Skills for Online Learning

Goals and Motivation

Have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish. Having both long term and short term goals gives you building blocks. Set a daily, weekly and longer term goals which lead you to successful course completion and mastery of the content. We study and acquire knowledge for various reasons, such as enhancing our educational experience, upgrading our skills, and getting a better job. Goals keep us motivated to learn.

A wonderful resource at Clemson is the Academic Success Center. Check out their Learning & Study Strategies.  Additional resources regarding Goal Setting can be found in SkillPort.  Search by all categories for the keyword "goal". 

Time Management

The flexibility offered by online courses can be misleading. Students tend to think that they have plenty of time to complete their assignments or activities and sometimes procrastinate. It is key to set aside time each day to focus on studies. Be sure to choose a place that is free of distractions.  Additional resources regarding Time Management can be found in SkillPort.  Search by all categories for the keyword "time". 

Study Skills

  • The first and most important step is to read ALL information on the web site of your course(s). The course site usually includes the course syllabus, course requirements and course schedule of assignments.
  • Copy or download discussion questions to your word processor. This allows you to take time reflecting on the questions and articulate your responses before posting responses. This also helps in limiting frustrations that can be caused by a lost connection. Once you are ready to post your response, simply login to the course. Then copy and paste the response from your word processor into the discussion board.
  • Don't stay lost and confused! When students get overwhelmed, they tend to drop courses. If you are unclear about something, it is very likely that others in the course have the same question. Send an email message, call your instructor, or post a message in the discussion forum. Your instructors are very interested in your success. 
  • Take advantage of any supplementary materials that your instructor has gathered for you. They may give you a more in-depth analysis of the course content.
  • Stay "connected" with the course, your instructor, and your classmates. Don't allow yourself to fall behind. Stay involved. 
  • Know your prime studying times. If you work better and are more efficient early in the morning, work on your course materials at that time.

Technology Skills

It is absolutely necessary to have a minimum working knowledge of computers and a word processing program to be successful in an online class. You must be comfortable with your computer system and willing to deal with any problems that may arise. Lack of technical knowledge can greatly interfere with your learning a new subject. If you do not have these skills, consider taking a short computer course prior to enrolling in an online course. 

  • Get your password and login to your class before the semester begins(if available)
  • Attach files to email messages
  • Word processing tasks (type, cut, paste, copy, name, save, rename, etc.)
  • Download information from the Internet
  • Use of a Web browser
  • Completing Online forms
  • Backup your files
  • Install and maintain anti-virus and other software

Additional resources regarding Technology Skills can be found in SkillPort.  Search by all categories for the keywords "surf and communicate with the internet" and "Office 2007". 

Learning Styles

Online learning is ideal for: 

  • Self-motivated individuals
  • Self-directed learners
  • Good readers
  • People who prefer an individualized mode of learning
  • People who do not need the stimulation of a traditional class

There are many different styles of learning. Some of us are visual learners; we learn and remember by seeing things (seeing it). Some learn best by listening to a lecture (hearing it). Others are hands on learners; they need to manipulate objects (doing it). The more you know about your learning style, strategies for learning, and what is involved in taking online classes, the more successful you will be in the online environment.

Additional resources regarding Learning Styles can be found in SkillPort.  Search by the SkillBrief category for the keywords "learning styles". 


Netiquette or Network Etiquette is a set of rules for behaving properly online. When you enter any new culture you're liable to commit a few social blunders. You might offend people without meaning to. Or you might misunderstand what others say and take offense when it's not intended.

In general, there are two basic guidelines:

  1. Don't waste people's time.
  2. Don't say anything to a person online that you wouldn't say to face-to-face.

More specific guidelines for proper behavior in a distance learning course are listed below.

  • Avoid Flaming - using derogatory, obscene, or inappropriate language. This can either be on a discussion board or in e-mail.
  • Use emoticons to smooth online communication. Emoticons are keyboard produced pictorial representations of facial expressions used in e-mail or discussion boards to indicate an emotion or attitude, as to indicate intended humor [ :-) ].
  • Don't SHOUT. Use of all capital letters and exclamation marks indicates SHOUTING.
  • Avoid grammatical and spelling errors by using Spelling and Grammar checker tools when they are available.
  • Do a quick check of the discussion board or course site before posting or e-mailing questions to see if the question you are about to ask or the article you just read and were about to post has already been posted.
  • Keep your posts on-topic and on the proper board. Keeping messages on topic will help with the organization and readability.
  • Share expert knowledge. Post resources on how you found information.
  • Avoid sending large attachments through e-mail unless someone has specifically asked for it.
  • When replying to an e-mail message, don't Reply to All unless its necessary. Also, only attach the portion of the original e-mail that you are responding to. Do not attach the entire message when its not necessary.


Instructors will specify how students should communicate during the class. Some instructors prefer that you post questions on a discussion board. Some instructors have virtual office hours. In this case they usually make themselves available via online chat on given days during specified times. Instructors may use the chat tools provided within the course management system or alternate chat tools such as MSN Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger, or Yahoo Instant Messenger.

Please realize that your instructor may not respond to your e-mail messages or discussion board questions immediately. Especially over holidays and weekends.

Also realize that response time for graded coursework may vary. First, check the course syllabus for information. If none is listed, check with your instructor.

If you fall behind, do not drop the course without first talking to your instructor. Your instructor is interested in your success and interested in your feedback.

Additional resources regarding Communication can be found in SkillPort.  Search by all categories for the keywords "communication". 

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