Getting started in online learning can seem daunting at first. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your online courses:

Work environment

Set up a quiet place in your home where you can study undisturbed. Your computer, room lighting, broadband connection, even your chair—all are key to creating an environment optimized for studying and learning.

Time and scheduling

Be aware that the flexibility of the online environment can be challenging for students prone to procrastination. Don’t be fooled by its flexibility! Courses are not self-paced. You will be required to keep up with the class and meet deadlines. Be aware of your dates and deadlines when you start the class; most classes have weekly assignments and discussions.

Find a time management system that works for you

Choose a calendar or time management system that is reliable and easy to update. Make a note of all due dates and set reminders. Print syllabi and course calendars and keep them visible so you can refer to them often. Set aside time each day to devote yourself to your online class the same way you would for attending a class in person. Make sure you set aside sufficient time each day to study. Think of it as an appointment you can’t miss!

The online learning environment

Log into your online courses as often as possible—at least five times a week—and every day if you can. You don’t want to miss out on important updates or discussions that happen in your classes. Also, check your email often (daily, if possible) and make sure MSU has your correct, preferred email address.

Be clear in your communications

Whether it is an email or discussion posting, remember that in online courses, the non-verbal cues that are so important in face-to-face communication are nonexistent. Consider composing emails, discussion posts or responses in a word processing document (e.g., Microsoft Word) first, then copying and pasting into the email or course discussion area. This can give you time to think about what you want to say and how best to say it. You can also check for grammar and spelling errors. Consider that once you post something in an online class, you may not be able to remove it. Think carefully about what you want to say in your post before you submit it.

Ask questions if you are not sure about something

Use the interactive tools in Brightspace to ask your instructors and classmates questions. Remember that what you ask on a Discussion Board can be seen by others in your class, so if you need to ask a question in private, use email.

Keep in mind “Netiquette”

Netiquette is pretty much as it sounds: social guidelines and rules dictate online interactions. For example, WHEN YOU TYPE IN ALL CAPS, IT'S CONSIDERED SHOUTING. It's pretty basic: Don't say things you wouldn't usually say to someone face-to-face. It can be easy to say anything in an environment that feels anonymous, but keep in mind that you are interacting with real people in your online courses. Likewise, be careful with sarcasm and humor; it often doesn't translate in an online environment. Finally, even though you are not in a classroom, MSU expects you to abide by the MSU Student Conduct Code.

Keep your class syllabus and read it!

The class syllabus is the road map that typically lists all course readings, assignments and deadlines. You can refer to it throughout the course to ensure you are on track. Instructors will likely need to modify the syllabus when transitioning to an online course. But any changes will be communicated to you by the instructor.

Online learning can sometimes feel isolating for some people

Be involved and interactive. Taking part in class discussions and communicating with your instructors and your advisor can help you feel more connected.


Technology can sometimes fail us. Connectivity fails. Computers crash. Have a backup plan and keep copies of your work on a cloud or backup device. MSU’s Help Desk phone number is (406) 994-1777.

Personal life

Minimize social distractions. Consider turning off your phone and logging off social networks during study time. Instead, turn to classmates, a friend or your family for support if you're stuck on an assignment or facing writer's block on a research paper, email or use online Learning Management System software (Brightspace by D2L) tools to reach out to a classmate.