Characteristics of Successful Online Learners

Online learning has many positive attributes including learning in your own environment, at your own pace, and in your own time.  It provides access to continuing education to many learners, but is different from traditional learning environments.   Online learning is not for everyone. However, these qualities can be acquired with practice and motivation.  The most successful online learners possess the following qualities.

Independent learner

Interactions between instructors and students in a traditional course are usually immediate. While in a self-paced online course environment, you will need to interact with the materials and activities in an independent manner.  You will need to understand when it is appropriate to seek answers to questions and that feedback will not be instantaneous. You must be comfortable learning in such an environment.  As an adult learner, this environment actually better reflects the environment you will be expected to practice what you learn.


Online learning provides you with a great deal of flexibility; you can access your course when and where you want. You must be motivated to keep up with coursework. If you do not set aside time to learn and continue to make progress, you will fail.

Computer literate

You don’t need to be an advanced computer user to succeed online, but it is helpful to start an online course with basic keyboarding skills, a basic knowledge of word processing software, and the ability to send and receive e-mail. It is also helpful to have an understanding of how to conduct research on the Internet.

Good time manager

Since your course schedule will not revolve around regular face-to-face class sessions, you must be able to set a schedule that allows you to make continual course progress. Plan to spend at least three to five hours per week on course-related activities. It takes a great deal of time management effort to balance this time with work, family, and other obligations you might have.

Effective Readers and Ability to Self-Assess

Online courses require a great deal of reading and interaction with materials.   You need to be dedicated to engaging with the content to make sure concepts are being learned and are connected to how they will be applied on the job.  Help yourself in an online environment the same way you would in a traditional classroom – take notes, read complicated content aloud, ask a co-worker or friend to quiz you, print and highlight materials.  Also take advantage online learning advantages such as built in knowledge checks and feedback.  Also, in an online environment, you can review the materials at your own rate and as many times as you choose.

Effective problem solvers

You may face problems in your online course that are outside of your control. For example, your computer or Internet connection may malfunction, your electricity could go out, or you may have difficulty remembering your login information. You must be able to think critically in such situations to determine the best course of action without becoming overly frustrated.