By Caitlin Keller

One of the major struggles online students tend to face is time management. Being an online student requires you to be a self-motivated, organized, and an independent learner. Without physically attending class–and while often taking courses alongside working a full-time job and juggling familial and social obligations–it is easy to get pulled into a vortex of distraction and procrastination.

Here are some simple time-management strategies to make your online learning experience less stressful and more productive.

1. Treat time as seriously as a face-to-face commitment.

Unlike attending a physical class where certain aspects of the course are scheduled for you, an online course requires that you schedule time on your own for all course components. While there is no exact formula, a 3-credit graduate course will typically require approximately 10 to 15 hours of work per week. It is important to block out time and give it priority, just as you would if you were attending a face-to-face class session.

2. Use the syllabus as a guide.

Read the syllabus thoroughly, preferably before the course officially starts. This will give you time to familiarize yourself with the expectations and allow you to begin prioritizing how to utilize the time you spend on the course. Add all important due dates to your calendar. For larger or long-term assignments, create benchmark due dates for yourself as well. Make note of any potential conflicts that may affect your ability to complete course work, such as travel commitments. Where possible, plan to work ahead to minimize the issue. Highlight weeks that may require more time than average, such as those leading up to a major exam or where you will have multiple assignments due.

3. Create a general schedule.

Being a student is only one aspect of your life, and it is important to find a balance with your other commitments. Put your school, family, and social engagements in the same schedule to avoid double-booking yourself. Formally block off times when you know you can utilize a distraction-free work space. Maximize on time that you normally haven’t used productively, such as your lunch break or during your commute. Try to spread time throughout the week so that you are actively engaging in the course regularly to keep yourself from becoming overwhelmed.

4. Make a weekly to-do list and study plan.

At the beginning of each course week, create a to-do list that outlines all coursework you need to complete. Break down the coursework into discrete tasks. Estimate the time it will take you to complete each task and fit them into your general schedule. Productivity is typically highest in short bursts with minimal distractions and frequent breaks. Where possible, work in 20-minute bursts and allow yourself time to shake it out before jumping into the next task.

5. Leverage available technology.

If your courses are in Canvas, the platform has some built-in functions to help you stay organized. All due dates are automatically populated on your Canvas calendar and are listed within the Syllabus tab. There are also tons of apps to help with various aspects of organization and time management. Google Keep is one example that is particularly useful for creating to-do lists that can be tagged, color-coded, and contain time or location-based alert reminders. Distraction apps that block games, social media, or your frequently visited websites are also particularly helpful when you need to focus while working on a device.

Get time-management tips and more in our free eBook: “Soft Skills Aren’t Hard To Achieve”

While these strategies should assist you in managing your time more effectively, be sure to choose methods that work best for you as an individual. One of the greatest advantages of being an online student is the ability to make your education fit into your life. Staying organized and on top of your coursework will help make the learning experience more enjoyable and help you maintain a healthy life balance.

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About the Author

caitlin keller headshotCaitlin Keller is an Instructional Designer at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI). Her primary role involves partnering with teaching faculty to create and develop pedagogically sound courses for online, blended, and face-to-face environments. A former online graduate student herself, Caitlin has a passion for using her experiences and expertise to maximize the potential and success of online learning for both students and instructors.  Outside of work, Caitlin enjoys reading, skiing, and seeing as many musicals as possible.



Vai, M., & Sosulski, K. (2016). Essentials of online course design: A standards-based guide (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

12 thoughts on “Top 5 Time-Management Tips for Online Learning

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