This semester has been challenging for the Emerson community.  At the Lacerte Writing and Academic Resource Center (WARC) we understand that for many of you, as Emerson students, online learning is a whole new world. In order to help you adjust, the WARC has put together this list of tips for adapting to an online learning model.

7 Tips for Success When Taking Online Courses

Keep open lines of communication with your instructor

Now more than ever it is vital to communicate with your professors. The classroom expectations may be changing, and there could be changes to the syllabus. Things to consider:

  • When are your instructors holding office hours?
  • Are they available for video and other types of meetings? 
  • What’s their preferred method of contact?
  • Make a habit of checking your Emerson email and Canvas at least once a day to see any communications from your instructors, your department, or the College.

Understand your course expectations

As students, you have to play an active role in online learning. It’s your responsibility to thoroughly understand both the structure of your online courses and the expectations of your instructors. While all Emerson courses are now online, your classes may be conducted in different ways. Your instructors are expected to use both synchronous and asynchronous methods. 

  • “Synchronous” means that class happens at a specific time, often during your regularly scheduled class time, and that you and your classmates are all logged on together.
  • “Asynchronous” means that your instructor provides taped lectures, videos, and handouts and you manage your time independently to watch, read material and do your work in a timely way in order to meet course deadlines. 

Your instructors are expected to accommodate students who experience problems with technology or are in different time zones; you should contact your instructors if you are having technical difficulties. Your faculty should also have posted office hours that are synchronous and in which live interactions with you may be an option. 

If you’re unsure exactly how your class is being held or lack clarity on your professors’ expectations, reach out to them immediately! If your professors are unresponsive, you should contact your Department Chairs. If you’re an international student or a student in a different time zone and are having difficulty accessing academic support at the WARC, contact tyler_mcpeek [at] (Tyler McPeek).

Create a productive, distraction-free work space

  • Designate a workspace in a place that will work best for you. 
  • Think about what distracts you. Do you work best with instrumental background music or in silence? 
  • Make sure your workspace has good lighting and that any study materials you may need are close by. 
  • When you’re in your online class, taking a test, or need to focus, turn off notifications on your phone and computer (or store your phone). 
  • Alert others around you when you’re in class and set boundaries.
  • Take breaks from your workspace occasionally. Stand up, stretch, and rest your eyes. Breaks are important for managing your energy, so take some time away from work so you don’t become overwhelmed.

Stay connected to classmates

  • Social distancing is hard for many of us, but it’s still possible to connect and communicate with classmates even without seeing them in the physical classroom. 
  • Try asking your classmates to set up a group chat to discuss assignments or questions about coursework. 
  • If a virtual study session would be helpful, invite others to join you.
  • Check in with your friends regularly. Zoom and other video/audio services are great for socializing too; it’s important to stay connected during this difficult time.

Manage your time effectively

In order to stay organized and manage your time effectively, you should first decide what tools you will be using to keep track of when assignments are due and when you have scheduled video classes and meetings. 

  • Consider downloading the Canvas app onto your phone to make checking it daily easier. 
  • Use alerts and reminders on your phone so that you don’t miss class or deadlines. However, beware that setting too many notifications can cause you to ignore or dismiss them. Find what works best for you.
  • Our top three recommended tools are a monthly calendar, a block schedule, and a to-do list. You can use these tools through apps, Canvas, Google, or a physical calendar. You can also utilize visual cues to help you “see” time, such as putting up a paper calendar or block schedule in your study space and updating them as needed. 
  • Bookmark any websites you use regularly, including updated syllabi links and course resources.

Engage and participate actively

While it may seem difficult, it is required for you to engage with your instructors in online classes. It is also still possible for you to engage with your classmates! In fact, active participation may be more important than ever.

  • Make sure you’re up-to-date on what is going on in each class.
  • Participate in class discussions in Zoom breakout rooms, if prompted, or on discussion boards. 
  • Reach out to classmates and instructors with any questions or concerns.

Utilize your resources

If you would like help implementing any time management tools, or to get support in an ongoing way to help you meet your academic deadlines, make an online appointment with a WARC Academic Success Consultant. If you would like help getting started with writing assignments, any phase of the writing process, or English language enhancement, make an online appointment with a WARC Writing Consultant or English Language Learning Consultant. We also offer content support for select courses through our Peer Tutoring Program. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or are uncertain about your options, contact matthew_phelan [at] (Matt Phelan) to schedule an online appointment. All WARC services are available online at We’re here for you!