Tips for Succeeding in Online Courses

Online courses can offer students welcomed flexibility and tremendous opportunities to learn in a technology-enhanced environment. However, expectations of what an online course will be like often do not match reality. To be successful, consider taking the following steps:

  1. Assess your motivation: Before you even enroll in an online course, recognize that there typically is no live class meeting. You will need to be prepared to motivate yourself to stay on track. Are you a self-directed student? When faced with a challenge, are you typically able to overcome it? Are you willing to ask for help if you get stuck?
  2. Understand your course expectations: Much like with face-to-face courses, every online course is different. Make sure you understand how it is structured and what your instructor’s expectations will be. This includes due dates for assignments, how and when you will participate, and the software programs you will be using. All of this should be clearly indicated in your course syllabus posted in the Brightspace course. Check your email and Brightspace daily for important course announcements.
  3. Practice with the technology: As soon as the online course is made available by your instructor, get familiar with the Learning Management System (such as Brightspace). This includes how to navigate and find course materials, how to upload an assignment, and how to participate in an online discussion. If your instructor will be using other platforms, such as VoiceThread, for class interactions, log in ahead of time and learn how to use the platform tools. Consider meeting with a Technology Coach at The Learning Commons to help you orient to these programs. If your computer is having difficulty running the software, contact the USM Help Desk for assistance at (207)780-4029.
  4. Structure your time: It can be easy to fall behind when you are not physically going to a classroom. Online courses often take MORE time, not less time, than face-to-face courses. This includes time for reading, reviewing course materials, participating in discussions, and completing assignments. From a time management standpoint, you will need to block off at least 8-10 hours a week for a 15-week course.
  5. Manage your learning environment: Choose the “where” as well as the when, ideally a place where there is reliable internet connection and technology support if you need it. 
  6. Connect with your instructor: Introduce yourself via email or schedule to meet with your instructor during their office hours (listed on the course syllabus). Many instructors can meet with you via Zoom if you are not able to come to campus during office hours. Use the initial meeting to discuss your interest in the course, and ask any questions you may have. Consider regularly interacting with your instructor to discuss course concepts and receive feedback on your work. 
  7. Participate actively in the course: Many online instructors use a discussion forum with guidelines for at least a minimum amount of posts for each student. Go well beyond the minimum! Interacting with your instructor and other students provides an opportunity for active learning. Consider forming study groups with your peers. If near campus, you can reserve a group study room at The Learning Commons. Another option is scheduling virtual study groups with your Zoom account. An additional benefit of group study is that it can help reduce the social isolation that could result from not being in the classroom.

Please explore our Study Skills and Learning Strategies page for additional strategies that would best support your academic efforts. You may also view our printable resources for additional steps to take to maximize your success in online courses.

Finally, since every course experience is going to be different, we encourage you to stay in touch with your faculty, reaching out to them with any questions, big or small. 

Technology Resources

The online learning environment will require you to become familiar with the technologies and platforms used by your faculty. Please visit the following links to learn more about our most frequently used technologies. 

For technical issues, including MyUSM logins, connectivity, or other access issues, please contact the USM Help Desk at (207)780-4029 or

Learning Commons YouTube Channel

The Learning Commons YouTube Channel contains dozens of videos with step-by-step instructions on using various academic strategies and resources to help you achieve your academic goals. Visit our technology-related YouTube playlists hyperlinked below or visit The Learning Commons YouTube Channel directly to access our comprehensive list! 

YouTube Series:

UMS Academy

UMS Academy offers university and campus-specific content along with more than 50,000 tutorials featuring college life, academic engagement, and leadership topics, plus over 1,000 technology training modules on applications including Microsoft, Google, Adobe, WordPress, and more! The technology trainings are easy to access through your USM LaunchPad, and content is simplified into manageable chunks for efficient completion. Students can self-select to view a specific part of a training or choose to complete one in its entirety. You can access USM Academy directly here.

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