Resources to Help Students Be Successful Online in Three Areas: Technical, Academic & Study Planning

iStock_supportsginXSmallThis post features a collection of carefully selected resources for students learning within online environments; it’s geared to leaners and educators seeking resources for just-in-time learning for technical, academic and study skills required to learn efficiently and successfully in a for-credit or open online course.

Students need a wide range of skills to learn successfully in online settings; they need to be tech savvy, know how to collaborate with peers, conduct online research, navigate proficiently within the learning management platform, manage their time effectively and engage in the learning process by interacting with content, peers and completing course work via the learning platform. Many high school and undergraduate students (perhaps even learners with an undergraduate degree or higher) have a skill gap in one area or another when beginning an online course for the first or even second time. It’s also likely a significant number of students lack the required academic skills for the online course they plan to complete. Research states that as many as 60% of entering college freshman do not have the math or writing skills required for college-level course work.  It’s no wonder that some college-level students are not successful with online studies. Several students will fail, withdraw, or may not learn as deeply as they could have due to a lack of skills in one or more areas.

Three Categories of Resources: The resources featured here address skill gaps in three areas: 1) technical, 2) academic and 3) study skills. The academic section includes resources for subject areas of writing composition, grammar and math. The technical section links to sites that provide instruction for learners in basic web skills including e-mail and file uploads, how-to navigate and search on the web, and it also features a list of resources for student support specific to learning management (LMS) platforms. The section on study skills provides a list of resources geared to learners studying online; skill development for time management, study planning and prioritizing.

How to Help Students:  I’ve compiled the following resources hoping it may help  online learners, by readers sharing ideas and strategies for learning support as discussed here. To further support students, I also recommend institutions create an orientation program for new online students that introduces students to the LMS platform, the features specific to the course site, the syllabus, as well as the resources for academic and technical support. Another idea implemented already by several institutions is a learner readiness quiz, specific to online students. Illinois Online Network has a Self-Evaluation for Potential Online Students, as does Penn State’s World Campus, with its Online Readiness Assessment. This quiz is licensed under that Creative Commons Share Alike license allowing other institutions to use it as long as certain conditions are followed.

It goes without saying, though I’ll emphasize the point anyway, that the onus lies with the student to take advantage of support and resources provided; educators and institutions do have a responsibility to support learning, but it’s the student’s responsibility to take charge and learn.

I. Resources for Technical Skills
Basic Web Skills: Students require a minimum set of skills to function within an online course that includes: how to email, browse the Internet, upload files, download needed plug-ins or software, etc. Yet some students won’t have one or more of the needed skills when beginning an online course. Below are suggested resources to fill in the skills gap.

Image of Mozilla Foundation’s ‘Web Literacy Map’ developed by Doug Belshaw that outlines the skills and competencies people need to read, write and participate effectively on the web. Further details see resources section.
  • Digital tutorials between five and seven minutes on: email basics, web search, basics of Windows or Mac operating systems, and navigating a website
  • Teach-ease (University of South Florida) how to use a web browser, and Internet basics

How to Use Google Drive (formerly Google Docs): Knowing how to share documents, collaborate within virtual teams are other skills needed for students, and not just for learning online but for working and functioning within a digital culture.

How to Bookmark Sites: Bookmarking, also known as “social bookmarking” are actions that allow students to save web sites and online documents for later reference, reading, annotating, and even sharing. There are several online bookmark platforms:

How to Navigate within the LMS Platform: Each learning management platform has its own unique features, and though many are designed to be intuitive and user-friendly, some users require instruction in the form of video clips or text documents to develop confidence and proficiency. It’s helpful for the student that just-in-time-learning is provided by way of links within the course site to instructions specific to a task—for example: how to comment within a discussion forum, or how to upload an assignment file. Several institutions have created tutorials geared to the institution’s students. One example, New Jersey Institute of Technology created tutorials on how to use features of Moodle.

I can see why some institutional educators create their own instructional videos for students, as unfortunately many help videos and text instructions offered by the LMS providers are geared to instructors, not students, per below.

  • MoodleStudent Tutorials are written for instructors, not students
  • CanvasCanvas Student Guide also appears written for instructors, note the first help topic ‘Where do I find more help for students?’
  • Desire2LearnDesire2Learn Resource Center another example of the poor support options provided for students. I found nothing on this site that provides support for students, yet numerous help documents and resources for instructors. It’s no wonder that many institutions have created student help videos—all on the same topics, for example ‘how to post to a discussion forum’ see examples from Mansfield University, Montana State, San Jose State University, Clayton State University, (the list goes on) all which provide the same instructions. This is further evidence of the barriers students face when learning online; unless their institutions provides detailed support, some students face barriers to learning due to lack of support for navigating within the learning platform.
  • Blackboard: Blackboard for Students: tutorials geared to students and instructors
  • HaikuFor Students: Using Haiku LMS: of all the platforms, this is the only one (I could find) featuring a section specific to students.

II. Resources for Academic Skills

Writing Help:

  • OWL The Purdue Writing Lab: Purdue is the mother-of-all sources for writing help of any kind—from grammar help, to developing thesis statements, to report writing, citation help and more. The site features over 200 free resources , all of which are available to anyone.
  • Guide to Grammar and Writing by Capital Community College Foundation. Very good site covering a breadth of topics to support various aspects of writing including essays, outlines and reports. Includes a section on grammar.
  • Institution resources. Many institutions offer writing help centers free of charge for students. Ideally, students studying in for-credit online classes should have access to similar support services online. If a writing center for online students is available at your institution, provide details on the course site, and/or post a note on message board with details for students.
  • is a collaborative online tutoring program and platform for writing skills that provides one-on-one, online support to students from numerous subscribing colleges within the US. It offers two models: collaborative and single. Within the collaborative model, participating institutions share resources to provide greater coverage and quicker turn-around time. e-Tutoring monitors the quality of the tutor feedback. Within the individual model, an institution is free to use the software platform with their own tutors.” The platform appears to be a viable option for institutions with a large online student population. Click here to view the list of the participating schools.



  • Kahn Academy:  Khan academy is one of the most comprehensive web sites providing skill development in algebra, trig, calculus, statistics, chemistry, biology as well as subjects in history and language arts. Lessons begin at the elementary level, and continue to up to university-level topics and subjects. The site features hundreds of short videos on specific concepts within a subject that range from five to twenty minutes in length. Also offers practice exercises, and support forums.
  • Institution support. As mentioned above some institutions offer virtual support in math for online students, if this is the case, provide details on the course site, and/or post a note on message board with details for students.

III. Resources for Study Skills

  • What Makes a Successful Online Learner? by iseek education with Minnesota Department of Education and Minnesota Online High School
  • Effective Habits for Effective Study, Study Guides and Strategies Website
  • Five-Step Strategy for Student Success with Online Learning, Online Learning Insights
  • A clean, clutter-free site dedicated only to study skill development, and though it’s geared to college students, any student may benefit from the concise and focused information provided. The site features twelve chapters, ranging from time management, to creating a study plan, note-taking, etc.
  • My Study Life, a new [and free] app—an online student planner designed for students to plan and manage their learning time. It appears to have numerous features including tracking of due dates for assignments, schedule of classes and study times, notifications for scheduled tasks, due dates, and study times.

Closing Thoughts
There are numerous other sources on the Web students can turn to for help. The list above is but a very small representation of what’s available.  However, often time is a barrier for students needing help; searching is time-consuming which is why institutions offering online courses [ideally] need to make help available, and easy to find to support learners that are still learning how to learn. Offering just-in-time help that is focused, and specific to a deficient skill can reduce barriers to learning, and lead to meaningful and successful education experiences.

Resources/Further Reading:

Three Outstanding Tools to Help Online Students Be Successful

iStock_000019968011XSmallThis post reviews three stellar tools available online for free that help students [online and face-to-face] study individually or in groups, organize course notes and materials, focus on key content areas—learn more efficiently, and effectively.

1) Video No.tes [free with Google email account]
This is the very best note-taking tool for videos I’ve used. Easy to use—links to Google Drive, can be private or shared with other students.  Simple—sign into the platform with Google email [if you are already logged into Google simply click on the sign-in button], a window opens up, copy the URL from the video, whether YouTube or from a MOOC platform such as Coursera, Udacity, etc, and get started taking notes. Notes synch to the video. This is brilliant.

Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 8.39.02 AM
Screen shot of a video from a Coursera class. I’ve made notes on key points in the right hand window ( with time stamp). To review those areas, I simply click on the time stamp and it takes me right to that section of the video.


  • Saves time by allowing students to go to key points without watching entire video
  • Students can share notes with other classmates, allowing for collaboration and studying with classmates
  • Notes saved in Google Drive

More details:

  • Knowledge Base, VideoNo.tes
  • VideoNo.tes: Improving How We Learn with Online Video, YouTube

2) Evernote [free with sign-up using any email address]
Evernote is one of the most versatile, robust, and comprehensive tools that I use on a daily basis. It is more than a study-organaiztion tool, it also has features for instructors that are simple and effective for giving students’ feedback, organizing class material etc.  Below are features specific to students’ needs [in a future post I’ll focus on Evernote for instructors].

Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 10.23.04 AM
Screen shot of my notebooks in Evernote. I dedicate one notebook per course.
Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 9.40.18 AM
Screen shot of an embedded audio file within a note.

I designate a notebook for each course (image above), with notes, images and files pertaining to the course within each. The notes created within Evernote include features allowing one to add audio notes (just click the microphone icon record and save, the file is embedded in the note), add links, insert images and screen shots with ease (drag-and-drop) and add tags so I can easily find common themes at a later date. The camera feature is another excellent tool; I take pictures of handwritten notes, add them as a document file. There is a sharing feature; I can share specific notes with other classmates, either by email, Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn.  There is an option to collaborate on notes, though this is for Premium members, which is at a cost of $45 per year.


  • Organizes course materials, notes, images etc. all in one place
  • Includes audio audio note feature for recording quick notes in class or while studying
  • Accessible and synchs across all devices: laptop, smart phone, tablet
  • Allows sharing of notes with classmates or instructor by email, Twitter, etc.
  • Evernote does so much more for students—I’ve included an article from a college student who shares 10 tips for students to de-stress about college life

More details:

  • 10 Tips for Using Evernote to De-Stress College from Student Ambassador Megan Cotte, Evernote Blog
  • Evernote for Students: The Ultimate Research Tool, Tips & Stories, Evernote
  • Making Flashcards with Study Blue [another online tool], YouTube

3) Google Docs [free with Google e-mail account]

Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 10.55.45 AM
Screen shot of share settings on all Google Docs. Selecting ‘anyone with this link’ allows the creator to add email addresses of group members. To enable collaboration, ensure the ‘can edit’ button is selected

I have written about Google docs in previous posts—but I will again highlight the value for students, as it is no doubt one of the best online collaboration tools available for documents, presentations and spreadsheets. For groups projects, it is an essential tool that allows seamless collaboration. For example, with a group project whether for an online class or face-to-face, a Word doc in Google drive is easy to set up. To start working with a collaborative document, one person creates the document, gives it a title and clicks the share button. At this point, one’s given a choice to select one of three options for sharing (screen shot above right), and all that’s needed to share with the group are the email addresses of the teammates.

Team members can work asynchronously on the document or in real-time. Working in real-time on a Google Docs is dynamic; there is a chat function that facilitates discussions during the collaboration, one can see who is editing what, and each team member is identified by name, and a coloured icon.


  • Versatile—can meet the needs of numerous projects
  • Accessible from all devices
  • Google Doc features allow seamless real-time collaboration

More Details:

What tools do you use that don’t make the list in this post? Please share with other readers by posting a comment.  Stay tuned for a follow-up post on the top online tools for educators.