The first step is over: You’ve signed up for an online course.
First of all, kudos to you for taking the initiative. With so many subject areas to choose from and talented professors to study under, we have our fair share of options today—particularly when it comes to advancing our careers. Perhaps you’re ready to learn a new skill and pivot your position entirely, or maybe you’re ready for that promotion but need some help negotiating. Whatever the case, these online courses can help prepare you for a huge milestone or a small win.
But they’re just that—online. In an internet full of mesmerizing cooking videos, addicting quizzes, and disappearing snaps, it can be tough to stay focused when watching TV, let alone trying to learn. But if you want to reap the benefits of an online course, and I’m sure you do, you’re going to have to really dedicate yourself.
What does that actually mean? That you should do the following (at least some of it):
1. Treat it Like an Actual Class (That You Can’t Fall Asleep In)
If you’re just using your course as background noise while cleaning your apartment or cooking dinner, it’s about as effective as watching an exercise video while sitting on the couch.
So, when you sign up, get ready to treat it as you would a real, live class. Set aside a couple hours a week and find a quiet, distraction-free environment to work. If you’re taking a self-taught course (which most online classes are), pace yourself with the lessons by coming up with a daily or weekly schedule to log on.
And, don’t skip the assignments. Even if you think you fully understand the topic, plenty of research says you need to practice to make sure the learning sticks.
2. Participate in Discussions
Many courses offer peer-to-peer discussion opportunities, which help you compare your progress to other students, ask questions, and get feedback. In a normal university class, this would be par for the course—but online, it’s easy to hide behind a username and use the “skip” button.
Don’t do that, or you could risk missing a crucial lesson or example that could be useful later on. Participating in class discussions can help you discover different ways of looking at course information—whether that’s advice on assignments or better understanding the material. And forming study partners in real life might incentivize you to actually study more, if you have people you’re excited to discuss with and learn from.
Most of the time, though, discussions force you to demonstrate how well you’ve mastered the material. Teaching or explaining to another person is a great test of your own understanding.
3. Apply What You Learn to Your Everyday Life
It’s easy to take a course and, once you’ve finished it, move on without ever having actually done anything with it.
To really make the most of an online course, make sure to actually use what you’ve learned in real life. Schedule meet-ups or use existing communities to discuss what you learned. Have a friend quiz you on the material, or work on a negotiation tactic you picked up in your office (or even on your significant other next time you can’t figure out what you want for dinner). You could even invite a friend or co-worker to take the same class so you can talk about it afterwards.
That’s what online classes are for, after all—putting lessons into practice.
I love taking online courses because they help me feel like I’m one step ahead, always ready to embrace the next challenge or opportunity my career throws at me. Whatever your reasoning for taking one, you can’t get what you need out of it without putting in 100%.
So settle in, grab some coffee, and turn off the TV—your career will thank you.
Photo of person on laptop courtesy of Jamie Grill/Getty Images.
Masha Tarasyuk is a Learning Enthusiast and Business Vertical Manager at Coursera. With over a decade of experience in consulting and education, Masha is motivated by improving performance outcomes through data-driven education. She graduated from Columbia Business School and completed her undergraduate education at Barnard College, where she studied Economics.More from this Author