Strategies for Success in Online Learning

In this video log (VLog), Purdue University Global Academic Success Center lead tutor Michele Paulsen and tutor Melinda Hall discuss the roles that metacognition and self-regulation play in learning. Michele and Melinda also share strategies that online learners can use to be successful in their courses. We hope you enjoy this VLog.


Slide 1

Hello everyone, and welcome to the Academic Success Resource Center and Blog. I’m Michele Paulsen, lead tutor of the Math Center, and I’m here with tutor Melinda Hall to discuss strategies for success in online learning.

Slide 2

Melinda, it seems like more and more students are enrolling in online courses (Peck et al., 2018). Yet the dropout rates for online learners have been higher than in traditional classrooms. Has the attrition rate been changing at all here at Purdue Global?

Slide 3

The attrition rate for Purdue Global has been dropping. Thanks to improvements with technology and interventions, the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences has seen the rate fall to 20% (AuCoin & Nyberg, personal communication, 2022). For comparison, other online programs have dropout rates that fluctuate between 40 and 80% (Hobson & Puruhito, 2018), so we’re doing well overall. Even though there’s a lot of external reasons why an online student would need to drop a course (whether it’s time constraints, a lack of support, or financial reasons; all those play a role in student success), there are two skills that students can develop that are correlated to the success they will have in their course. They are intrinsic motivation and self-regulated learning.

Slide 4

Motivation seems to be a major factor in an online student’s success. Why do online students struggle more with motivation?

Slide 5

Online students struggle with motivation because we have a limited number of options to engage learners (Alkis & Taskaya Temizel, 2018). If learners are not self-motivated and active in their learning, it will make it much harder to participate in the online format. Intrinsic motivation and self-regulated learning actually indirectly predict student learning outcomes in an online environment (Palo et al., 2018), which is why it is so important to develop these skills. And students’ motivation can be affected by a wide range of factors. It is not a constant in someone’s life. The satisfaction in an online environment by itself can also play a role in students’ motivation (Cakir et al., 2018). If they are struggling with the online format, they will feel less motivated to continue working in that course, and that’s really what we’re trying to avoid. There is a significant relationship between course completion and motivation for learners, and so that, again, this ties back to the fact that students need to be self-motivated and active in their learning for an online learning environment to be successful for them.

Slide 6

You mentioned online learners need self-motivation. If meeting a deadline or earning good grades are external factors, then how could you describe what intrinsic motivation looks like?

Slide 7

Intrinsic motivation looks like being curious about what you’re learning about and exploring it in more than just one way. Intrinsic motivation can also look like you’re persisting in your learning, especially when things are difficult. In math, for example, instead of just solving the one problem and being done with it, it might look like that you do an extra problem to make sure you actually understand it. Intrinsic motivation is also understanding when you have questions and seeking help when you do have those questions. It might also just be scheduling time to work on your assignments where you know that you have to hold yourself accountable, and so because of that, you’re intrinsically motivated by yourself because you want to make sure you have time to work on those assignments.

Slide 8 

Would you share more about how we learn? What is self-regulated learning?

Slide 9

How someone learns is going to be dependent on what their education experience has been in the past. So self-regulated learning behaviors are learned early in life, and they’re influenced by family (Williams et al., 2019), but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be developed over time. Self-regulated learning is just a cyclical process where students are changing their behaviors based on the consequences of previous behaviors (Finn & Benes, 2019). For example, if I procrastinated on an assignment and was super stressed by the end of it, then it might be that I self-regulate in the future assignments and make sure I get a head start and start them early, for example. With self-regulated learning, metacognition is really one of the major aspects of it because it really requires you to identify what you understand and what you don’t understand so that you can plan, and monitor, and reflect on the knowledge as you’re attaining it (Steiner et al., 2019). So that’s just one aspect of self-regulated learning. There are a bunch of strategies that you could use that are all considered self-regulated learning strategies. For example, looking over the material in your e-text before your seminar could help create questions in your mind and help you figure out what you don’t understand before you go into your seminar.  

Slide 10

Could you provide some more examples that could help online students?

Slide 11

Again, I’ve already mentioned metacognition. That’s just identifying what made sense or didn’t make sense as you were learning something. It also might include the strategies that helped you learn or didn’t help you learn what you were doing. (Steiner et al., 2019) For example, I know for myself, I like to use colors to help me organize my notes and group things together if needed. Another example of self-regulation though is just organizing and preparing for assignments. Maybe you’re looking ahead, and I’m going to skip ahead and mention time management skills because if you’re organizing and preparing for your assignments, you know when they’re due, and you’re hopefully setting goals for yourself, both in the short-term and in the long term. So short term might be that you’re trying to turn in your assignments two days early, for example. It might also be that you just want to work on small sections of your assignment at a time. Your goals do not necessarily have to be related to your grade. It can be goals that are all internal for yourself. Maybe you just want to work on using more positive self-talk, because again, that’s another example of self-regulation. Because with that positive self-talk and self-reinforcement, you are essentially teaching yourself how to positively react to situations, especially if you’re struggling with what you’re learning. Rehearsing and memorizing is also a part of self-regulation because to some extent, you’re only going to continue rehearsing and memorizing if you do not know what you’re having to have memorized. So, for example, that goes back to that metacognition: identifying what is working for you, and what isn’t working for you. If you’re memorizing something and you know you keep missing a specific thing, then you’re probably going to practice that thing more than the others. And those time management skills, this is not just for school-related things. This could be related to your everyday life. Using your time wisely and planning it, but also making sure that you’re giving yourself some time for yourself because otherwise you’ll burn yourself out. So, again, that self-regulation is a balance between what is working for you, what is not working for you, what can help you improve, and ultimately, it’s just reflecting on your learning and what is making you the most successful as a student.

Slide 12

Putting time in your schedule to work on your course is going to be essential for your success. Many subjects, like math, are cumulative, so the next week’s topic will build on what we’re learning this week. Therefore, it’s important that we don’t fall behind. You may find it helpful to schedule a consistent time everyday to work on your course, like first thing in the morning, or during your lunch break, or after work or in the evening. If you do get stuck, live tutoring is available in the Academic Success Center. I’ve included links for dropping in for live tutoring and a time management calculator to help manage your schedule in the transcripts. 

Here is a link to the Academic Success Center.  From here you can access live tutoring. 

Here is a time management calculator to help manage your schedule.

Slide 13

Thank you for watching Strategies for Success in Online learning. We hope you’ve gained a better understanding for how you can be successful in your courses.


Alkis, N., & Taskaya Temizel, T. (2018). The impact of motivation and personality on academic performance in online and blended learning environments. Educational Technology & Society, (3), 35.

Cakir, O., Karademir, T., & Erdogdu, F. (2018). Psychological variables of estimating distance learners’ motivation. Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education, 19(1), 163-182. 

Finn, K., Benes, S. (2019). Metacognition and motivation in anatomy and physiology students. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 31(3), 476-490.

Hobson, T. D., & Puruhito, K. K. (2018). Going the distance: Online course performance and motivation of distance-learning students. Online Learning, 22(4), 129-140. doi:10.24059/olj.v22i4.1516 

 Peck, L., Stefaniak, J. E., & Shah, S. J. (2018). The correlation of self-regulation and motivation with retention and attrition in distance education. The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 19(3), 1-15.

Steiner, H. H., Trivedi, N. H., Brown, J. A. (2019). Bringing a learning strategies project to scale in a first-year seminar. Journal of Effective Teaching in Higher Education, 1(2), 27-44. 

Williams, P. E., Wall, N., & Fish, W. W. (2019). Mid-career adult learners in an online doctoral program and the drivers of their academic self-regulation: The importance of social support and parent education level. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 20(1), 63-78.

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