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Best Practice: Help Students Succeed

Students report three reasons for not succeeding in their online courses, according to a study of community college online students from 2001 to 2010 (Fetzner, 2013):

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

What can you do to mitigate these issues? Provide an effective framework and guide them to use it to their advantage. You can use these tips and refer students to How to Succeed Online.

Keep students on track

Students need to be extremely organized even though "coming to class" has built-in flexibility for online courses. These tips can help you provide students with the framework so that they can prioritize their responsibilities.

Offer a sneak peek. If a preview week is offered before your online course begins, make the syllabus and schedule available for students to review. If they can't log in before class starts, you can email students these resources.

Use the built-in tools. Include due dates for graded course items such as tests, assignments, and discussions. Due dates are automatically added to the calendar and all students can access it. Students can import their course calendars into external calendars such as Google Calendar. Encourage students to check their courses, calendars, and grades often.

Set expectations to log in regularly. Tell students to log in a minimum number of times per week. Ask them to review all course activities and assignments that are due that week. Remind them to ask questions early on so that they can still complete the work on time.

Anticipate technical difficulties. Ask students to store the school's helpdesk phone number and website URL on their phones and in written form. Then, they can ask for technical assistance even if they have computer issues. Encourage students to have an alternate method for completing online work, such as access to another computer.

Keep you in the loop. Ask students to contact you as soon as possible to discuss options if they fall behind.

Plan for the unplanned

All students experience personal problems at some point. Include advice in your syllabus, such as what to do when unusual circumstances arise.

Communicate. When students have emergencies of a personal nature, they should contact you as soon as possible.

Get help. Colleges support a variety of student services, such as counseling, academic advising, and disability services. Post links to these resources and encourage your students to use them.

Create a cushion. Encourage students to plan ahead and leave a cushion of time each week so that they can complete the weekly coursework even if emergencies arise.

Time management is key. Ask students to manage their time and prioritize tasks effectively so that they don't leave academic work to the last minute.

Work your coursework into your life

Be an advisor to students and help them achieve a balance between school, work, and life.

Goal setting. Help students develop long-term and short-term academic goals for completing their college work. Encourage them to be realistic in planning the time it will take to meet their goals while handling other responsibilities. Warn them against signing up for more courses than they can reasonably handle.

Integrate personal and course calendars. Ask students to develop a prioritized to-do list and a master calendar. Then, they can see the "big picture" of all of their academic due dates mixed in with their family and work responsibilities.

Users can import Blackboard course calendars 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