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Best Practice: How to Succeed Online

According to a study of community college online students from 2001 to 2010 (Fetzner, 2013), the following are the top three reasons students named when they did not succeed in their online courses:

  1. I got behind and it was too hard to catch up.
  2. I had personal problems (health, job, child care).
  3. I couldn't handle studying plus work or family responsibilities.

Image illustrating associated textDon't let this happen to you!

Use the following tips to write your own success story!

File:en-us/Learn/9.1_2014_04/Student/020_Get_Started/Best_Practice_How_to_Succeed_Online/lightbulb_orange.png   Stay Current

Do not allow yourself to think, "I can always catch up later." Be diligent about staying current. Maintain precise organization even though you might have additional flexibility in your online courses.

Take a peek. If a “preview week” is offered before your online course begins, read the syllabus, review the schedule, and practice navigation in Blackboard.

Create a master calendar. Print the course schedule and syllabus and plot out due dates, including time of day and time zones, on a master calendar. Your master calendar can be digital or hard copy, whichever is most useful to you.

personal_organizer_colored_marks.pngUse the built-in tools. Graded course items such as tests, assignments, and graded discussions are automatically added to the Blackboard Calendar. You can even import your course calendar into external calendars such as Google Calendar. Use My Blackboard daily—you can see due date reminders and other notifications in Updates, course interactions in Posts, and your latest scores in My Grades.

Log In early and regularly. At the beginning of each week or unit, review all course activities and assignments that are due that week. If you have questions, ask them early in the week so that you can still complete the work on time.

Anticipate technical difficulties. Store your school's help desk phone number and website URL on your phone and in written form. This ensures that you can receive technical assistance even if your computer is not working. Since you can access your Blackboard course from any internet-connected computer or device, having computer problems is not usually an acceptable excuse for late work. Have an alternate method for getting work done, such as using a computer lab or a friend's laptop. If you need instructions for using a Blackboard tool, is always available.

If you do fall behind... and are unable to keep up with your course despite your best effort, ask your instructor for assistance as soon as possible.

File:en-us/Learn/9.1_2014_04/Student/020_Get_Started/Best_Practice_How_to_Succeed_Online/lightbulb_orange.png   Plan for the Unplanned

All students experience personal problems at some point. The difference between successfully riding out those storms and failing is how you anticipate and deal with life's unexpected events.

Communicate with your instructor. If you find that you are dealing with emergencies of a personal nature, contact your professor as soon as possible to let them know the situation. Maintain good communications with your professor, even when you are not experiencing problems.

Get help. Colleges support a variety of student services, such as counseling and advising, so utilize these offices and ask for assistance with any personal problems.

Create a cushion. Often, it is not a matter of “if” items of a personal nature will infringe on your academic work, but it is “when” they will occur. Plan ahead and leave yourself a cushion of time each week so that you can complete your weekly coursework even if personal emergencies arise.

Time management is key. Use good time management and planning skills so that you do not leave your academic work to the last minute. Use the built-in calendar and My Blackboard tools, mentioned in the previous section, to prioritize tasks.

File:en-us/Learn/9.1_2014_04/Student/020_Get_Started/Best_Practice_How_to_Succeed_Online/lightbulb_orange.png   Work Your Coursework Into Your Life

It takes some effort to achieve balance between school and your other responsibilities, but it can be achieved!

Set goals. Develop long-term and short-term academic goals, with timeframes, for completing your college work. Whether your goal is to complete a degree, a certificate, or to take a few courses for personal or professional growth, plan the time it will take to meet your goal while handling your other responsibilities. Do not sign up for more courses than you can reasonably handle.

Integrate personal and course calendars. Develop a prioritized to-do list and a master calendar, digitally or in hard copy, whichever is easiest for you to use. This will help you see the “big picture” of all of your academic due dates integrated with your family and work responsibilities. If you see in advance that a particular week is chock full of responsibilities, plan to complete your academic work ahead of time so you can meet your course deadlines.

You can import a Blackboard course calendar into external calendar applications.


Fetzner, M. (2013). What Do Unsuccessful Online Students Want Us To Know? JALN 17(1), 13-27.


Marie Fetzner, Ed. D. | Monroe Community College | Rochester, NY