6 Tips to Help You Succeed in Online Nursing Courses

Amanda Ghosh

Amanda Ghosh


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Many nursing students will take at least one course or certification online. Some will pursue their entire degree online. It’s more prudent than ever to develop study skills specific to self-directed learning. We share six tips to help you become a better online nursing student.

Time Management

1. Organize your schedule for the entire semester at the get-go 

Being organized may be the key to success in online learning. Here’s how to do it correctly.

At the start of each semester, print the syllabus for every class. Mark test dates and assignment due dates on your calendar using a color-coding system to keep things straight. For example, use a red pen to mark test dates and a black pen to denote assignment due dates. 

Then, highlight all test and assignment dates with a highlighter that has been color-coded to represent a single class (i.e., highlight all dates in orange for anatomy and physiology, and all dates in green for sociology).

Next, backtrack from each test and assignment due date the number of days you’ll need to prepare, leaving yourself an extra day or two for padding. 

Fill in each of the days you backtracked with self-assigned homework. 

For instance, you may repeat “study 5 pages for the exam” for five days, leaving one day to “review all 25 pages for the exam.” You might also schedule work like “write the introduction for my sociology assignment,” followed by “write the body of my sociology assignment” the next day, and so forth.

When finished, you should know what you’re doing every day for the entire semester as well as what’s due when.

Finally, follow your schedule, and periodically check-in with your instructor’s course schedule to make sure you’re on track and haven’t missed anything.

This type of organization goes beyond the basic schedule your instructor provides by breaking down major assignments into manageable chunks. Organizing your semester this way means you’ll always know exactly what you need to do. You’ll neither run out of time nor get too overwhelmed.

2. Prioritize

You can’t give your full attention to everything at once. Make choices based on what’s important to you. If you have two things due at the same time, and only time to do one, prioritize the item that has the most potential to affect your grade negatively.

Of course, you can avoid having to pick and choose by planning at the beginning of the semester. If multiple assessments are due at once, plan your semester early using the method we described. 

You may have to start one assignment much earlier than usual to make room for other tasks. There is a bit of juggling involved in timing your workload when you set your schedule for the semester. Do what works for you.

It also helps to use empty days on your schedule to get ahead. If you don’t have much going on in a given week, see what you can get done early.


3. Stop procrastinating

Online students have to be self-motivated and self-directed. Here are a few tips to avoid excessive procrastination:

  • Allow yourself a set amount of time to delay, then get to work—set an alarm if you must.
  • Identify why you’re procrastinating and address the underlying issue. For example, if you’re delaying because you’re anxious, consider whether there’s something you could do to build your confidence and do that.
  • Break work into manageable chunks so you don’t end up with a mountain of tasks due in a day—procrastination often strikes when we have too much to do in a small timeframe.

4. Separate studying from study preparation

A-level students know that they have to prepare to study. The bulk of your work in the days and weeks leading up to a test should be spent taking notes, organizing notes, and centralizing test information. Studying while notetaking or simply reading existing notes is usually not enough to do well.

Separate your work into notetaking, organizing and centralizing, and studying. Give yourself enough time to do all three steps before exams. 

For example, if you have a test on the 20th, finish watching lectures and taking notes on lectures by the 10th. Finish reading chapters by the 12th. Combine chapter notes and lecture notes by the 15th. Study 30% of the information each night for three days and spend the night before the exam reviewing what you’ve studied multiple times.


5. Notetaking

Don’t just rely on your professor’s lecture notes. Take your own based on his or her commentary during each lecture. Lectures will be in audio or video format because they’re online, so you can stop them every few minutes and make notes about what your professor mentions on a printout of his or her lecture notes. PowerPoint lectures can be printed with 4 or 6 slides per page, which is perfect for adding extra details. 

This method of note taking takes about 2-2.5 times the length of the lecture, but it works. So, if you have two lectures a week and each is 50 minutes, plan to spend 5 hours listening to lectures and taking additional notes.

Finally, take book notes on the assigned reading. Turn paragraph headers into headers in an outline and jot down key points. Be sure to combine all of your notes into one central study document before reviewing for an exam.

There is a variety of notetaking methods; figure out which one works for you or create your own.

6. Figure out what they don’t tell you

The benefit of being comprehensive in what and how you study is that you start to see what your professor emphasizes. Use this to your advantage and shift your focus based on what you see becoming critical as the course progresses. Sometimes, you’ll find that you don’t have to do as much work, but you won’t know until you have a complete grasp of all the material—a bird’s eye view, if you will.

Online Courses Offer Freedom – if You’re Prepared

You have more freedom to tailor your time in an online course, which is a good thing—if you’re self-disciplined and organized. Use the tips shared here to improve how you manage your next online course.

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