personalizing the space to feel more comfortable with noise-canceling headphones and an ergonomic chair. Just make sure that you have access to high-speed internet and that there aren’t too many distractions.

"I like to change up where I study or work," says WVU Online student Treasure Lanham. "My first rule of thumb is "get out of the house." I find there are just too many distractions and temptations when trying to study from home—even with a dedicated office space.

"This can be the public library, a local coffee shop, or a co-working space, to name a few. If my studying can be done without internet access (reading, reviewing notes), I will even go to a local park."

"Getting out of the house not only helps me focus, but it adds some excitement and reward to studying. I can take time to enjoy the fall weather, have a little treat like a fun latte, or check out a book from the library. I also find that changing the venue helps break up the monotony of studying."

2. Create a Study Schedule

Just as important as your study space is your study schedule. You should set up a schedule and stick to it. Creating a routine helps you to be more productive.

WVU Online graduate Chris Morlock, who earned two degrees while working full-time, recommends that online students use a planner or Microsoft Outlook to keep organized.

"I always made a calendar and schedule to make sure that my assignments were completed on time," he says. "Online programs require a level of independence and self-motivation to keep on track in the courses. Starting off the semester with a system for organization will help you significantly."

Look at your class syllabus at the start of the semester and note all major assignments on your calendar. Make sure to check these dates regularly and set early deadlines to have a buffer zone before the real deadline comes.

Keep both a semester calendar and a weekly schedule. Your weekly schedule will include watching lectures, participating in discussion groups, reading, completing assignments, and studying.

"There is actually a lot of work thrown at you all at once," says WVU Online student Ashton Frame. "It can be extremely overwhelming. However, taking an hour or so to just write down all your work for the week and planning it throughout the week according to the due dates can be a great help with staying on track."

Working on more than one course simultaneously is very stressful, but if you allocate specific times to work on each class, you can cope by creating the same kind of structure you would have if you were in traditional, on-campus classes.

3. Stay Engaged in Online Discussions

Actively participating in your online lectures can enhance your understanding of the material and give you a feeling of accomplishment.

By that, we mean really being engaged during the lecture by doing the reading in advance, taking notes during lectures and other meetings, asking questions, and taking part in discussions.

Active participation helps to ensure that you understand the course material and helps you engage with classmates. In addition to asking questions, you could comment on a classmate’s work or even mentor or tutor another student.

You will be required to participate in an online forum or discussion board and to work with other students on special projects. Make sure to check in with professors and classmates as much as possible. You should be checking in at least once a day, if not more.

You can make information more engaging by making outlines, creating study guides, preparing charts, mapping out chapters, and creating practice exams to evaluate and master the material.

"A major benefit of learning online is truly learning how you, the student, learns best," says WVU Online student Chase Ofori-Atta. "I learned that I studied best in online classes by creating practice tests from the syllabus and the pre-recorded lectures."

Another strategy WVU Online student Treasure Lanham likes to use is a throwback to grade school: flashcards!

"Flashcards can be especially helpful with the memorization of dates, definitions, and details—whether you are typing out digital cards or physically writing on index cards," she says.

"They can also serve as a more fun way to learn material. I love to gamify things when I can."

"Bringing out the flashcards can give you a break from hours of reading, reviewing notes, or re-watching Zoom recordings. Making flashcards can also be a good connector to classmates. Sharing your flashcard deck can aid others and forge connections in the online space."

4. Take Regular Breaks

Study fatigue is a major problem when trying to complete a large amount of work, but taking consistent breaks can help with this and actually boost your productivity.

Be sure to build in time for play, fun, and relaxation. Your mind will get tired, and your progress will slow down unless you take a break.

Avoid strain. Regular breaks can help you avoid eye strain and brain strain. Try taking a walk outside to revitalize your mind and body.

Break tasks down into smaller parts. Trying to take on a big job in a short time frame is exhausting. The trick is to break the work down into smaller parts and keep your energy fresh as you complete each part.

Get in the right frame of mind. Being in the right frame of mind to do your work is important. You can achieve this by maintaining good health habits: eat well, get enough sleep every night, exercise daily, and work ahead enough that you don’t have to pull an all-nighter.

Pace yourself and reward yourself. Instead of staring at a computer screen for hours at a time, break down the time by following a specific pattern. For example, work on one class and complete a task, then reward yourself. Get up and get a snack, exercise, or watch TV for 30 minutes. Then come back and do the next task.

"Sometimes the challenge is just connecting with the information," says WVU Online graduate Blair Shea. "Whenever you get home from a long day at work, you do not really want to do anything. I had to come up with a little game, so that whenever I completed something that was due, I would reward myself."

5. Join or Form Study Groups

Forming or joining study groups is another way to actively participate and connect with your peers in the class, helping you to stay focused and organized.

You can interact with fellow students via social media groups, chat rooms, and forums. This is just like talking to them in class, except that it is online. Ask questions, have group discussions, and ask to work on team projects.

“Online classes provide a lot of opportunities to connect with other students through discussion boards, video chats, and group projects,” says WVU Online graduate Amanda Santiago.

“In the Software Engineering M.S. program, we worked on assignments together using tools that enabled real-time collaboration. Collaborating with peers enabled us to network with others in the software industry and I have maintained those connections even after graduation.”

There are video platforms that can be used for group study sessions. For example, at WVU Online, students often meet up on platforms such as Microsoft Teams or GroupMe to discuss projects and complete assignments.

WVU Online graduate Chris Morlock says both of his online programs utilized the discussion board feature, which really helped him connect with his peers in his courses.

"I felt that it was an actual conversation and not solely an assignment," he says. "I’ve connected with my peers on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter too."

6. Take Care of Your Mental Health

Online learning has its own stressors, especially when you are trying to balance a full-time job or family responsibilities with your online college coursework.

Stress can be debilitating, so it is important to learn how to manage it. Here we provide some tips on mindfulness and relaxation techniques that you may find helpful:

Stress management techniques: These include getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, listening to music, progressive muscle relaxation, socializing, meditation, and “going with the flow.” Get away from the computer for a few hours, or take a day to sleep in and recover your energy.

Keep a positive mindset. Monitor your self-talk and make sure it is positive. This reduces anxiety.

Know where to get help. Every school offers student resources, including mental health assistance, tutoring, writing help, career services, tech support, and help with accessibility. Make sure you reach out!

Do what is best for you. Are you a morning person or a night owl? Try to schedule your study time when your mind is fresh, and you do not have to deal with other responsibilities.

Are you a visual learner? If so, you may want to print out transcripts to review. Or maybe you learn best by listening and will do better with audio or video course content.

"I uncovered an unconventional method to study while working full-time and pursuing my doctoral degree, which involved reading articles while running my 5K on the treadmill," says Angie Berna Milliren, who graduated from WVU Online in 2022.

"This approach allowed me not only to absorb information from numerous insightful articles and papers assigned in my courses but also to expend some calories in the process."

"If you find yourself pressed for time and facing tight deadlines, incorporating study sessions at the gym can be an efficient way to achieve both fitness and academic goals."

7. Set Clear Goals

One of the most important things you can do to accomplish your best work is to have goals or objectives for what you want to accomplish. It is important to have short-term goals, as well as long-term goals.

Your goals and objectives provide you with the inspiration and motivation you need to get work done today, as well as throughout the semester and to the end of your program.

Follow these tips for setting goals:

Create semester and weekly goals. Break down your semester goals into to-do lists and also keep a calendar for all of your weekly activities. Keeping a weekly checklist is important to help you stay on task and keep track of your progress.

"The largest challenge of online learning is time management," says WVU Online student Alexandra Ashworth. "While online learning provided me with much more time, it also meant that my schedule had less structure."

"Through online learning, I had to figure out how to balance out my weekly learning with my weekly "to-do" list."

Create daily to-do lists: Write down your daily goals and to-do lists and work through these to get things done and meet deadlines. Crossing things off your list comes with a feeling of accomplishment, which helps sustain motivation.

Hold yourself accountable. Check in with yourself each week to make sure you are accomplishing what you need to do. If you are having trouble with this, try checking in with a classmate instead or asking a friend or family member to be your accountability partner.

Think about what you want to achieve. When you are trying to complete an assignment and not feeling very motivated, it is a good idea to think about what you want to achieve by doing the work. You want to earn credits, get a good grade, and eventually graduate. Think of each small task as a step you need to take to reach your long-term goals.

Your Journey Begins Here at WVU Online

Online learning allows you to acquire knowledge and skills from the comfort of your own home, but this kind of learning also requires adaptability in order to make the most of the experience.

As you complete more coursework online, you will develop new study habits and continue to refine them until you find a way of doing things that is perfect for you. That is what all of our WVU Online students have done!

It is now time to do further research and evaluate whether online learning aligns with your personal learning style and life situation.

WVU Online is an ideal starting point in your search for the right school. Our degrees are perfect for working professionals or others who want the convenience and flexibility of online learning from a nationally recognized university.

Learn More

Contact the Coaches at Our Learning Engagement Center

After reading this article, if you are unsure about your goals, or how to identify your interests and skills, be sure to reach out to one of our WVU Online admissions coaches. They are trained to help you look at your individual situation and make the right choice for your future.

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