focused student on stairs

—Peter F., Towson University, Maryland

I have this nightmare that I signed up for an online class (I had a few in graduate school) and forgot to log in the entire semester. In my dream, I’m panicking that I have to take the final and pass it. I usually wake up in a sweat, thankful that it was just a dream. Now, I guess you’ll have that nightmare, too—sorry!

My point is that I know exactly how difficult it can be to manage your time when you’re taking an online class. Sometimes it can feel like “out of sight, out of mind.” Here are some tips to keep you on track when you’re learning at a distance:

Set a regular “class” time for work.

The benefit of taking classes in person on campus is that you know where you have to be at a certain day and time of the week. For online classes, you don’t have that same accountability, so you have to create your own. Choose a day and a time that you’ll commit to logging in and working on your class just as you would if you were attending on campus.

Make a list, check it twice.

It’s easy to forget to do the work when you don’t see the professor regularly. Make a list of your assignments and their due dates—or better yet, print your syllabus—and keep it in sight to remind you what you need to do and when. Check and double-check it regularly throughout the week.

Find an accountability buddy.

In addition to these tips, find someone in the class or someone who’s taking online classes as well who can keep you on task. Oftentimes, you can get contact information from your classmates through private email or a discussion board. If you live close to one another, you could meet at a coffee shop or library and work together on assignments (if permitted, of course). If you don’t live in the same area, use an online, real-time service such as Skype to check in with each other.

Online classes are best for students who are highly organized and who can complete tasks without lots of reminders. If you find that your learning preference doesn’t mesh with the freedom of online classes, then do what you can to succeed this time and choose traditional courses next time.