Tips on how to succeed in an online class

Adult students are finding it harder than ever to make it to campus for undergraduate courses. Even outside of the challenges presented by the pandemic, professional and personal commitments can make traditional courses a less feasible option, and the flexible schedules that online courses offer can make them much more attractive. With Penn LPS Online courses, students not only take advantage of that flexibility, they also have access to a wide range of courses taught by experts in their field, in accelerated and highly interactive formats.

If you’re thinking about taking an online course or if you’ve already enrolled in one at Penn LPS Online, your online learning experience may be quite different from what you’ve experienced before. Here are some tips from Penn LPS Online staff and students to help you prepare for an online class, know what to expect, and develop successful online learning strategies.

Explore the course site

Once a course begins, the first step is to log into the course site and review the Getting Started module. One of the biggest adjustments most students new to online learning make is understanding that the course site is the classroom: that’s where you’ll find what topics the course covers, the various assignments and deadlines, and the textbooks you might need. It’s also where most of the class interaction will take place with video lectures, readings, discussion boards, and assignment submissions.

Each instructor uniquely designs their course, and the course site helps you understand their plan for the weeks ahead. “Make yourself aware of your professor’s expectations, and if you’re foggy on any of it, speak up sooner than later,” says Kate Norley, a Penn LPS Online Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences (BAAS) student. “They would not be in the profession if they did not want you to succeed. The best way to learn is to first admit what you don’t already know.”

Checking the course site often will ensure that you make the most out of every reading, discussion, and assignment throughout the fast-paced 8-week timeline. Cynthia Line, a student enrolled in Leadership and Communication courses, says, “I have truly enjoyed the assigned readings and essays. I am a critical thinker and enjoy putting the pieces together. For the courses I have completed, I read materials I would not normally read, I read contemporary articles that meshed well with theoretical material, and I often think about—and talk about!—my readings.”

Practice and perfect the art of time management

For online classes, “Time management is a very important skill. Online classes take a lot of discipline and work,” says BAAS student Ruben Camacho. It’s also an essential skill that will carry over to your professional and personal life. Students taking our online classes should expect to spend 10-15 hours a week per class studying, reading, interacting, and working on assignments. Sarah Libros, Penn LPS Online’s Student Success Advisor, recognizes that some students don’t realize the accelerated courses mean that taking one class is a part-time schedule, and two classes is a full-time schedule. She recommends “starting off slow” to make sure you can find the right balance to juggle all your responsibilities with confidence.

Meryl Krieger, who has been teaching online classes for more than ten years and is a Senior Learning Designer with the Penn Arts & Sciences Online Learning team notes, “Since you don’t have a scheduled time for class, it’s harder for work to feel real. Students have to create a structure for themselves.” Those who look ahead at the Getting Started module on the course site and plot out assignments and workload each week find better success in keeping up with the pace of the class. The benefit of asynchronous courses is that class is always open—you get to choose the time of day that works best for you to engage and learn.

Ruben knows that understanding the importance of time management is key because Penn LPS Online courses are just as intense as traditional Ivy league classes—and he has also learned that space management is just as important. “In a classroom, there aren’t as many distractions as there can be at home,” he says, so dedicating a certain space and time to solely focus on schoolwork is a strategy that works for him.

Use all of the resources available to you

The technical nature of online classes can be intimidating to some students, so our Online Learning team is available as direct support. Some students need help navigating Canvas, Penn’s online learning platform, while others need help troubleshooting issues like internet access and hardware. Meryl encourages students to reach out at any time so she and her team can get you back on track. Help is available 24/7 by emailing (the recommended method) or by calling 1-833-283-2987.

Chat-based tutoring is also available for subject areas including business, computers and technology, English, math, and science through Brainfuse, which is accessible to students through the course site. The Brainfuse Writing Lab can be especially helpful to students who need coaching on effective writing practices and processes, and they also give feedback on writing assignments within 24 hours of submission.

Academic advising can be the extra support you need to be a successful online student. Anyone enrolled in a Penn LPS Online course has access to our stellar advisors, who can help students plan a successful approach to coursework—and many value getting feedback outside of the classroom. Advisors serve as a well-informed source for registering and selecting courses, answering questions about University policy and procedures, and helping identify other helpful Penn resources. Sarah says, “Some students just need someone to talk through things out loud, and our advising team is a terrific sounding board when you need it.”

Get to know your instructor and your peers

Getting to know your instructor online can present some challenges, but connecting through office hours, appointments, and emails is another step in becoming a successful online learner. Some students may be back in the classroom for the first time in years or lack the confidence to reach out to engage or ask questions. Meryl assures that “instructors are thinking about how students are coming on board, and what their differences and needs might be, so everyone can have a good experience. The best thing students can do to advocate for themselves is to take a deep breath and reach out to their teachers.”

As with traditional on-campus courses, instructors are invested in their course and the success of everyone in class. Ruben believes that having a great support system and time commitment from instructors is pivotal in the online learning experience. “My professional writing class instructor was a big inspiration to me,” he says. “She gave me one-on-one attention to make sure I succeeded and showed a sense of commitment to me as a student.” Ruben’s experience with his instructor was so impressive that it helped him decide to continue his studies in the degree program.

Ryan McReynolds, a student who completed Leadership and Communication courses, says, “The teaching assistants for this course were excellent and really helped me to shore up areas where I struggled on weekly assignments.”

It may surprise some students how many opportunities there are to connect. Through peer-review assignments, discussion boards, and group work, students find themselves sharing ideas and advice, and building lasting relationships. “Don’t forget to use your network,” Kate says. “I’ve found it incredibly effective to ask my fellow classmates for help understanding directions and various topics of study.”

Students in our online classes come from all over the globe, and they bring with them a wide range of exceptional experiences and backgrounds. Building lasting relationships with each other is a notable benefit for those that are looking to engage. Ryan says, “Even after completing the program, I have connected with several of my classmates via LinkedIn and even text with a few from time to time.”

The Penn LPS Online team has been intentional about creating peer-to-peer activities and forums like the MyPennLPS online community, virtual book clubs, and more casual Zoom gatherings. Discussions about career planning and technology, building a portfolio, and roundtables for working students are scheduled throughout the year to allow students and advisors to share tips for success and to network.

A final tip from Kate about what success looks like: “Use this opportunity to the fullest extent! There are a number of professional and personal skill sets that can be polished during these online courses. Use your foray into online learning not just to learn a specific subject, but to hone other important life skills. An online course is the perfect opportunity to practice self-discipline and responsibility.”

Read more about How to Succeed in Penn LPS Online courses, and be sure to explore the student resources available to everyone enrolled in our courses.

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