The proliferation of online coursework has completely changed how we perceive college. Today, it's easier than ever to gain valuable skills and knowledge through the power of digital learning. This is an exciting opportunity, but it's far from easy. Online classes take discipline and motivation—but if you follow these suggestions, the reward will prove to be well worth the effort:

1. Create a Dedicated Study Space

While every student can benefit from using an organized study nook free of distractions, this is particularly important when a greater variety of academic pursuits take place outside of the classroom. Your space will serve as both a study area and a lecture hall, so plan accordingly. Find an area in which you can study in peace. Stock it with all the essentials, including notebooks, pencils, and, if possible, an ergonomic chair.

2. Develop a Plan

To succeed with an online class, you'll need to treat your schedule much as you would when planning to take an in-person course. This means blocking out specific periods of time to focus exclusively on your class. After all, if you attended a traditional lecture, you would need to set aside at least an hour.

During your dedicated study time, your space needs to be completely free of distraction—and that includes interruptions from others in your household. Make it clear that you will not tolerate distractions during assigned class hours.  This is sometimes easier said than done, yet it still important to announce to those around you.

In addition to planning ahead for 'lecture' time, build in several hours per week for studying and assignments—as you would for any class. Keep in mind that, while online instructors are often willing to provide an element of flexibility not available for in-person classes, this can sometimes make it difficult to keep on top of projects, papers, and other essentials. Every time you receive a new assignment, take time to break it into smaller pieces and determine when, exactly, you'll work on each portion of the project.

3. Ditch Your Phone

Keeping up with your study schedule is tough enough when laptop or desktop-based distractions beckon, but your phone's constant buzzing will make it all but impossible to remain focused. Silent mode may help, but the mere knowledge that your phone is within easy reach could still compromise your study sessions. Instead, turn off your phone completely and keep it in a separate room. If you need to set an alarm, you can easily do so on your computer or with a traditional alarm clock.

4. Take Breaks

Focus has always been a struggle for college students, but studying online makes it that much more difficult to stay on track. Unfortunately, your intentions for completing a focused 90-minute study session may give way to half an hour of productivity and an hour of listlessness. Don't beat yourself up—this is only natural. Instead, build an inevitable loss of focus into your plan.

The cliché 'sharpen the saw' exists for a reason; even a brief break can make a huge difference in terms of motivation and mental focus. When in doubt, aim to take a five-minute break for every half hour of study. Plan for strategic breaks that actually give you the chance to recharge. For example, instead of simply scrolling through your phone, get up and walk around. You'll return feeling refreshed and ready to tackle difficult coursework.

5. Be an Enthusiastic Participant

Participation is often just as crucial for online classes as it is when taking courses in person. It is built directly into grading scales for some courses, which may require a specific number of contributions to discussion board threads.

Even if your instructor neglects to pursue a specific standard for online participation, it's worth your while to submit responses and thoroughly read feedback from other students. These online discussions can be extremely thought-provoking. They are designed not only to demonstrate your mastery of key concepts, but also to help you understand difficult subject matter—and how it might be perceived by others. Put in the effort and you'll be rewarded with a richer understanding of the course's material.

6. Amp Up Your Proofreading Efforts

Online courses often rely heavily on written work. This involves term papers, discussion board responses, and occasionally, group projects. Regardless of how formal or informal these efforts seem, extensive proofreading is critical. You will lack typical opportunities to get your point across in person, so it's crucial that you explain your thoughts succinctly and effectively through the power of the written word. This means editing and proofreading extensively. Unfortunately, even a single typo could reflect negatively on your work.

Don't underestimate your editing timeline. The sheer volume of written work required for your online coursework could lead to hours of reading and rereading your submissions to ensure you get your point across. Keep the time-consuming nature of editing in mind as you plan your schedule and strive to meet deadlines.

7. Don't Be Afraid to Tweak Your Study Strategy

Check in with yourself periodically throughout your online course. If, after a few weeks, your initial study plan is not working, consider changing things up. As you make progress in your class, you will get a better sense of the routines and habits that best suit your unique learning style. In addition to reaching out to your instructor, some academic institutions offer resources to online students that are struggling.

If you're interested in making the most of online coursework for your undergraduate or graduate degree, look no further than University of the Cumberlands. With professors who have ample real-world experience in the same field they are teaching, very competitive tuition rates, and a sense of honor in everything we do, why look any further? See what UC can do for you by contacting an admissions counselor for more information.