Online Learning

Learning outcomes

  • Explain key factors for success in online learning

Online vs. In-Person Classroom

If you’re reading this, you’ve decided to investigate online learning as an alternative to traditional in-person learning. But what will decision really mean for you as a student? Here we will introduce you to the world of online learning. We will show you some of the differences you will encounter when taking online courses rather than in-person courses, as well as how to be successful in online learning.

Types of Online Classes

One of the easiest mistakes when making decisions about online learning programs is to assume that all online learning is the same, or even that there are two broad categories of “online” and “blended.” In actuality, there are many different options of online learning, and they make up a spectrum of options. When selecting online courses or programs, you will encounter terms such as online, distance education, synchronous/live sessions, asynchronous, and blended/hybrid learning. Below we describe each of these terms.

Distance/Online Education

Terms such as distance learning and online learning have been used to describe learning that occurs when the instructor and students are in different geographic locations.[1]

Synchronous/Live Sessions

Synchronous learning has become very popular, particularly during the pandemic. Synchronous means any teaching taking place where the teacher and learners participate in a class session at the same time through the use of videoconferencing tools like Zoom or Google Classroom.


Unlike synchronous, simultaneously attended live sessions, asynchronous learning occurs online and consists of assignments and feedback from instructors and interaction with peers where attendees are free to participate on any schedule that suits them. Typically, learners and the teacher are popping into the class at different times. In this format, deadlines and due dates still apply. [2]

Blended Learning/Hybrid

Blended or hybrid learning is a combination of online and face-to-face learning and usually involves anywhere from twenty to eighty percent blending of online instruction with traditional face-to-face courses.[3][4]

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How to Be a Successful Online Student

While you will use many of the same strategies required for in-person learning, there are key differences in how you learn in online courses. As mentioned earlier, online instructors’ role shifts to facilitator while online students are expected to engage in independent learning. Independent learners are expected to take a more active role in their learning. At first, this change can be difficult for students, as they may be accustomed to being passive learners. Luckily, there are several strategies that online students can implement to help them be successful independent learners.

Independent learning requires the following skills:

  • Defining your learning goal for each course, and each assignment you complete.
  • Identifying the steps you must take to move towards your goal. What content do you need to know? How will you learn it?
  • Choosing strategies that will support your own learning.
  • Reaching out for the support you need from your instructor, classmates, and university support services.

Metacognition for Online Learning

The Learning Cycle consists of a repeating cycle of planning, monitoring, evaluation.An important skill that successful online students have is metacognition. Metacognition is, put simply, thinking about one’s thinking. More precisely, it refers to the processes used to plan, monitor, and assess one’s understanding and performance. Metacognition includes a critical awareness of a) one’s thinking and learning and b) oneself as a thinker and learner.

How do you gain the skill of metacognition?

Planning involves two key tasks: deciding what you need to learn, and then deciding how you are going to learn that material.

Monitoring requires you to ask, “how am I doing at learning this?” In monitoring, you are constantly tracking what you have learned, what you don’t yet know, and whether your study strategies are helping you to learn effectively.

Evaluation involves reflection on how well you met your learning objectives after completing a unit of study, or receiving feedback (such as a test or assignment).


Watch this video to learn more about metacognition.

Time Management for Online Learning

In addition to being an independent learner and understanding how you learn best (metacognition), another important aspect of online learning is time management. In order to successfully navigate online courses, online students must learn how to manage their time. Managing one’s time includes making time for all the different priorities in one’s life, including school, work, and family responsibilities

Online learning requires effective time management skills. You may not have the structure of a weekly class to help you organize your time and prioritize your assignments. If you are in a blended course, you will be responsible for a higher number of independent self-study hours than in traditional classroom courses.

Time Management

If you are interested in learning about how you manage your time, complete this time management quiz.


Singh, V., and A. Thurman. “How Many Ways Can We Define Online Learning? A Systematic Literature Review of Definitions of Online Learning (1988–2018).” American Journal of Distance Education, 2019, vol. 33, no. 4, pp. 289–306.

Graham, C. R., W. Woodfield, and J. B. Harrison. “A Framework for Institutional Adoption and Implementation of Blended Learning in Higher Education.” The Internet and Higher Education, 2013, vol. 18, pp. 4–14.


asynchronous learning: an online learning environment where participants may participate on any schedule that suits them

hybrid learning: an combination of online and face-to-face instruction

synchronous learning: an online learning environment where participants attend the session together at a scheduled time

  1. Urdan, T. A., and C. C. Weggen. Corporate E-Learning: Exploring a New Frontier. WR Hambrecht Co, 2000.
  2. Hrastinski, S. "A Study of Asynchronous and Synchronous C-lcarning Methods Discovered That Each Supports Different Purposes." Educause Quarterly, vol. 4, 2008, pp. 51–55, asynchronous-and-synchronous-c-lcaming.
  3. Blackinton, Cherry, Lance Blackinton, and Mary Blackinton. “Student Perceptions of Factors Influencing Success in Hybrid and Traditional Dpt Programs: A Q-Sort Analysis.” Quarterly review of distance education, vol. 18.4, 2017, pp. 71–86.
  4. Garrison, D. R., and N. D. Vaughan. Blended Learning in Higher Education: Framework, Principles, and Guidelines. Jossey-Bass, 2008.