How to get the most out of online courses

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Online learning has exploded in the past 2 years. About 92 million learners enrolled on Coursera in 2022 itself. While these are convenient, it is also challenging to learn for many of the learners with only 15% completion rate. So how to get the most out of online courses? This article discusses exactly these strategies.

Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs is a term coined to refer to a course developed by Stephen Downes and George Siemens titled Connectivism and Connectivity Knowledge in 2008. Some of the first MOOC providers as we know today emerged from 2012 with EdX, Coursera, Udacity and Udemy. Since then, MOOCs have served millions of people who regularly take a variety of courses ranging from baking to machine learning on these platforms.

Advantages of MOOCs

Open online courses have practically no geographical restriction apart from being able to connect to a decent broadband connection. Some other advantages of these are:

  • Convenience – The biggest advantage of open online courses is its convenience. You can take the course any time of the day, in as many chunks as you wish. You can get up early to finish a module, use the time between meetings to complete another and the next one after your dinner.
  • Flexibility – If you don’t understand a part of the course, you can go through it again and again. You also don’t have to wait for others to catch up if you grasp the concepts quickly
  • Pace – As they say, these courses are self paced. You can complete a bunch of modules in one sitting and then take a few days to complete the rest, depending on your other commitments. This however can also prove to be a disadvantage.
  • Cost – Self-paced courses are recorded once and offered multiple times to anyone who enrolls for the course. This makes it possible to keep the prices low and make it affordable to many more students. Typical prices vary widely from $$ to low $$$.
  • Availability – Since there are no live instructors and no dependency on other learners, you can start the course any day of the year and complete it at your pace. Also, you get lifetime access to most courses even if they are updated later. This is different from a hybrid course, that have a fixed start and end time, even though the course material is mostly recorded and available for lifetime.

Challenges with MOOCs

In spite of these benefits, these courses suffer from comparatively lower completion rates at an estimate of just 15%. Students enroll to a course either take a long time to complete or drop out. This is because there is nobody to push them, or lack of time or a combination of both. I myself have been guilty of that in 1 out of every 5 courses.

How to get the most out of your online course

If you have been in this situation in the past, you are hardly alone as is evident from the completion rates above. However there are some things you can do to overcome this challenge and get the most out your course.

  1. Choose a course suitable to your personality – Decide what kind of a student you are. Some learners like long courses with a lot of details and many topics included. Some would rather take shorter courses with more focus on certain topics than taking an all-inclusive course. Then there are people who prefer assignment based learning than just listening.
  2. Make a schedule – Take some time out every day or every other day to go through at least 2-3 1 sub-topics at a time. Most of the sub-topics are just 10-15 minutes, so keeping aside just 30 minutes a day will work well.
  3. Create a project to practice – When you take a course, don’t just solve the assignments given in the course. Create a project for yourself and work to apply the learning to complete the project. For example, if you are learning web development, take up a portfolio or your own blog project. If you are learning game development, decide to create that small game you want to create. Don’t embark on a large project unless you are really determined – you may quickly get overwhelmed and abandon it.
  4. Take notes – Research has found that taking active notes is one of the best way to understand and remember that topic better. You could take down detailed notes or create visual notes, which is an exciting way to summarize your learning. It is also a great way to remember the topic at a glance at a later date.
  5. Engage in discussions – Most online courses will have some kind of forums where learners ask and answer questions to each other. Being active in that community also gives you a chance to see what others are struggling with and make a connection.
  6. Make a public commitment – This is a great way to push yourself to complete your course. You need to say it out loud to the whole world. Just a few members or groups who you care about are enough. The commitments themselves could be just about parts of the course, not the entire course. For example, you could commit to completing one section of the course in the next 5 days and so on.
  7. Reward yourself – Set a goal and a reward on the completion of that goal. Buy that ice cream once you have completed the assignment or play that game only after you complete the next chapter. Its that simple – small commitments and small rewards.
  8. Refer to other materials – Do not just follow the course. Look up related information on the internet, read blogs, books, watch Youtube videos what reinforce that topic. This is not only make it interesting but also add more depth to your knowledge on the topic. You could even learn something not covered in the course.


Online learning can be challenging but equally rewarding if you can follow through and complete the course. Shared above are the 8 tips you can follow to make the most of your online course. Do you have any other tips you follow and want to share with others to make their learning more effective? Please share them in the comments below.

Thank you for reading and Happy Learning!

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