fitting online into your life


Manage Expectations and Stay Motivated

As you think about attending or returning to school, you’re motivated by what awaits you at the finish line, be it a dream job, a big promotion, or simply getting ahead as you prepare for future academic endeavors.

As a semester wears on, though, it’s easy for this high level of motivation to lessen as the demands of life and school increase. If this happens to you, it’s critical that you re-energize by reminding yourself of why you’re taking online courses, and what benefits finishing the course or program will bring you.


“Having two children and a part- time job, attending face-to-face classes would have been extremely difficult. I was out of school for 15 years before I attempted a college education. The convenience of doing the work on my time, in the comfort of my home, allowed me to be with my family while achieving my goal. With the help of all of my professors and advisor I graduated Summa Cum Laude. If I can do it with children, work, and family life, I believe anyone can do it.”

ACTIVITY: Why are you taking an online course?

Staying engaged and motivated with your online coursework is rooted in your decision to take an online course. Take a look at this list of the more common reasons students choose online courses. Do they match up with your own?

AKA “Wherever you go, there you are.” Attending class whenever and wherever you want is a huge motivating factor for some. No need to fight your way through traffic to show up an hour early to grab that parking spot a mile away. Online, you can access your course materials 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, giving you the convenience to plan coursework around your life, instead of the other way around. All of this makes online learning a good option for students who need to balance their work, family, and social commitments.

For some students, attending class on campus can be difficult, if not impossible. For these students, the opportunity to take online courses is quite appealing. Title 5 of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) requires that online classes fulfill both ADA requirements and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, meaning online course materials must be accessible to everyone, including students with disabilities. If you have a disability and are interested in taking an online course, talk with the instructor and your advisor about the course, as well as with your institution’s Office of Accessibility, to learn more about the services available to students with disabilities before the course begins.

Students may find it difficult to speak up in class for any number of reasons. For some students, the online classroom can allow them to more comfortably join the conversation. For example, posting to an online discussion forum allows you to take your time and compose your thoughts; this isn’t always the case in the face-to-face classroom. Communicating in an online class isn’t limited to discussion forums. Sometimes it’s also getting to know your instructor and classmates. Many instructors say that they know their online students better than their face-to-face students because online interaction can be a more personalized experience.

Many employers offer their employees career advancement opportunities if they earn a degree; others may not hire you if you don’t have a degree. That’s where online learning comes in. You can take online courses while working, if you’re between jobs, or as you take time off to raise your family. In the end, you can earn you a degree and increase your marketability at your current or future employer.

In general, students who take online classes become more proficient and comfortable with using technology. Whether you’re writing an assignment in Google Docs, creating a YouTube video for a discussion post, or meeting on a group project over Skype, you’ll learn to connect with your course content and with others in useful and relevant ways.

Online learning can save you a few dollars here and there. You won’t need a parking pass. You’ll save on gas and transportation costs. Depending on the school, the fees typically associated with on-campus students may be lower or waived altogether. Many publishers are making their content available online at a discounted rate, and many instructors are using free, open-access texts and publications.

Staying Motivated

Many online students and instructors agree that a key to success in online coursework is staying motivated. In a traditional classroom, you show up to class at a set time and place. You talk to your instructor and classmates face-to-face in real-time. In an online class, however, you set the time and the place to participate, and most of your interactions with your instructor and classmates are asynchronous (i.e. not in real-time).


“I decided to take online courses because I commute to work as well as travel a lot for work. I wanted to have more flexibility as it relates to completing my assignments/attending classes anywhere. I expected to learn a lot, and I have.”

Be aware: the absence of the traditional classroom constants can trigger motivation loss, which can make it difficult for you to complete coursework, leading to poor performance or even withdrawing from your course entirely. You need to be prepared to keep yourself motivated to do the work.

Strategies for Staying Motivated

poster of cat hanging from a tree branch with the words Hang in there! underneath
Image from Pinterest
  1. Set Goals. Remember your motivations for taking online courses and for pursuing your education. Keep them at the front of your mind as you complete your coursework. Set small, attainable goals for each class to avoid getting discouraged and overwhelmed. Keep track of your goals by writing them on sticky notes and placing them around your home, or add them to your favorite to-do app on your smartphone and turn on reminders and notifications. Remember, small successes will help lead to your ultimate goal.
  2. Create a Schedule. Develop a plan to stay on task so you can complete your coursework while still allowing time to enjoy the things you like to do. Schedule set times to log in to your course and to study, create reminders of due dates on your calendar or phone, and build in ample breaks to give your mind some time to take in what you’re learning. Having a plan will increase your likelihood of success and will help you reach your goals.
  3. Make Connections. To avoid feeling isolated, make it a habit to interact with your peers and instructors through instant messaging, text messages, email, discussion forums, or by phone. Share your experiences, your roadblocks, and your successes. Doing so will help keep your spirits high and help you develop a level of accountability to your coursework.
  4. Share Knowledge. Talk about your coursework with friends and family. Make connections to what you’re learning in your personal and work life. Sharing your knowledge with others can help you develop a sense of pride and accomplishment.
  5. Reward Yourself. Everyone deserves a pat on the back every now and again. As you complete your coursework, take time to recognize your achievements, whether you’ve finished a really boring textbook chapter or totally rocked an exam. Celebrate by rewarding yourself with something fun, like a scoop of ice cream or an episode of your favorite TV show. Reveling in your accomplishments and taking breaks will help you keep a positive attitude and stay motivated.
  6. Mix it Up. As you’ll learn later, you’ll want to set up a primary workspace that is conducive to learning. That said, there’s nothing wrong with going to a coffee shop, the library, or grabbing a blanket and sitting out in the grass as you read through course materials or review notes. Just remember to bring an umbrella if it’s raining.
  7. Take Breaks. All work and no play is boring. Plus, you’re going to get super bummed if you bury your nose in your books all the time. Build time in your schedule for the fun stuff.
  8. Stay Positive. When the going gets tough, take a deep breath and don’t freak out. A negative attitude will lead to negative behaviors like skipping assignments or dodging online meetings, which will result in lower grades or worse.

Understanding your motivations and staying motivated are essential to your success in an online classroom. Be honest with yourself, be open to the advice of others, and remind yourself why you’re taking an online course in the first place.