11 secrets of top online learners

By Cindy Chambers

Every online class has at least one: a great student who stands out, stays strong week after week, and really soars during the course of a five-week class. As an online instructor for nearly a decade, I’ve noticed that many of these students share the same attributes of success. Today, I’ll share their secrets, and urge you to apply them to your own work. Chances are, they’ll make your academic journey richer and more rewarding than you ever thought possible!

  1. Introduce yourself. Think about it: In every brand-new online class, no one stands out, and no personality really shines. (In fact, during the first week of a new course, it can seem a little like teaching in a classroom with the lights out!) But the best online students shine brighter by sending an email to the instructor before the class begins. It’s always short and sweet; maybe something like this: Dear Ms. Chambers: My name is ________, and I’ll be a student in your upcoming class. I’m looking forward to learning more about the subject of __________ with you. A full name follows, along with the course number (important, since many Bethel instructors teach multiple courses concurrently.) Aha! Now, in a sea of nameless, faceless students, one stands out. Think of it as a lesson in marketing – you can’t sell yourself (or anything else) by being unseen and unheard.
  2. Make your Profile shine. Some online students approach the Profile section as if it were a posting on Facebook – voluntary, casual, and anything but professional. I’ve seen Profile photos that would make your mother blush: from super-revealing outfits, to pictures clearly taken in bars! Your Profile tells your classmates and teachers who you are personally, but the best online students approach it professionally, too. Make sure your photo is one that might get you hired at a business you want to work for (please – no car-selfies!), and that your description of yourself is personal, carefully proofread, and professional. You never know who will see it, or what a difference it might make in your life!
  3. Take the time to take it in. The strongest online students read every word of the Read section, and watch every minute of the Attend video. Teachers can see it in their depth of understanding, and their ability to translate these sometimes complex ideas into content-rich homework. In addition, thanks to a special V-Camp feature, instructors can literally see exactly how long each student spends on the Read and Attend portions of their work! Almost without exception, the strongest students take the most time to “take it all in” before diving into their work.
  4. Start early. Let’s face it: Procrastination hits everybody once in a while. Our lives are so busy that it’s easy to make schoolwork the last thing on your to-do list. Maybe you tell yourself that you “work best under pressure.” (Adrenaline can be a greater motivator – in fact, waiting till the last minute can speed up both your heartbeat and your fingers on the keyboard!) But not only do online instructors know exactly when you submitted your work – often as little as five minutes before the drop-dead deadline – we can see it in the content. Hurried students conduct less research, reveal more learning gaps, and produce more errors. Always.
  5. Write, rest, repeat. Having said that, please try to start your writing early in the week. Let it sit for a day, and then look at it with fresh eyes. Errors in spelling, grammar, APA, and content are much more likely to jump out on second glance. Tweak your work, read it aloud, and then tweak again before you click “submit.”
  6. Dig deep and reach high. The best online students often conduct independent research beyond the e-book – not necessarily because it’s required, but because they are Need to write about Starbucks this week? Feel free to go to their website and update the case-study with current, cited information. Tackling a leadership class? Dive into the Bethel Online Library and see what scholars are saying about the subject. Pushing yourself just a little bit more will result in higher learning opportunities – and higher scores.
  7. Use every tool at your fingertips. Bethel students are fortunate to have a wealth of resources literally close at hand. From the “wonders of Smarthinking,” to our user-friendly online library, there are a number of free services available to help you grow. Use them when you need them. Use them when you don’t! The best students always recognize that their work can be improved, and services like these can only help you grow more competent and confident, week after week.
  8. Follow the instructor’s advice. Your online instructor isn’t there to simply compliment or criticize you — he or she is there to help you grow. So carefully read the written comments you’ve been given, view the advice as professional guidance (rather than personal criticism), and try to apply these suggestions to your next week’s work. If you’re doing something right, keep doing it. If you’re doing something wrong, avoid it. Take every review as one more learning opportunity on your journey to success.
  9. Reach out and touch someone. The best students ask the most questions. They send frequent, courteous emails to their instructors for clarification. They call their academic advisor when they’re confused. They contact members of their cohort group from time to time, seeking additional guidance, consensus, or just plain moral support. Getting to know members of your cohort group, as well as your instructor, will really help the learning come alive. When online learning leaves you lonesome, remember: It will really open up when you reach out!
  10. Evaluate (both yourself, and your teacher). Honest evaluation is a valuable part of the learning process. At the end of each class, please take the opportunity to complete the anonymous Course Evaluation, to include specific comments about the class and the instructor. Believe me – your words will be seen, both by the teacher and Bethel administrators. Everyone needs to know what they do well, and areas in need of improvement, and these course evaluations help Bethel grow even better. Apply the same honest appraisal to yourself at the end of each course. What did you do well? Where can you improve? Start each new class determined to apply what you learned during the last one – about the subject, and about yourself.
  11. Stay focused on your goals – especially when things get tough. Earning a degree isn’t easy, and even the best students will hit a rough patch, or a tough class, from time to time. That’s when you need to remember why you enrolled in the first place. Keep your goals front and center — whether they be a better job, the pride of your family, or the knowledge that your degree will be valued and valuable. When you focus on the finish line, it’s hard to see the obstacles in your path.

The very best online learners grow from student to scholar during their academic journey. Apply these suggestions – and get set to shine!

Cindy Chambers loves to teach — and really reach — her students.  She has been voted “Online Instructor of the Year” by Bethel students for the past three years. Feel free to contact her with comments or questions at chambersc@bethelu.edu.