5 Ways to Prepare Your Students to Learn Online

We may be born with the capacity to learn, but we’re not born knowing how to navigate or succeed in an online course. Success in an online course depends so much on your self-direction and ability to learn autonomously—and if your learners come from primarily traditional, place-based learning experiences, then they might not know exactly how to navigate a virtual learning experience. And if they don’t know how to navigate your online course, it increases the likelihood of those learners abandoning your course altogether.  Here are 5 things you can do to prepare your learners to continue in your course and succeed in learning online.

5 Ways to Prepare Your Students to Learn Online

1. Onboard Them Onto Your Platform

The first experience your students will have with your online content is the platform you use to deliver the content. Whether that’s Teachable, TalentLMS, Zoom, or any other course delivery platform, provide guidance on how to navigate and use the platform. Provide links to tutorials provided by the platform itself, and if possible, show them exactly what your instance of the platform looks like. Give them step-by-step instructions on the exact first steps they need to do to get started in your platform. To create these tutorials, you can record a screencast using a tool like Loom, or you can create a document that has annotated screenshots.

Example screenshot from an eCourse in MatrixLMS

2. Provide Tips for Success

Help your learners prepare for autonomous learning by providing tips for success, such as your suggestions for:

In my book How to Learn Online I provide these suggestions as well as other tools and resources for learning online–this can be a good resource for your learners.


3. Set Expectations

Your learners won’t know how to prepare if they don’t know what you expect from them. Set clear expectations for your course and make those expectations easy to find. Whether these are included in a course syllabus or elsewhere, you will want to include the following at a minimum:

  • Time they should spend on different components (e.g. reading content, completing assignments)
  • Completion/success expectations for each assessment
  • Due dates
  • Collaboration and communication expectations


4. Compile FAQs

Even if you’ve never had a student go through your online course before, you can probably guess what will be the questions that will be asked most frequently by experienced and inexperienced learners. Here are some example FAQs to get you started:

  • Where do I log in?
  • How do I change my password?
  • What courses do I have access to?
  • How can I see my progress?
  • Who do I go to for help?
  • How do I ask questions?

5. Check In

Schedule reminders or send automated check-in emails to engage your learners and check on progress. Be prepared to answer many questions about your course delivery platform and how to use it. That’s why that onboarding step is so important! But also prepare yourself to respond to questions or concerns that you didn’t predict—every group of learners is made up of individuals, and they will each have their own needs, biases, concerns, and experience with online learning. If your learners have never experienced a virtual learning experience, they will need more check-ins than those who have had previous experience.


Preparing and helping learners is an ongoing, iterative process. If you discover additional resources that help your learners, make sure to make them available to your next cohort or set of learners in the future.

Have an idea for an online course and want to get started? Enroll in our free Online Course Jumpstart!