Distance education just isn’t the same as attending classes on campus, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get the same high quality of education in your online degree program that you would get on campus. That’s especially good news if you’re one of the many college students enrolled in traditional programs who have been forced to take their classes online due to COVID-19.

Whether you chose an online degree or had online classes thrust upon you, you’ll need to approach learning a little differently to be successful in online courses. With strong time management skills, self-discipline, and the help of classmates and professors, you can succeed in online classes, even if you’ve never attempted distance learning before. Just follow these tips.

1. Manage Your Time Wisely

If you’re in an online degree program, the number one key to success is to manage your time wisely — especially if you have other responsibilities, like a job or a family. Online bachelor’s degrees offer non-traditional students a greater degree of flexibility that even students of traditional college-age can appreciate. You can take your classes at whatever time of the day or night works best for you — most courses are asynchronous, meaning you won’t be required to sign in at a specific time to attend classes virtually. You’ll just be allowed to review course material as your schedule allows.

But you may have to work to make the time, especially if you have kids and a job. Even going to school online full-time as a traditional student will require the same time management skills that students in traditional brick-and-mortar programs need — if you party too much, or play video games all day too many times, your education is going to suffer. Prioritize studying and, if you have to, carve out study time during your commute, during breaks at work, or on a weeknight after the kids are in bed. To accomplish something time-consuming when you don’t have a lot of free time, you’ll need to look for more small increments of free time, not more large blocks of it.

2. Set Up a Workspace at Home

Setting up a consistent workspace can help you relax and focus on studying when it’s time to sit down and work. Not only can having a designated workspace boost productivity, but it’s also a good way to signal to yourself and to everyone else in the household that you’re hard at work.

You can set your workspace up in whatever way works best for you, but the key is to make sure you’re comfortable and free from distractions. If you’re someone who needs an occasional change of scenery or who travels a lot for work, you can still recreate the sense of consistent workspace by bringing a consistent ritual of some kind into your hotel room, coffee shop, or other ersatz study space — it could be something as simple as grabbing a coffee and putting in your headphones.

3. Establish a Routine

Discipline is nothing more than a habit. Maintaining the motivation to complete a long-term project, like earning a degree, isn’t a matter of getting inspired and passionate about the work every day. You’re a human being, and you can’t be inspired and passionate about the work every day. That’s where the power of scheduling takes over.

Sit down with your family and block out times during the week when you can do your coursework — perhaps an hour or two on weeknights, and an entire day on the weekend. Get into the habit of sitting down every Tuesday and Thursday at 8:00 p.m. to work on your classes. Establish a routine of devoting every Saturday to studying. These routines will help you complete your coursework in a timely manner, and will help you stay the course when the going gets tough.

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4. Stay Organized

Staying organized as a college student means more than just keeping your desk drawers neat. In a traditional program, you’d have regular physical meetings to anchor you in the course framework and remind you of upcoming deadlines. Not so in an online program. You’ll have to use your organizational skills to keep track of your obligations and monitor upcoming deadlines, especially since you’ll likely have to replace physical class sessions with participation in discussion boards, chats, and other digital collaborations.

5. Reach Out to Instructors and Classmates

There’s no such thing as sitting quietly in the back of an online class. If you want to make the most of your online education, you need to engage with the instructor and other students. Reach out to your instructor early on to introduce yourself, and attend virtual office hours. Take advantage of opportunities to engage with classmates virtually or even meet up in person if you’re local. Participate in virtual study groups, and take advantage of your school’s resources for online students, which can include tutoring, writing help, life coaching, professional development advice, and more.

Going to school online can be a little more challenging than attending a traditional program, but with discipline and determination, you can succeed. In the end, you’ll get out of your education what you put into it, whether that’s online or in person.

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