Tips for Online Classes

Doing well in an online college class requires some strategy and commitment. Contrary to popular belief, online classes are not “easier” or worth less.  In fact, some students experience some of their best learning online….but it’s not by accident. It’s by design. 

Here’s how to design your best online class experience:

First of all, note which type of online classes you have enrolled in: 

  • Synchronous, “face to face” online classes are hosted live at a set time on a platform such as Zoom. They are the most similar to traditional in-person classes. Benefits of a synchronous course is the direct live interaction that you can engage in. Remember to keep your camera on, if you are able, and be responsive. Do not treat your synchronous course like a webinar. 

  • Asynchronous classes are hosted completely through Learning Management Systems, such as Canvas, where you complete modules, watch recorded lectures, respond to discussion boards, etc. Asynchronous courses maximize your time, allow you to work at your own pace, especially if juggling many other responsibilities. It will be especially important for you to be organized and motivated in order to be successful. 

  • Blended classes provide opportunities for students to learn in-person and virtually. The benefits are that students get the best of both styles in a single course. Make sure that you have a system for keeping track of what the expectations are throughout the semester.



Treat Your online course as an Equal Priority. Even though you are not required to “attend” at certain times,  the following time management tips can help keep the important things on your radar. 


Schedule regular times for all of the activities of the class. This will make you more likely to succeed. This includes making regular times for the reading of course materials and note taking, as well as time to read and respond to discussion boards, and self-testing. Another really simple but crucial thing to schedule is a short time every day to log into Canvas to check for messages and updates. 


Utilize Google calendar to help you block short but frequent time blocks for the activities of your asynchronous course as well as plan for when assignments and exams are due. When you log in to Google Calendar with your Cal Poly Humboldt account, your synchronous classes will be pre-loaded. This will help you see what additional time you have available to focus on your asynchronous course. 


Take advantage of time apps. If it seems daunting to keep on that schedule that you’ve created….consider utilizing time management applications such as Pomodoro 


Hold yourself accountable to this. Regularly check in with yourself about whether or not you are keeping this commitment. An academic coach can be useful if you are finding this challenging. 


Upgrade Your Activity Level

Upgrade Your Activity Level

It’s all too easy with an asynchronous course to glaze over, nap or simply skip the most important parts of your course, simply because it’s not live and interactive. Studies show that the more actively involved you are (not simply looking at something or just listening), the more you will learn (Ismail,et. al, 2018) You’ll have to make a commitment to actively engaging in reading, note taking, processing the information and remembering it all!

Interact with Lecture. Don’t just take lectures at face value. Consider all of the ways that you can capture your instructor’s main points, inside information, and questions. We know that students who create interactive notes - not just a transcript of what was said (Typing or Handwriting, 2018) are more likely to get the big picture. Need templates for notes? Learn about Cornell Notes. See our Cornell Notes template and SQ4R notes handouts. Remember, what you do with notes after you have taken them is what matters most!


Host a Viewing Party. Watch lectures together with classmates. Pause the video at certain points and compare and contrast your notes. Taking time to process out loud with others, have a sketching break to explain a concept to another person, or writing short summaries about the main points can really help consolidate the new information you are learning. Try Watchparty 


React to Reading. Pay attention to what platforms your reading content comes from. PDF readers now have many interactive features where you can highlight and take notes. Some can also read content to you. Having reader software can free you up to focus on the big ideas so that you can take better notes. Try Read and Write

Explore the Online Self-Testing Universe. Intaking information is just part of the equation. You’ll most likely need to self-test what you’ve learned in order to retain that information. Utilize online flashcards pages like Quizlet or Cram  and online game platforms such as Kahoot. 

Leverage Your Network

Leverage Your Network

Even though you may feel isolated or as though you are all on your own, you can take the initiative to connect in a number of meaningful ways. 


Schedule time to attend virtual office hours or develop a relationship with your instructor. Planning what you would like to talk about in advance will make office hours more productive. Get comfortable checking your Cal Poly Humboldt email. This is the best way to know what’s happening and to communicate with your Instructor. Does this make you feel all kinds of anxious? Check out our How To Email Your Professor handout.


Create a Virtual Study Group/Community such as Discord or Slack. Don’t study alone. We all do better when we get an opportunity to crowdsource while we are learning. Especially in an asynchronous setting, the chance to verbalize out loud can really help us see what information we are understanding and what we still need to focus on. Cal Poly Humboldt’s Discord includes a hub for creating class based study groups. Check it out. Maybe your class is already there! Want more tips? Our Study group page has more!


Explore campus resources, as recommended by your Instructor, such as tutoring and Supplemental Instruction. Cal Poly Humboldt’s Learning Center provides a variety of modalities to get support from live in-person support, to live zoom sessions and asynchronous support through videos and email based consultations. Sometimes, students wait to explore resources until there is a big problem. Taking preventative action can really help you avoid a lot of stress and anxiety. 


Get Serious about Your Organization

Get Serious about Your Organization

In an in-person class, you commute to a classroom and can more or less take for granted that the space is distraction-free and quiet. You can rely on the real-time reminders that an instructor provides to keep you on track. In an asynchronous course, you will need to actively organize your own optimal learning space and know what to do when. 


Identify a reliable personal learning space that is distraction free, quiet, and technologically reliable. Students sometimes struggle to maintain their focus in their living spaces - such as dorms or bedrooms. Consider alternative spaces such as the Cal Poly Humboldt Library. With three floors of study spaces, you may be able to focus better. If you don’t have the option to work elsewhere on your coursework, develop a communication strategy with people in your living space, so they know to respect your focus times. 


Map your Digital Storage Plan. In addition to Canvas, utilize Google Drive to create folders for each of your classes. You can store notes, papers, and downloadable content here. 

Familiarize yourself with your Learning Management System, such as Canvas. Make sure you know where to locate key documents such as the syllabi, and the schedule of assignments. Synch your calendar so that your course assignments and deadlines are easier to see. Check out cool features such as “What if grades”- pay attention to the point values of each assignment. Not all assignments are weighted of equal value.



Take care of yourself!

Take care of yourself!

No matter what modality you are learning in, all students need to prioritize their physical and mental well-being. Just because you are taking classes, that doesn’t mean that your needs are checked at the door. However, especially in an asynchronous mode, it can be easy to forget these basic needs. 


Respect the 20/20/20 Rule. Working online for long periods of time can cause eye and neck strain. Practice the 20/20/20 rule where you look away from the screen every 20 minutes and stare at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. 


Get 8 hours of sleep. When students procrastinate, they may find themselves doing too much work right before an assignment is due or cramming before an exam. Studies show that extended study sessions just before an exam are not effective strategies for remembering new information. If you have planned short and frequent study sessions throughout the semester, you should be able to still get 8 hours of sleep. 


Eat healthy foods and hydrate. Make sure you schedule time for you to eat and remember to drink water. Again without proper time management, it’s easy for students to deprioritize their own physical needs. 


Move your body and make time for fun. Schedule time for breaks and non-academic activities. These activities revitalize our energy. As long as we have scheduled adequate amounts of time to get academic work done, it is very useful for the brain to relax. 


Reward yourself and celebrate your successes. When you have committed to your studies and accomplished a task, take the time to reward yourself in some small way. Think about what it means to be making this type of progress and be proud of what you are doing.