Online learner with successful characteristics

7 Characteristics of Successful Online Learners

posted in: Study Tips 11

Only a certain percentage of the population are really cut out for successful online learning. A few characteristics of high achievers come with maturity, such as the ability to set and achieve goals. But other qualities are more innate and difficult to acquire.

Key characteristics of a successful online learner include strong literacy, a persistent nature, technology skills, a clear communication style and time management skills. They should also have the right study environment and be independently motivated.

Let’s explore these qualities further and see what you can do to improve your prospects of academic success.

Are you considering doing an online course? Good for you! But first, make sure you’re ready to succeed. Online learning offers tremendous benefits but some students start with unrealistic expectations. Online courses require just as much serious study time as traditional classroom courses.

An important consideration is that students who do well in a normal classroom environment may or may not succeed with the online format. A problem could arise, for example, if you’re used to getting motivation from being part of a group. Successful online students have a particular set of characteristics.

A successful online student requires personal qualities, study skills and learning strategies. To identify if you’re likely to be a good online student, see how many of the following characteristics apply to you.

1. Reading and Writing Skills

Online student typing

Reading and writing is the main way you communicate in an online class. High proficiency will allow you to get through course material quicker and interact effectively with instructors, classmates and study pals. Along with general literacy skills, a high level of digital literacy is beneficial. Digital literacy means being able to find and use online information resources quickly and in powerful ways.

Although hard copies of course material may be available or can be printed, you should be comfortable reading documents on a computer screen for lengthy periods. You should also be OK at typing information. Some tests and quizzes have multiple choice questions. But many of your assignments will involve typing short or long answers.

If your written English language skills are weak, you may not be ready to attempt a difficult online course. If you type less than 25-30 words per minute, consider doing a typing training course before starting.

2. Persistent Nature When Studying

Determined climber

Persistence is vital to success in online learning. You need a can-do attitude. A good online student tolerates technical problems, will ask for help when needed, works consistently each day, and persists through personal challenges.

Social factors form an important consideration in theories of student persistence. If online classes make you feel isolated, the chances rise that you may lose interest and even drop out.

Successful online learners have personality types that allow them to cope without face-to-face interaction. They could find comradery elsewhere, successfully connect to classmates or instructors online, or have low social needs.

One way to cultivate persistence is to set up a manageable study schedule that you can realistically stick to. Online students who do well make progress each day. It is especially important to push through after the initial novelty of studying online starts to wear off!

3. Decent Computer Skills

Successful online learners have reasonably good computer skills to make studying easier and more efficient. Competencies include the ability to: create and edit documents, get on top of software, and find information resources quickly. Being able to use Microsoft Excel spreadsheets can also help for many tasks.

Most online universities and colleges have student orientation programs. These tutorials teach students how to use the institution’s online learning systems and other tools. Basic computer skills are all that’s required but you still may be advantaged by knowing more.

By simply trying to learn and then trying to help others, you can go from being the person who needs to ask someone for help every time you turn your computer on to the person who everyone calls for help!

Tech Boomers

Being good with technology is most important when problems arise. You can save a great deal of time by solving problems quickly. Bear in mind that, if you have a problem, you can bet others have encountered it too. Other online students or the education provider may help. And there are plenty of technical support forums that can be easily found online.

4. A Good Study Environment

Woman studying online in a peaceful environment

A helpful start on your journey to academic success is to have a good study environment. Do you have access to a quiet place to study without distractions from things like television, family or roommates? This will encourage you to immerse yourself in the learning process.

You will do better at online study if you able to maintain a tranquil study setting out of habit.

  • Avoid games. Consider uninstalling any computer games to avoid temptation. Or keep them on a different computer. Gamers are generally poor students.
  • Turn off your mobile phone. Let friends and family members know the hours that you will be unavailable.
  • Beware the black hole of internet surfing and social media. It is easy to lose track of time.

In setting up your student office, consider ergonomics.

  • Adjust the height of your chair, keyboard, and screen for maximum sustained comfort.
  • Forearms and thighs should be level and parallel to the floor.
  • Wrists should be straight while typing.

Also, set up effective lighting and comfortable seating. Lighting in the room should be as bright as the computer screen to avoid eye strain.

5. Communication Skills

Communication skills is an important characteristic for successful online learning. With an online course, you are aren’t normally speaking to people in person and so miss out on cues related to tone, body language, facial expressions, etc.

Clear written communication avoids misunderstandings. Writing in a friendly way can also elicit more helpful interactions with classmates and instructors. Follow these tips:

  • Use the tools provided by the university or college to communicate with people. Online education providers provide multiple ways for students to communicate with teachers and other staff. These might include e-mail, discussion groups, chat rooms, phones, and even text messaging. Instructors want to help you to succeed and will answer your questions. Learn to use social media, not just for online study but also to gain useful professional skills.
  • Use appropriate style and language. Many students are used to a very informal style of writing in chat rooms, blogs, text messages, and so forth. When communicating in a university setting, you should normally write in full, with grammatically correct sentences and a respectful tone.
  • Because of distance, it is all too easy to write things out of anger or frustration that you wouldn’t say in person. This will not get you very far. Politeness and courtesy normally will.

Related: 14 Great Tips for Student Netiquette

6. Time Management Skills

Time represented by a clock
Time allocation gives online study structure

Managing time well can make online study a whole lot easier. Most courses are not taught in real time. There are no set times for classes. So, it is up to you to create some structure.

A successful online learner doesn’t procrastinate, is able to stick to a weekly study schedule, and completes assignments ahead of time without reminders.

Effective time-management skills can be learned if you put in the effort. Lasting benefits come from making a habit out of being well organized. One study tip is to review the syllabus for each unit and construct a plan for completing major assignments.

Related: Proven Time Management Tips for Online Students

7. Independent Motivation

Online learner on a break.

Successful online learners really want to succeed. Online learning requires independence, internal motivation, personal responsibility and a healthy dose of maturity.

Have you given some thought to your personal reasons for taking an online class? Are you determined and self-motivated to succeed?

Gaining pleasure from learning and improving can motivate you to keep doing the next bit of study. Students can find inspiration by contemplating worthwhile reasons to work hard at an online course. You might want to boost your career prospects. Or perhaps it’s personal pride in achieving academically.

Related: How to Study Smarter, Not Harder: 21 Tips

Follow Andrew Lancaster:
The director of Lerna Courses, Andrew Lancaster, is experienced in analytics, technology, and business development. He has a PhD in Economics from the Australian National University. His writing helps people make informed choices about education and careers. He covers a range of topics, including university education, psychology, and professional growth.

11 Responses

  1. Yin
    | Reply

    A Good student focus on what’s in front of him and not let anything effect them while he/she is working.

  2. Dave
    | Reply

    Persistent attitude and independent motivation come above all. These two things can make you as good as an offline learner or even better than I would say. Other skills are common and can be managed but these two things are the deciders. I’m actually enrolled in an online curse and I struggle with these two things only.

  3. Eric Cooper
    | Reply

    Time management is probably my biggest setback. This is the one thing that has kept me on the fence when it comes to online learning. I know I will save time and money learning online but I worry I will slack off and mismanage my time. Is there any way to improve this?

  4. Justine
    | Reply

    Independent motivation is really important! I had to adjust to the online set-up the first few weeks I was enrolled because I was so used to the physical set-up where you get to be surrounded with other people that indirectly motivates you to work on your coursework. Here the most you can interact with them is chat or call, which I tell you isn’t the same thing.

  5. Paul Rhodes
    | Reply

    Most people can manage everything but the last one. That is where they mess up. Being your own boss is not easy. If you are not able to be motivated by yourself, you will fail at several of the other characteristics. I learned this when I was taken out of school and began homeschooling when my parents had to travel. It was a hard adjustment. I learned through trial and error and now that I am enrolled in online uni, I feel comfortable.

  6. Francine Eileen Keane
    | Reply

    I have just commenced a 2 year fast track online degree and am very motivated. I think this article should be read by prospective students BEFORE they even apply to do a largely online course of study as I have already seen fellow students struggle in week 1 !! An article like this could really narrow down the applications!

  7. Karl MacGavin
    | Reply

    Fantastic list. Here are two favorite pieces of advice: 1) “Beware the black hole of internet surfing. It is easy to lose track of time” and 2) “Time Management Skills.” If you fall victim to 1), you won’t have a chance of succeeding with 2). I found I had to disconnect from the Internet when I was doing any online classes. Otherwise, I had no chance of getting my studies done.

  8. Bev Cunliffe
    | Reply

    What I lack in in computer skills I gain in self motivation, I want to suceed. I’m hoping the computer skills catch me up. I’ll be using Lynda Campus to help me.

  9. Brett Tandy
    | Reply

    I’ve completed several online courses and with each course the only barrier to completion was myself. When I focused on dedicating the time I needed to get the curriculum done, I was successful. My computer skills have always been excellent and I’ve always given myself a good study environment, but if I’m honest with myself I’ve always had a few issue with motivating myself when there’s something more enjoyable to do and also with my time management. It looks like I’m beginning to get them under control now though.

  10. Dominic
    | Reply

    I think one concern about studying online is that the student has all the excuses NOT to do the work. It can be discouraging to study online because there are many distractions like Facebook, texting, and relaxing. One should have strong discipline to succeed.

    • Andrew Lancaster
      | Reply

      Agree with you Dominic that discipline is essential. It’s something you can learn though. Helps to really commit to doing well at online study from the beginning and create good habits.

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