How to be a Good Online Learner

If you’ve taken an online course or if you read content online, then you’re an online learner.

Which means: If you’re reading this post, you’re an online learner.

I mentioned in my last post that while design does have an impact on the effectiveness of a learning experience, the success of that experience really depends on you, the learner.

So, what makes an effective online learner?


There are several habits that make someone an effective online student. Note that I refer to habits and not characteristics; success in online learning has more to do with mindset than any innate quality. From my experience as a designer, instructor, and student, these habits are what make the difference between growing from information consumed online and getting stuck due to information overload.

Habits of a Good Online Learner

  1. They enjoy the process of learning.
  2. They have clear and realistic objectives in mind.
  3. They have a daily/regular ritual that includes time dedicated to focused learning.
  4. They keep track of their learning goals and activities.
  5. They share what they learn with others.
  6. They reflect on what they learn.
  7. They don’t try to learn too much at once.
  8. They hold themselves accountable.
  9. They create ways to assess their own progress.
  10. They see challenges as critical parts of the learning process.

As I said earlier, these are habits and not innate qualities. You can improve in any area you feel you may be lacking by practicing the habit itself.

Two of the easiest ways to get into these habits are sharing what you learn and reflecting on what you learn. To share what you’re learning, you can use social media or a simple discussion with a friend, family member, or colleague. To reflect on what you learn, jot down your thoughts after a learning experience in a notebook, on a post-it, or in a running document on your computer.

And now the one habit you don’t want to practice:

Giving up. 

I see many, many online learners just give up halfway through a course, because they don’t have those ten habits listed above. This means a lot of wasted time and money. And once you give up on one learning experience, it becomes all too easy to keep giving up on additional learning experiences.

This happens especially when a learning experience is free. Since you don’t have to invest financial resources, or perhaps minimal financial resources, it seems like it’s not a big deal if you never finish (or in some cases, even start!) that course. But I urge you to answer the following questions for each and every online learning experience you are considering:

  1. How much time will this actually take me to complete?
  2. Is that the best use of that time?
  3. Is there another learning experience that will bring me closer to my goals?

Asking yourself these questions every time you have the opportunity to engage in a learning experience can keep you from becoming a course/resource hoarder — someone who enrolls in as many experiences as they can, without ever applying what is learned.

As always, I’m looking to hear from you about your experiences learning online. What are some of the habits you’ve cultivated from good/not good experiences in the past?