Tips for Online Classes

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Whether you’re considering taking some or all of your college classes online, you may be able to benefit from following these top tips for online classes. Here, you can explore the differences between traditional and online classes and learn more about how to be successful in online classes. Keep in mind that your college education’s value will likely depend on your level of engagement, regardless of the format in which you attend classes.

In This Article: 

What To Expect From Traditional College Classes 

Traditional college classes take place on campus in a classroom, lecture hall or laboratory. Depending on the class schedule, you may attend two or three classes per week. You’ll also need to set aside time during the week to do research, complete reading assignments and do other class-related work. 

Traditional classes typically take place during the day, but there are may also be evening classes available. Most students who go on to pursue a baccalaureate degree immediately after high school usually take a full schedule of college classes during the day. Adult students who are returning to school after an absence may be more likely to take evening classes, which can fit around their work schedule.

If the class are held in a lecture hall with a large number of other students, the focus of the class will likely be a presentation by the professor. Courses that are held in smaller classrooms typically involve more discussions among the students and the professor. With either format, you should plan to take plenty of notes.

What To Expect From Online Classes

Most colleges that offer online classes likely have their own e-learning platform. After you sign up for your first class, you should log into your account to make sure there are no compatibility issues with your computer or browser. You’ll want to address these ahead of your first scheduled class. You’ll also need to become familiar with the platform and all its features so you can hit the ground running once your class starts. Here are some ideas:

  • Be sure you have a reliable, high-speed internet connection 
  • Limit distractions around you
  • Ask family or roommates to avoid interruptions

Once you log in, follow the on-screen directions to view class lectures, submit assignments and access course materials. You can also use the online platform to contribute to in-class and interact with students and instructors via discussion boards. 

Online classes are designed to be completed from anywhere with internet access. However, if you live near the university, you might still want to visit the campus once in a while. You may want to use the library, for example, or meet up with your fellow students. Even as an online student, you may still be able to take advantage of campus resources, including clubs and activities.

The Advantages of Online College Classes 

Many college students prefer online classes because they are convenient and accessible, with a platform that allows you to learn from anywhere. This also means that you’ll be connecting with other students who might be across the country or on the other side of the world. You have the opportunity to benefit from their diverse perspectives and worldviews.

Online classes tend to offer a more flexible schedule, making them a great fit for college students who have responsibilities outside of school. For example, you might be working full-time while going to college on a part-time basis. An online class can save you the time you’d otherwise spend commuting to campus.

Another benefit of completing your college degree online is that online education can provide opportunities for you to improve your time management skills and deepen your intrinsic motivation. You’ll work on developing greater self-discipline as you work through your schedule of classes, assignments and study time.

Are Online Classes Easier Than In-Person Classes? 

If you have never taken an online class, you might think it could be easier than an in-person class. Though you can often set your own schedule this does not mean online classes are less difficult than in-person classes.

For some people, online programs are easier because they offer a flexible schedule. In addition, people with great time management skills and a sense of responsibility may thrive in online classes.

However, online education may be more challenging for those who enjoy learning in a classroom environment. Here is what you need to know about some of the factors that can affect your decision to pursue online classes.


In-person classes can give you a certain time and place to be present, but with online classes, this is generally left to your discretion. You have greater freedom over when you choose to log in, complete your assignments and view your lectures. For some people, especially those with busy lives, it can be difficult to find the motivation to complete schoolwork at the end of a long day.

To ease online classes, self-motivation and independent work are essential. For those seeking more interaction, connecting with a classmate for regular check-ins can be beneficial.


Some people think there would be less work in an online class if you are not meeting with the professor weekly, but you will be doing just as much work in an online class as you would in an in-person class. You will not have to commute to and from the class itself, but you will have the same amount of lecture time and the same number of readings and assignments. In some cases, there may even be more reading and writing included in an online program to make up for the lack of in-person contact.

To stay on top of your workload, consider these tips:

  • Set weekly goals, keep a set schedule
  • Complete portions of your schoolwork every day to avoid last minute cramming
  • Block out time to complete reflection and discussion questions

Lesson Delivery 

If you are someone who thrives in the classroom, switching to online classes may seem more challenging, but you may just need to learn some tricks to create your own groove of studying. Someone who enjoys listening to professors and having in-person discussions with classmates may be intimidated by the structure of online learning, but there are ways to be successful and learn just the same as in-person classrooms.

To help ease the lesson delivery in online classes, consider the following tips:

  • Obtain high-speed internet
  • Do a little work each day to avoid feeling overwhelmed by new technology
  • Utilize technical support if your school offers it to online students

Extra Tools

Even in-person classes require a laptop or computer in most classes. There are also other expenses like books. Online classes, however, require many different types of tools. Of course, you’ll need a computer, and you’ll need to be reasonably skilled with the use of common digital technologies, like web browsers and apps.

In addition, some online degree programs may require students to download and install new programs and applications. If you are someone who prefers a more traditional set of learning tools, online classes may appear to present some unique challenges.

When addressing these challenges, remember that when you are enrolled in an online program, you will always have the support of your professor. They can answer questions for you about how to navigate the class and view assignments and lectures. Any questions they cannot answer can be directed to your school’s IT department.

Group Work 

Online classes are not exempt from group projects. In order to boost engagement and encourage collaboration, many online classes include group work. Some of these group projects may require you to use collaborative technology tools.

Others might require you to meet through a video call or do a live chat with your group for online learning. For people who struggle with technology or prefer meeting people face-to-face, there may be a learning curve.

One way to help get over the struggle is to be honest with your classmates about how you feel about working together online. They may have suggestions for other tools that can make the collaboration easier. Group work is about functioning as a team, and honest communication can be a vital part of your success.

School Standards 

You are receiving the same type of credit toward your online degree program in an online class as you would for an in-person class. Therefore, your university should maintain a standard level of educational expectations across both modalities. Taking an online class should have the same curricular expectations and general level of ease or difficulty as in-person classes due to these standards. By providing some tips for online classes, you will be enabled to maintain the classroom standards.

10 Tips for Online Classes in College 

There is no single trick for how to thrive in online classes. Rather, you can use a variety of strategies to keep yourself on track and hold yourself accountable for getting the work done. Try the following tips for taking online classes as a college student.

1. Create a Dedicated Workspace 

Not everyone has the luxury of a home office, but you should have a dedicated workspace for attending classes, studying and doing your coursework. It’s ideal to set up your workspace in an area of your home that isn’t a common area. If you must use a common area, such as the living room, try to orient your desk so that you can face the wall or a window instead of other occupants.

2. Get the Necessary Technology 

Before the semester starts It can be an unpleasant surprise to discover that you’re missing the necessary technologies partway through the semester. Check in advance to determine whether a particular class requires certain software, such as graphic design software. In addition, you’ll need a reasonably fast computer to watch video lectures, and you’ll need a reliable high-speed internet connection.

3. Avoid Distractions in Online Classes 

Potential distractions abound for online students, from social media to Netflix to internet rabbit holes. Of course, there are also plenty of offline distractions, like friends texting you and household members interrupting you. Your online learning strategy arsenal needs to include strategies for avoiding distractions.

Identify your top distractions and then plan for avoiding them during school time and study sessions. For example:

  • Use noise-canceling headphones
  • Listen to music that won’t distract you
  • Use an app that can block certain website notifications
  • Turn your phone off
  • Hide the TV remote or your favorite novel in another room to avoid temptation

4. Create a Weekly Schedule 

Organization is one of the most crucial tips for online classes. You may need a day planner or scheduling app to keep track of due dates.

At the beginning of each semester, check out your syllabi and add exam dates and major assignment due dates to your schedule, as well as your class schedule (if you need to attend online classes at set times). At the beginning of each week, indicate exactly when you’ll watch video lectures, participate in class discussion boards and complete assignments. You should also block off time for studying each week.

5. Find an Accountability Partner 

Some college students may struggle to hold themselves accountable for watching lectures, participating in discussion boards and completing coursework on time. This can be particularly challenging for online students.

If this describes you, consider finding an accountability partner. This could be a fellow online student in one of your classes. Check in with your partner every week and update each other on your progress.

6. Be an Active Participant in Class Discussions 

Watching recorded or live class lectures and completing homework assignments doesn’t comprise the entirety of the college experience. Students also learn by interacting with each other — by sharing their perspectives, experiences and worldviews, and of course, by asking questions. It’s important to actively participate in each class discussion forum.

7. Stay Mentally Engaged 

As an online student, you may find yourself staring blankly at the computer screen from time to time. You might read a long passage and then wonder, “Wait, what exactly did I just read?” Spending long hours in front of a screen can sometimes make one’s mind wander a bit.

It’s important to stay as mentally engaged as possible to enhance the learning process. Try these tricks to study in a more active fashion: 

  • After reading a passage or watching part of a video, pause and condense what you were taught in your own words
  • Reflect on the material and try to relate it to a real-life example
  • Write down questions as they occur to you
  • Pretend to teach the material to someone else (yes, speak out loud) 
  • Even better, actually teach the material to someone else

8. Offline Tips for Online Learning: 

Studying for hours at a time won’t do you any favors. Your attention will likely wander, and you may not remember much of the material. Instead, take scheduled breaks as follows:

  • Focus on the task at hand for 25 minutes (set a timer or use a timer app)
  • Take a five-minute break
  • Focus on your work for another 25 minutes
  • Repeat until you’ve completed four 25-minute sessions with five-minute breaks in between
  • After four 25-minute sessions, take a 15-minute break

9. Reach Out to Your Professors 

The college experience is meant to be interactive; learning doesn’t take place in a bubble. When you have questions about the course material, don’t hesitate to reach out to your professors via email. If you live close to campus, you might even go there in person and take advantage of office hours to meet with your professors.

Connecting with your professors is beneficial for two main reasons. First, they can help enhance your understanding of tricky subjects or offer recommendations for further reading. Second, you may need to ask one or more professors for letters of recommendation at some point. They’ll need to know who you are in order to write those letters.

10. Use Your College’s Virtual Resources 

Even if you live hundreds of miles away from your college, you should be able to access some learning resources online. For example, your school may offer academic support resources like online tutoring, self-paced tutorials for skills development and career-related resources. In addition, the library may offer a robust digital catalog.

Make Dual Enrollment Part of Your Online Learning Strategy 

Did you know it’s possible to earn college credits while still in high school? GCU offers dual enrollment opportunities to students who are still in high school, either at an established school for those who are being homeschooled.

You can choose from online and on-campus classes as a dual enrollment student. Work toward completing your general education requirements and take classes in fields of study that you’re considering. Earning college credit while you’re still in high school may help you accelerate your college graduation date and potentially reduce your tuition expenditures (dual enrollment students pay a reduced tuition rate at GCU).

Plus, you may be able to fit online classes into your current high school schedule.

Grand Canyon University offers higher education through a variety of modalities. In addition to the dual enrollment opportunities, you can choose from many on-campus and online degree options, as well as evening courses. Complete the form on this page at the top of your screen and begin preparing for your future.

Approved by the assistant vice president of GCU Marketing on Feb. 5, 2024.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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