How to Succeed in Distance Learning

Four Parts:Self-Motivating for Distance LearningContributing to the Online Classroom CommunityUsing Distance Learning to Achieve Your GoalsPreparing Yourself for a Distance Learning Course

Distance learning has opened doors for many students, especially for those who cannot afford to pay for the high fees of full-time courses. Although online distance learning courses have many advantages over on-campus degree classes, many factors come into play in order for students to successfully complete distance learning courses.

Part 1
Self-Motivating for Distance Learning

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    Familiarize yourself with the syllabus. Think of your syllabus as the bible for your class. It should contain all of the class guidelines and rules, as well as what your instructor expects from you over the course of the semester. Make sure you read through this document in its entirety and keep track of it all semester.[1]
    • Ask your instructor any questions you might have about the syllabus. Make sure you clearly understand what your responsibilities are as a student from the very beginning.
    • Knowing what to expect from your course will help you plan how to proceed in the course from day one. So it’s important to figure this out early on.
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    Set a schedule for yourself. A big part of being successful in a distance learning course involves setting a schedule for yourself that you adhere to throughout the semester. You won’t have a teacher reminding you every day about due dates and reading assignments, so you’ll need to stay on top of this yourself.[2]
    • Create a schedule with all of your due dates listed and when you want to start working on each project so that you can plan your time accordingly.
    • It can be very easy to fall behind in a distance learning course if you don’t set a schedule for yourself.
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    Manage your time diligently. Distance learning courses take time – time that you must commit to spending without any outside encouragement from your teacher or classmates as you might get in a physical classroom setting. You are responsible for completing all of the work on your own time.[3]
    • College courses are said to take about two hours of work per week per credit hour (outside of class time). So a good rule of thumb if you are taking a distance course that’s three credit hours is to expect to spend about nine hours per week completing work for that course.[4]
    • Try to stay on top of your time/scheduling from the beginning. It can be very difficult to get caught up if you fall behind, especially if you’re taking more than one online class.
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    Submit your work on time. Meeting class deadlines is crucial to success in a distance learning environment. Your instructor will expect you to manage your time and complete assignments on time, so they may be less flexible with extensions and less forgiving with your excuses.
    • If you miss a deadline, there are fewer excuses available to you than in a regular classroom because everything is submitted online.
    • It is assumed that you are tech-savvy enough to handle the online aspect of the class. And your teacher will receive a timestamp on everything you submit, so there’s no fudging about when you turned something in.

Part 2
Contributing to the Online Classroom Community

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    Use proper online etiquette. Even though you may feel somewhat anonymous in an online classroom (as is the case in many online spaces), you are still required to behave as you would in any normal classroom setting. This means treating your professor and classmates with respect when you engage with them.[5]
    • Don’t air your grievances about the class online or exhibit anger in any form in a class discussion post. Your instructor will see these comments and it may negatively impact your grade.
    • Respond to your classmates’ posts with kindness and respect. You would want them to treat you the same way.
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    Communicate with your professor. You may not see your teacher in class every day, but they are still in charge of helping you through the course. If you have questions about an assignment or a subject, contact your teacher for guidance.[6]
    • Most distance learning professors will make themselves available to you via email, internal messaging through the classroom platform, or even via phone.
    • You may even be able to visit them in person if they hold office hours and you are near enough to the campus.
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    Contribute to online class discussions. Since distance learning doesn’t typically involve actual classrooms full of people engaging in conversations together, it’s important for you to participate in the online discussion posts instead. You will learn a lot from these conversations and you will probably be required to post a certain amount for credit in the course.[7]
    • Most distance learning classes allow the instructor to see how many times a student not only posts, but also whether or not they have even opened specific conversation/posting threads. Keep this in mind, especially if part of your grade is based on participation.
    • Remember that an online class gives your professor much more access to knowing just exactly what you’re doing in the course. In a traditional classroom setting, you may be able to avoid some of the work and fake it in class. But in an online class, your professor can see exactly what you’ve looked at, what you’ve read, how much time you spent, etc.
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    Participate when you are supposed to. One of the most important parts of learning in an online setting is engaging with your fellow learners. However, if you make your contribution (on discussion posts, project submissions, etc.) after the deadline, or after everyone else has already posted, then it is less likely that your classmates will read and respond to your comments. This cheats you out of a big part of the learning experience.
    • Also, if you are always commenting late, or at least after everyone else, your teacher will notice and this will probably affect your participation grade.
    • Participating late will decrease the learning experience of all of your classmates as well as decreasing your grade in the class.

Part 3
Using Distance Learning to Achieve Your Goals

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    Apply what you’ve learned. Successful distance learners do more than just memorize and regurgitate information. They think critically about what they’ve learned and how they can apply it to the real world or how it might be useful in their job.[8]
    • Relating what you learn in class to your real-world experience will help you internalize what you’ve learned in class which will help you be more successful in the future.
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    Set short-term goals. While a college education can be an overwhelming thing to consider (especially if you think about it only in its totality), there are many smaller pieces that you can focus on as you go to make it seem less daunting. For a distance learning course, it’s important to set short-term goals that help you manage the course as a whole and your college career in general.
    • Short-term goals for a distance learning class might include completing a particularly difficult discussion post on time, achieving a certain grade on your paper, or learning one important thing every day.
    • Take it one class at a time and complete each step as you go. Before you know it, you’ll be close to the finish line!
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    Set long-term goals for yourself. Many people who enroll in distance learning classes do so because they have many other obligations in their lives that prevent them from being able to attend regular in-person classes – often this is because of work commitments or family obligations. For people like this, it is important to think about not only your short-term goals for the course, but also to think ahead to what you want to get out of the class in general.[9]
    • While your short-term goals might include making a good grade on a particular assignment, your long-term goals should be geared more toward how completing this course will further your career, help you provide for your family, etc.
    • Long-term goals help you look at the bigger picture to see how this distance learning course is actually beneficial in your life.
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    Only take courses that you need. When you are working toward a college degree (especially if you are a person who finds it difficult to make it to regular classes), you should be very particular about what courses you spend your time and money on taking. Make sure that this course benefits your specific career goal or counts toward your declared major.
    • If you take classes that won’t work for the degree program you’re in, taking them is basically just a waste of time, energy, and money.
    • Figure out what classes you need, when they’re offered, and plan ahead so that you don’t encounter any unnecessary obligations related to scheduling or course requirements that could delay your graduation.

Part 4
Preparing Yourself for a Distance Learning Course

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    Select the right distance learning school. There are many unscrupulous "degree mills" around in the market that are just interested in selling their degrees without necessarily providing a good education. Do proper background checks on the institutions you’re considering.
    • Carefully look at your prospective school’s website and read other online reviews about them to figure out what kind of school they are and how much these distance courses will cost you.
    • Talk to a current or past student of your prospective school and ask them specific questions you may have – about cost, credit transfers, degree to completion time, etc.
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    Utilize credit transfers. Most distance learning institutions allow students to transfer their credits from courses they had taken from other colleges. So if you’ve taken college courses before, make sure you notify your new institution through the necessary channels. This way, you don't have to repeat what you have already learned.
    • This will also help you balance your work/family/school time since you’ll have fewer overall courses to take because of your transfer credit.
    • Additionally, you should make sure that credits from your prospective school are transferrable. You don’t want to waste your time taking a bunch of courses that you won’t be able to use if you end up having to transfer schools later.
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    Learn what technology you’ll need for the course. Most online courses don’t require a lot of special technology equipment to participate in the course. But you will probably need several different kinds of technology to be able to complete the class.[10]
    • Some items you will almost certainly need include a computer, regular access to the internet, and Adobe Acrobat viewer.
    • Your teacher may require some additional technology items that are specifically needed for the course. Make sure you find out what you’ll need ahead of time (these requirements should be listed in your course syllabus) so that you can determine whether or not you’ll be able to acquire the needed items.
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    Use the resources available to you. Try to take full advantages of the facilities provided by your online school. You are paying for these services through your tuition, so you may as well take advantage of them while you can.[11]
    • Resources available to you may include online libraries and resources, one-on-one attention with your instructors, and online sessions with tutors.
    • There may even be in-person facilities available to you for research, study, counseling, printing, and other services.


  • While not always so, a credible online program is often tied to a credible bricks and mortar program. If the program you are looking at is offered by a notable school that offers on-campus education as well as distance learning, this may be a good sign.
  • A basic rule for the amount of work is the "Rule of 3": For every hour of "in class time," there is supposed to be three hours of "homework." This is true for face-to-face classes and online classes. So, a 3-credit course means that you should be "in class" for three hours per week and have 9 hours of homework, for a total of 12 hours. Therefore, a face-to-face course or an online course expects up to 12 hours of work per week. (Do the math – two classes would be 24 hours per week, three classes = 36 hours, four classes = 48 hours, and five classes = 60 hours). Be sure you can handle the load.
  • Know your limits – legitimate online courses will have a normal college load of work. If you're working full time, consider taking only 1-3 classes. Too many students overwhelm themselves and burn out by taking 4-6 (or more classes) at a time while working full time, too.
  • Realize that credible online schools will expect you to perform like any face-to-face student – that is, excellently. Any place that is too easy and doesn't care what you do is just out for your money. Watch out for these types of institutions.


  • Make sure you only choose a college or university that's accredited in your own country. Some colleges or universities are accredited in their home country but not abroad. You should check that before enrolling.

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Categories: Distance Learning