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Seven Common Mistakes Online Students Make

Jul 28, 2009 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 7 Comments

Online education isn’t easy. It has most of the same pitfalls you’ll find at traditional college, plus a few that are unique to online degree programs—or that are an even greater problem in online programs than at traditional schools. Here are a few of the common mistakes online students are particularly prone to make—and how to avoid them


Both traditional and online students suffer from disorganization. But as an online student, you’re more likely to be juggling multiple demanding commitments—including full-time jobs and family obligations—in addition to a full-time school schedule, and college doesn’t get easier just because it’s online. If you want to keep up, you can’t afford to be disorganized. Make sure your computer has an organized filing system for assignments, handouts and correspondence—and you have an organized study area as well.

Lack of motivation

Many people enter into online degree programs with the misconception that the program will be easier than a traditional college program would be because it’s online. It’s easy to equate flexible schedules with lessened academic demands. In these cases, it’s easy to develop a lack of motivation to work hard and get projects done without procrastinating. If you approach your education that way, however, you’re likely to fall behind—especially if you’re facing full-time demands in other areas of your life as well.

Disorganized Desk

 Both traditional and online students suffer from disorganization. But as an online student, you’re more likely to be juggling multiple demanding commitments





Not enough time to study

Going to work full-time and coming home to take care of the kids, it’s tough to find enough time to study. But you won’t get very far in your online degree program if you slack on study time. Be sure to set aside enough uninterrupted time in your life to devote to your classes—anything from twenty minutes to an hour per class, depending on the demands—and develop a routine that makes it habitual for you to study at a certain time of day. If you do, making and keeping study appointments will be easier for you.

No proper place to study

Some people are lucky enough to have an entire office devoted to their online studies. If you’re stuck balancing your laptop on your knees in the family living room while your kids watch Speed Racer, you might want to think about finding a new place to study. Studying in a distracting place with too much noise or activity can be equivalent to not studying at all—you’ll get about as much out of it. Set aside some time where you can be alone in a comfortable, quiet area with no distractions and room for you to spread out if you need to.

Failure to network

Networking is a big perk you get included with your traditional college tuition, and many people assume online schools can’t offer it as well. But that’s not technically true. There are ways you can forge connections with online students and professors that could help you get ahead once you graduate.

Get off to a strong start by introducing yourself to the other students and professors. Be an active participant in online chats and forums, and make your contributions as interesting and helpful as possible. When you’re done with the class, let everyone know you’ve enjoyed working with them and give them your contact info—just in case.

You can also network offline by starting a support or study group for online students in your area. This is a great way to meet people who share your interests, ambitions and life circumstances. A group of like-minded students can support you, keep you on track, and possibly provide you with much-needed leads on jobs once you graduate from college.

Online colleges come with their own unique challenges as well as their own benefits. When studying online, it’s crucial to keep yourself organized and motivated—you don’t have the same support structure in an online program that you have at a traditional school, and nobody can keep you on track but you. Keep ahead of your assignments so that you don’t wind up playing catch-up while trying to juggle your job, family and other obligations. And take opportunities to connect with others both online and off—you never know when someone you meet in college might be instrumental in getting you a job. 




Bonnie McAfee Over a year ago

Lack of motivation and not enough time to study were the two main issues when I was taking online classes. Assignments were due every other day instead of once or twice a week. This may have been unique to my college though. As for the lack of motivation.. it's so much easier to get distracted without having the strict learning environment.

Matthew Allen Over a year ago

As an experienced distance educator, first using the net for teaching in 1996, I would particularly emphasise the mistake of failure to network. While students ON campus also can suffer this problem, there are significant visual and social cues to engage with other students, as well as organised opportunities. Sure, some of that networking might not be effective, but usually it helps. Online, it is essential to form good working relationships with other students (not all, just a few) who become your study buddies. We can clearly see this in our successful students. Not only does networking help with the business of learning, it also helps keep people motivated!

I would also add that another common mistake we have seen is students taking on too much because, onluine, they try to combine study with lots of work or other commitments.

Charlotte Over a year ago

I have just started College Net Work and very excited about starting school again . I would like to know if there is anyone in the OK area taking College courses from LPN to RN? I am starting with Life Span and could use someone to talk too.

Orthonurseprg Over a year ago

Hi Charlotte, sounds like I'm exactly where you're at in study. Would love to be able to "study" together. Good Luck!!

RehabProf Over a year ago

I would add "Not having basic computer skills" and "Treating their online professors as their personal 'help desk'. I am constantly amazed by students who sign up for online courses when they don't even know how to attach a file to an email. Professors also make the mistake of assuming that because their students are young they know their how to use the technology. The computer skills of some students is like a puddle: 'Covers a broad area but is less than an inch deep!'

Sue Powis Over a year ago

I agree! The online classes that I've taken required a lot of extra organization and motivation. But keeping up and staying organized makes the courses much more satisfying. I'd agree with the networking comments as well. Any downside to my online courses was because I missed the on-campus connection. So far, I've taken one or two classes per semester, mixed in with regular on-site courses. Soon I'll be starting an online program and am already planning how to ensure being 'engaged' through the entire process.

Cherise Over a year ago

"Going to work full-time and coming home to take care of the kids, it’s tough to find enough time to study." I totally agree - Cherise

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