Succeeding as an Online Student

There is a big difference between being a traditional on-campus student and an online or distance learning student. At first glance, the gulf between the two doesn’t seem so wide – but upon closer inspection it’s larger than it looks.

Traditional students have accountability and discipline built into their schedules by having regular meeting times with the professor and classmates. They can pick up on visual cues and intonation during lectures. If they don’t understand something during class, they can raise their hand and get instant gratification and satiated curiosity.

Online students have none of these conveniences. It’s funny, isn’t it? We take online classes for convenience, and then discover there may be less convenience than we first expected. At the very least, it’s a trade-off of convenience. We don’t get face time with the teacher, but we do get the freedom to do the lesson and listen to the lecture at 3am if we choose (assuming the class doesn’t have scheduled web-meetings).

The biggest trade-off is discipline for freedom. Online students have to be very self-aware and full of self-discipline. It’s very easy to procrastinate a lesson because you can do it whenever you want to do it. But then all of a sudden it’s time to do the next lesson and you haven’t finished the previous one. It’s a snowball effect that can cause a lot of damage.

To succeed online you have to know your limitations and be willing to push yourself. You have to hold yourself accountable in ways traditional students don’t.

One common theme among online classes (at least at SLIS) is working on a team. Teamwork is heavily emphasized and utilized throughout various courses in the program. And if you don’t know how to work in a team, you end up spending the time you should be learning the material of the lesson learning how to work as part of a team instead.

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of teamwork – but that seems to be true of most people. I’m often shy and have trouble voicing my opinions if they differ from others (well, outside the blogosphere, that is). I don’t like letting go of the control I have when I complete an assignment. If I get a B on a project, I want to know that I deserved that B and that I didn’t receive it because someone else didn’t pull their weight in class.

Enid Irwin confirms that these are common fears among students.

But just as you need self-awareness and discipline to succeed in online classes, you also need a fair amount to succeed in a team. You have to be able to put aside your own fears and approach others with enthusiasm and trust so that you work together to the best of your abilities.

Irwin made two statements that stood out to me over the rest:

Results are greater than the sum of the parts.


You start your careers now, when you begin your classes.

Both of these resonated with me, and though they seem unrelated, they aren’t. The way I behave now, among my peers and professors, could impact the way I’m viewed once I have my degree and am entering the wonderful world of library careers. You know the saying: It’s a small world after all. People I interact with now will likely be people I interact with later.

So isn’t it worth it to put aside my fears and recognize that other people have a lot to contribute as well? My work plus your work gives us a result that’s even better than anything we could have come up with alone.

Dr. Haycock put a lot of emphasis on individual accountability with a group goal. In other words, together we have an end result in mind but I have to hold myself accountable for my part and trust that you will do the same. That’s really the only way to be successful.


Posted on August 5, 2010, in LIBR 203. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. A very insightful post. I have pretty much the same attitude as you when it comes to group work– I hate not being in complete control of my fate (or grade as it may be). I’d say 85% of my experiences with group work have been positive in the program though, and I’ve made some good friends who I still keep in contact with. The other 15%, I just did the best I could on my part and it all worked out in the end.

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