A few tips for students to help improve their online course experience and grade

In Linkedin.  Tom Moyer, 2016

Many students who are new to online learning find the transition to be complicated.  Switching from an onsite environment to a virtual one is a big adjustment.  Communication is electronic rather than face-to-face, written messages replace the spoken word, and there’s no human presence – no one to hear, see and stand next to.  Your only gateway to the course is through an e-device.  It’s like landing and then living on another planet.

As with other things, we take the benefits of onsite learning for granted until they’re gone.  Aside from connecting to live websites such as Google Hangouts, virtual learning provides no real physical connection to people.  Your e-device is the only way to communicate with classmates and the instructor.  In light of that, here are some suggestions for adjusting to this strange and new virtual reality world.

Explore the learning management software (LMS) (aka Course Management System or CMS) and note the different tabs, tools and topics.  Use the course guide to learn where things are and how to navigate the site.  That will provide some familiarity with the course and form a foundation to build on.

As with any course, carefully read and study your textbook and course notes.  Topics, exercises and questions for class activities, discussions and tests are drawn from that material.

Complete all of the coursework.  If you don’t, there will be no wiggle room left in your GPA to accommodate mishaps such as failing a midterm or not completing an assignment.  And don’t blow off completing your homework or studying course material to watch TV or to party with friends.  

Set a schedule and create a calendar to stay on track. You’re on your own and if you miss a deadline, it will cost you – dearly.

Use mobile devices and productivity apps to save time.  Everyone has downtime while on the go, so spend it studying and then you can relax at home.  Manage your schedule and stay focused.

Remember your netiquette.  Be professional, kind and courteous.  Part of your grade may be based on this soft skill.


Meet with peers at a coffee shop or on Google Hangouts to interact and study. It’s easy to feel isolated and distant from colleagues in a virtual setting, so connect with them.  Parse out tasks and responsibilities, work together and hold each other accountable.  And remember to vet your teammates before forming a group to avoid issues later on.

Study carefully for quizzes and exams. Speed-read course material first to get an overview and then carefully re-read it.  Memorize keywords and concepts, review the textbook chapter summaries, and answer associated questions. 

Read the course material efficiently and effectively.  Click here for the details: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/reading-more-efficiently-effectively-tom-moyer?articleId=6114909945335996417

Follow your circadian rhythm.  When are you most effective and productive?  Do you learn information better with shorter study periods or longer ones?  Find out and adjust your schedule.

Work-product is everything.  Proof your writing with apps like Word editing tools and Grammarly.  Use the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Assessment tool to adjust your writing style to match the reading level of your audience.

Focus on understanding core concepts and terms and remember your reading and writing skills are crucial.  Post well-written and thoughtful comments and arguments.  Writing is everything in the virtual world and the quality and persuasiveness of your words and arguments are crucial.

Talk to your instructor and classmates. Learning isn’t just about you and your professor!  It’s about collaborating, interacting with peers, and sharing your expertise and knowledge.

Focus on course topics. Respect the instructor and your peers and centre your attention on the topics at hand.

Don’t use the course module to correct or shame anyone publically.  Discuss issues privately and politely with classmates and protect your reputation.  If an issue can’t be resolved, take it to the instructor.

Be available to your instructor and teammates.  You’re working together, so promptly respond to their messages and phone calls and ask them to do the same for you.

Have questions?  Ask. – Never assume because if you’re wrong, you’ll get burned.

Some students look for a casual course that they can coast through.  The problem is that it clashes with the work ethic of most students who take their studies seriously.  Conscientious students don’t have the time or energy to tolerate a slacker.  So here are some tips for students who want to goof off.

Looking for an easy “A”? – That’s how some students view online learning.   They fill a seat in an onsite class and ask a random question now and then to get by, so why not use the same strategy online?  Because it won’t work!  In the virtual world, grades are based on analytics drawn from the LMS and instructor comments that gauge and measure student work product, performance and professionalism.   

The instructor knows when a student is gaming the system. If inevitable “mistakes” occur more than once, like “accidentally” posting the wrong assignment (to buy more time) or taking a test and having your PC crash (to get a sneak preview), it’s a giveaway.  The student will lose the respect and trust of the instructor.

It’s easy to gauge student effort.  An LMS tracks details such as time spent on course modules, dates and times work was submitted, and the number of comments and interactions with others.  Instructors examine that data and use a grading rubric to calculate scores. So if a student parks their PC on a course module to build time or claims they submitted an assignment when they didn’t, it will be obvious.  Software never lies and neither should students.

Plagiarizing or not citing your sources.  This is common and either violation will bring a strong response from the instructor.  It’s like lying to your boss, which could get you fired plus it’s insulting to your professor.  There are apps like Grammarly and Google Advanced Search to spot this behavior, and sooner or later, violators get caught.  Besides, experienced teachers can easily distinguish between a student’s writing style and plagiarized material.

Please don’t argue with the instructor and don’t badmouth them. Make your point and stop.  If you disagree with their decision, politely appeal it to the department chair.  Besides, word may get back to the instructor if a student complains to others.

The words that you post are forever, so think before you write.

Instructors have seen it all, from students bringing infants to class to dodge a test to semi-weekly car problems on the way to class to getting ill every other week.  So, if an issue arises, ensure it’s real and be honest about it.

These are just a few tips to help improve your online course experience and grade.  Good luck with your course!

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