Top 10 Tips for Navigating Online Courses

(Content from The University of Iowa, tutor.uiowa.edu)

Eastern Iowa Community Colleges has moved all classes to online formats through April 12 due to COVID-19. While you may have taken an online course previously, these modifications to the in-person format may be different than the more structured styles students are typically accustomed to with traditional online courses. To help ease this transition, here are 10 tips to help you succeed in the virtual class format moving forward.

  1. Evaluate and prepare for technical requirements. You will more than likely need some form of computer or tablet to complete work and stay up to date. Experienced students in online courses recommend taking time to get acquainted with the platforms and the means through which you need to complete work and meet requirements. Having a reliable internet connection and operating system is crucial to staying on top of deadlines. If you do not have access to these resources, be sure to reach out to your professors as soon as possible. 

  2. Manage your time. Students find that planning ahead and staying on track are the hardest aspects of online courses. At the beginning of the online change for each course, write down all important dates in your planner if you have not already done so (focus on finding potential new assignments & responsibilities or changes to the syllabus due to the change to the online format). 

  3. Make time in your schedule. If you are not required to “attend” class at a specific time while it’s being held virtually, create time in your planner that is exclusively dedicated to working on each of your classes (differentiating between lectures, readings and assignments for each course). You should be spending as much time working on your virtual course as you do when it’s offered in person. For example, if you take a three-semester hour course, you should devote three to four hours each week to learning the material, and about five to six hours each week studying and committing the material to memory. 

  4. Finding your pace and self-responsibility. The most successful students in online courses typically realize not having an instructor in person means they must be responsible and accountable on their own regarding pace of work and other responsibilities. Keeping proper pace with assignments and exam deadlines provides you enough time during this period to complete required work with the same level of attentiveness and quality you typically would, while also providing enough time to ask questions and get help if needed. 

  5. Consider your personal learning style. Online courses require a lot of reading and repetition to fully grasp the material as much of the learning will now be self-managed. If you are someone who can only focus when it’s quiet, consider working in a personal space or isolated location that may be different from your normal public study spaces or other quiet places away from campus. 

  6. Actively participate. Be sure you are staying engaged in your courses and participating as instructed. Also, be sure to complete all assignments in a timely manner and keep up with the relevant materials and instructions from professors as the transition is made. Try to make the format as engaging and interactive as an in-person class if possible. 

  7. Check online support options. Double check the expectations of your instructors for each course. For course-specific support, always reach out to your instructor as your line of first contact. For additional help with your online classes, utilize the online tutoring option via Smarthinking on Canvas. Tutoring is still available to students via email and online appointments. Contact information and details are available on the lower half of the Student Resources page.

  8.  Identify professor expectations. Instructors will expect you fully participate in the course and that you remain courteous and considerate toward your classmates. Emails, discussion board posts, and assignments should be appropriate, relevant and demonstrate your knowledge of the material as you would in any typical online or in-person course format. While this will likely be a different experience and vary across courses, be sure to avoid inappropriate comments, cyber bullying and plagiarism as you would in the course normally.

  9.  Communicate with the professor. If you feel you are struggling with the material or managing the course load during the transition period, reach out to your professor. They will be able to offer you support and guidance and potentially accommodate and support you in any challenges you may be having. It is also important to communicate concerns clearly as soon as they occur to ensure you can keep up with requirements and to receive appropriate help.

  10. Find a ‘course connection’ to help ease the transition. This transition period may be a difficult process, especially changing from the in-person format, so it is important to ensure you are on top of all updated and important information for your courses. An effective way to do this is by establishing a connection with another student in the course and exchanging contact information, so you have a way to share updates and make sure you are both meeting deadlines and expectations while not in physical classes. It is also crucial you check for updates on email and Canvas regularly to ensure you are not missing any important information regarding the online format and transition overall.


While we hope this transition is a temporary shift, we also acknowledge the potential for more changes during this unprecedented global event. Utilizing these tips for planning and course management will prepare you for success in your future academic endeavors.