Characteristics of a Successful Online Student

While a traditional student in an on-ground class gets to know his or her fellow classmates and instructor by sharing personal interactions on a regular basis, the online student often "attends class" independently of the instructor or other students. Online classes are "asynchronous," meaning that students and the instructor do not have to be logged into the classroom at any given time. Online students most often will complete course activities--such as adding reactions to responses posted in a discussion thread at a day and time most convenient to their schedules.

Students who enjoy face-to-face immediate interactions room may not find the online classroom a "good fit." Here are some of the important study habits and personality traits of successful online students.

Independent Learners

Online students must feel comfortable in a learning environment that places emphasis on individuals taking responsibility for their learning process. While the online classroom includes interactions between the student and instructor, they are not immediate as in a traditional on-ground classroom. Although online instructors answer questions and provide clarification of information to students as they would in the traditional classroom, students must be comfortable waiting up to 24 hours for a response to their emails.

A typical week for an online student might include:

  • Reading through the current week's assignments and lecture materials
  • Thoughtfully reading the textbooks for the class as assigned and identifying main points and supporting details
  • Responding by a deadline to discussion questions as posted by the instructor
  • "Discussing" through a discussion board (by a deadline) the responses of fellow classmates
  • Completing and sending (by a deadline) an assignment to be graded by the instructor
  • Completing an assignment by deadline in a work group comprised of four or five classmates


Successful online students must be self-disciplined and goal-oriented as they work to complete their weekly assignments, post email messages, and work with their classmates in their online class. Online classes move quickly and instructors often will not allow students to "make up" missed online discussions or assignments.

Proficient Readers & Communicators

Online classes are reading intensive; students are expected to glean information from their texts and from online materials to apply to work assigned to them. Before enrolling you are required to take the ASSET and/or COMPASS tests: a score of at least 40 on the reading and comprehension sections of the ASSET placement test or at least an 81 on the COMPASS placement test reflects minimum college-level reading and comprehension skills (see Assessment & Placement link at right).

Basic Computer Skills

The computer is an integral part of the online classroom. While mastering the lessons of your online course, you do not want to be saddled with less-than-adequate computer skills. These basic skills including proficiency in sending and receiving emails with attachments, cutting and pasting from Word, and communicating with fellow students in Discussion threads.

Set a Schedule & Keep to It

Online instructors expect their students to be organized in setting a schedule that allows them to meet their deadlines. Most online classes require regular signing in and posting of messages in the classroom in order to stay current with class activities which include reading messages and lecture, interacting in discussion threads and work groups, and posting assignments.

Online instructors expect successful students to log at least three-five hours of online work a week for three-credit class. In addition, most students find they are successful if they log two hours of homework for every credit hour of class. Successful online students report that they log many hours above the minimum 12 hours expected.

Meet Deadlines

Online students who are successful in completing their courses know how to schedule their time to meet deadlines for classroom discussions, work group activities, and graded assignments. Successful online students understand that others in their classroom are counting on their participation in classroom and work group activities.

Not Easily Frustrated

Students in an online class sometimes are faced with obstacles that are out of their control: computers can break, ISP servers can crash, and electric power can go out. A successful online student identifies solutions for unexpected "catastrophes" by thinking ahead about solutions to potential problems.

Possible solutions for each of the above scenarios:

  • Use a friend or relative's computer
  • Access a computer in one of the computer labs on campus

Remember to save all online classroom work to a floppy disk, CD, zip disk, or flash disk so if your hard drive crashes, you do not "lose" your work.

Comfortable in Cyberspace

Most online classes do not provide visual or auditory images of the instructors or students, so "who you are" in class primarily is conveyed by the messages you post in the class discussion threads or work groups. You should be comfortable with this alternative method of creating a "picture" of who you are and what you think.

Remember Netiquette

Successful online students exhibit respect for the classroom environment and remember their "manners" when communicating to their fellow classmates and to their instructor. They understand that taking out their anger and/or frustration on their classmates and their instructor is not proper "netiquette" any more than it would be in a traditional classroom.

Take Responsibility for the Learning Process

Successful online students understand that their instructors are facilitators of their learning process and that the individual student must be a dedicated and goal-oriented self-starter. Online students are motivated and goal-oriented. They put their schoolwork at the top of their list of priorities.

Successful online students are not afraid to ask questions; however, they ask for clarification after they have attempted to understand the material on their own by re-reading the textbook, the instructions, or lecture.


Does this describe you?

    • I am a self-motivated and self-disciplined individual. 
    • I am able to work independently with little direction. 
    • I have good time-management skills that allow me to schedule specific times throughout a week to work on my online course.
    • I can adequately prepare and study for exams.
    • I can effectively communicate any questions or concerns to my instructor.
    • I am comfortable expressing myself in writing using grammatically correct, written statements and/or essays.
    • I am not a procrastinator. I like to get things done today and not tomorrow.
    • I will not miss the face-to-face interaction with my instructor and classmates.
    • I do not give up easily, even when confronted with obstacles.
    • I am comfortable spending five plus hours each week on a course to review course lectures/videos, complete course assignment, participate in chats and threaded discussions, etc. 
    • I agree that online courses can be more challenging than face-to-face classes.
    • I consider myself an average to above-average reader.
    • I have basic computer skills and can use word processing software, download software, install software, use a web browser, etc.
    • I have access to a computer that is connected to the Internet and have a backup plan if something happens to my computer.
    • I am comfortable in a "virtual environment" - email, sending attachments, threaded discussions, chat rooms, etc.