Seven steps to studying online successfully and effectively

Graham Jones
4 min readJul 3, 2022

Students spend a great deal of time studying online. They use search engines to find out information. They also collaborate on work together using social networks. Plus, they watch lectures on video or even participate in virtual reality sessions. Even if a student is at a traditional campus-based university, much of their studying will be undertaken online.

So, how can students get the best out of this relatively new way of studying? Much of the “academic skills” advice they get at university is based on the old ways of doing things, such as reading books and making notes on paper. But that’s not how students tend to work these days. Hence, here are seven steps you can take to ensure you are successful with your online studies.

Step One: Make a plan

It’s too easy to get distracted online, be taken off at tangents and not do as much work as you intended. In traditional studying, the plan is done for you by your lecturers. They set the timetable and tell you what to read each week. With online study, you are free to do your own thing. That can lead to trouble unless you are disciplined and have a plan as to how you are going to study.

Step Two: Get to know the technology

When you study online, you will be using a wide variety of software programs and online services. You will waste time later on if you don’t get to grips with them at the outset. There are plenty of free courses and video instructions to show you how to use the programs and services you will need. Take a look at them before you start studying and practice using the technology in advance. You will be in a much better position by doing this, freeing up your time for effective study.

Step Three: Set up your study environment

Whether you are studying at home in your bedroom or have a separate study room, if it isn’t organised for online study, you will not do as well as you would like. You need to ensure that you have good broadband access, that your screen is set up to avoid reflections and that you have a comfortable chair to support you through the long hours you will sit at your computer. But you also need things at hand which would typically be provided for you at a traditional university, such as access to an online library. Getting your work environment organised before you begin your studies will pay dividends later.

Step Four: Study in short sessions

It’s tempting to sit at your computer all day and study. But the material won’t “go in”. Plus, being totally sedentary is not good for your physical or mental health. Studying in short bursts of time is what works best. Plan to spend around 15–25 minutes studying before taking a 10–15 minute break and then starting the next session. Break up your learning material into these short sessions, and you will learn more efficiently. At the same time, you will not feel as tired and will remember more.

Step Five: Establish an efficient note-taking system

While studying, you will want to take notes. Indeed, research shows that students who make several notes about what they are reading or watching are the ones that get higher marks. Studying on paper makes it easy to take notes. You can write in the margins of a book, for instance. But studying online means that you cannot easily take notes. So, investigate the various online note-taking and annotation systems so that you can make the most of taking notes online.

Step Six: Keep in touch with other students

At traditional, campus-based universities, students are constantly talking with each other. They meet up and discuss their studies. Talking with your peers is an established way of helping consolidate what you are learning. Online, you cannot bump into other students in the corridor to randomly discuss something. Instead, you need to make sure you use online forums and chat rooms to keep in touch with your colleagues. Doing so will inevitably help you learn.

Step Seven: Look after yourself

Studying online can be lonely. It can be tiring. Plus, it can be physically demanding to sit still in one position for much of the time. On campus, students are moving around all the time. Studying online means the furthest you move is between your desk and the kitchen for a coffee. Your physical health can easily be affected by studying online. So, ensure you pay attention to minimise the potential ill effects of being sedentary. Also, be aware that the loneliness of studying online can affect your mental health. Make sure you still get a social life outside of studying. Otherwise, you could end up with stress and anxiety.

Although these Seven Steps will help you make the most of online studying, there’s plenty more you can do. For more ideas, you can check out my book, Studying Online, published by Routledge.

Graham Jones is a Senior Lecturer and Programme Director at the University of Buckingham. He has also been an Associate Lecturer at the Open University for more than 20 years. He was one of the first people to start teaching online in the mid-1990s. He is the author of 32 books, the latest of which is “Studying Online” which is published on 7th July 2022 by Routledge.

The cover of the book “Studying Online”



Graham Jones

Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who helps business understand online customer behaviour