APU Careers & Learning Online Learning Original

The Essential Characteristics of Successful Online Learners

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Public University

Online learning is an excellent way to earn an education. It also provides the opportunity for many non-traditional learners to earn a degree while balancing work, family and other personal responsibilities.

Online learning can be done asynchronously, which allows you to log into the online classroom at any time. You can also complete coursework at whatever time of day is convenient for you.

Within the online classroom, there are typically weekly assignments and required discussions that take place. Student forum posts contribute to the collaborative learning experience within the course, because students share their perspectives and experiences associated with weekly course objectives.

Skills Online Learners Should Have

To be successful as an online learner, there are several skills you should have. One of the most important skills involves organization and engagement skills.

Engagement skills are important because you may frequently collaborate with other students in online classes through discussion forums. Team assignments may also be assigned in online courses, and engagement skills can help to foster an effective team.

In online classes, you are typically assigned weekly course deliverables such as tests or papers. It is up to you when to complete those tasks.

For many working adults or for students with family responsibilities, there are often daily tasks that compete for their time. As a result, it is beneficial to develop a weekly routine and an easy-to-follow schedule that provides enough time for online coursework.

I completed online courses at the undergraduate, master’s and doctoral level. From my experience in online courses, it was helpful to develop a written weekly schedule with some time allotted for coursework.

In addition, I found it useful to have a plan that would help me resolve any unexpected events that distracted me from my coursework. This plan often involved utilizing friends and family to assist with childcare when scheduling conflicts with my coursework occurred.

Another important characteristic of online learners involves basic computer and research skills. Often, a new online classroom can seem overwhelming at the beginning of class.

However, taking the time to explore and navigate through the online classroom can reduce stress and help you to quickly locate valuable resources and learning content within the course. You also have access to your instructors via email within the classroom, and most instructors typically provide replies to student questions within a day or two.

Basic research skills help you quickly locate information within the course or university policies to answer your questions, which saves time. 

A good study environment is also essential in being a successful online student. Your study environment should be free of distractions and should provide you with internet access to complete your coursework.

From my experience, I found it helpful to set up a study space in my home that was away from the television and was in a room that had a door I could close to reduce any distractions. Putting my phone on silent mode and remaining off social media while studying was equally helpful in keeping me on track with my coursework.

Another characteristic of successful online learners involves being goal-oriented and remaining motivated by reaching milestone goals. Being goal-oriented involves setting goals for each major assignment and using a reasonable deadline to complete those assignment.

For online learners, goals can also include setting the pace toward graduation by taking multiple classes in a semester and working with an academic advisor to set other academic goals. If you reward yourself once you reach a milestone goal, you are more likely to remain on track and persevere toward completing your degree.

Earning a college education is a major accomplishment in life, and online learning is an excellent option for many working adults. Pursuing a degree through a school who understands online learners and offers well-constructed online courses that are taught by knowledgeable and experienced faculty is a useful step in acquiring the knowledge you seek.

About the Author

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski is an associate professor at American Public University and has over two decades in the field of homeland security. He has 11 years of online higher education experience. His expertise includes human trafficking, maritime security, homeland security contraband interdiction, and intelligence gathering. Jarrod recently conducted in-country research in Central and South America on human trafficking and current trends in narcotics trafficking. He has served as a consultant and speaker to the key stakeholders in law enforcement, defense forces, and criminal justice in Belize on the topics of human trafficking and drug trafficking.

In late 2020, Jarrod served as a consultant for the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime on human trafficking and organized crime in Central America. His contributions will be reflected on the worldwide Organized Crime Index that will be published in 2021. His research on drug trafficking was published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime World Drug Report in 2019.

Most recently, Jarrod presented at the 2020 International Human Trafficking Conference where he presented his research on human trafficking in South America. He has engaged in speaking engagements in the United States, Central America, and Europe on the topics of human trafficking, narcotics trafficking, police responses to domestic terrorism, and various topics in policing. Jarrod can be reached through his website at for consulting and speaking engagements.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski is an associate professor in the School of Security and Global Studies at APU. Jarrod was selected as the Coast Guard’s Reserve McShan Inspirational Leadership Award recipient for 2019. His expertise includes infrastructure security, maritime security, homeland security contraband interdiction and intelligence gathering.

Comments are closed.