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Succeeding as an online student
Second in a two-part series. Read part one of Succeeding as an Online Student.

There are universal challenges to succeeding as an online student that we all face, regardless of our temperaments and personal habits. For this series, we wanted to delve into these challenges and look at how we can overcome them to achieve success when learning online.

In part one of this series, we heard from Regan Daniel, our Marketing Manager, about the special challenges posed to the human brain by digital learning.

In this second piece, we want to look at the opposite side of learning—the personal side. Knowing your individual learning style, creating an environment that works for you, and having the right tools can give you a head start when it comes to online classes.

Personal Learning Style

You have probably heard of different personal learning styles. Perhaps you’ve already seen them in action in your own life or work. Figuring out your learning style can be challenging because we are all so different. But the important point here is “know thyself.” Take some time to think about how you learn. What helps you? What doesn’t work? When, where, or why do you wander from your goals? Understanding these issues is vital to establishing what will help (or hinder) your success as an online student.

There are some great websites with quizzes designed to help you understand your learning style. Are you visual or auditory? Are you a marathoner or a sprinter? Take a few minutes to visit one of these sites, and then use the information to create your own personal best practices:

In addition to your general style of learning, your relation to time is important to understand. Consider these questions when planning how to take your online course:

Morning or night person? 

When are you freshest and most alert? For example, you may be working full-time throughout your course. Or have kids with you during the day. Depending on your internal clock, will you do better work getting up a little earlier or staying awake a little later to take your class? With hectic schedules, it can be tough to accommodate your timing needs. But studying when you do your best work will help you absorb, understand, and retain the information better.

Marathoner or sprinter? 

My wife and I are great examples of these two types. I am a sprinter and do my best work in short bursts filled with energy. Then I burn out. My wife, on the other hand, is much more productive when she has 3 hours or more to sit and really focus on her work.

Spend some time deciding what style fits you best and do your best to study accordingly. It may not always work out the way you want it to…but that’s ok. Knowing will help you at least try to make it happen. Or, when you are in the home stretch, you can use your most productive time to work through your most challenging issues.

(Don’t forget to take sensible breaks…especially if you’re a marathoner who is more tempted to skip them!)

Personal Work Environment

The area where you study is also very important, and what works best will vary from person to person:

Get comfortable….but not too comfortable.

Simple things like a creaky chair, bad lighting, or being too cold do affect your attention and, therefore, your learning. But your seating, lighting, and temperature preferences won’t be the same as everyone else’s. My La-Z-Boy is fine for me since I don’t find it overly comfortable and it’s too close to the wall to lay back. Using my laptop in bed? That’s a direct line to ‘napsville.’ Figure out what works for you.

Limit Distractions.

Here again, it’s important to understand what distracts you. Don’t assume that a noisy environment will be distracting and a quiet one won’t. As I write this post, I am sitting at the desk in my room on a quiet Sunday afternoon with my door almost shut. Sounds like a great work environment, right? Not in my house…at least not for me. My wife can shut out a whining dog or ignore the dirty dishes and still work. I can’t. I am not able to separate from my environment like my wife can.

Now, what about going to my local coffee shop? Music playing, a buzz of chatter, kitchen clangings, and laughing baristas. While that may seem more distracting overall, those sounds are not related to or directed at me. They act more like white noise in the background that I barely notice. So while my house is technically quieter than the cafe, it is not necessarily less distracting for me. Again: Figure out what works for you.

Avoid interruptions…but take breaks!

I consider a distraction something that momentarily breaks your concentration, something you can choose to ignore. Interruptions, however, are much harder to dismiss as they require an effort, an action, or an answer on your part. So it is very important to try and find places and times to study where interruptions will be rare. My room, in my house, on this particular Sunday afternoon is interruption city: my teen needs to use the computer, another child keeps coming in to talk with me, the phone rings with questions only I can answer, etc.

However, this spot would work on a Monday morning when I have a bit more control and can limit interruptions. But for me personally, somewhere other than home works best: a local coffee shop or my neighborhood library. On the other hand, you may be a neighborhood celebrity who needs to hide out in your basement to avoid interruption. So one more time…all together now:

Figure out what works for you. And whatever you do, don’t confuse interruptions (bad) with brief, sensibly-spaced breaks (good)!


When it comes to succeeding as an online student, it is important to harness the power of technology while resisting the constant pull of its many distractions. Social media updates! Sale at Target! Email from Mom!

Fortunately, the tech wizards who created a lot of these distractions have also provided some great tools to fight against them. Whether you struggle with multitasking and online distractions, or want help creating a study plan or staying focused, you know what they say…there’s an app for that! In fact, there are a lot of apps for that, but here are a few of our favorites.

StayFocused: $19.99 – Features include website blocking, timing feature, task management and reporting.

Vitamin R: $20 – Focuses on helping you structure your time and find a learning style that works for you.

Self Control: Free – Blocks websites and email service

Focus Booster: Free Trial, low subscription cost – Based on Pomodoro Method, offers dashboard reports and time tracking.

Side note: If you share your computer with kids in your house, many of these programs will work great to limit their distractions during homework!

Lattes in the cafe or pajamas on the couch can be real pleasures of online schooling. But we need to counterbalance this freedom by creating an environment, boundaries, and a work style that pushes us towards success when learning online.

Whether you are beginning a course or having challenges completing a current course, take some time to develop strategies that work for you. It may take a bit more effort and intent up front, but you will reap the benefits at the finish line when you understand and retain more information and breeze through that exam!

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