MSU Denver

Tips for Online Learners 


  • Know your course requirements early on. Once you are enrolled in a class, search Canvas for the syllabus and modules. Get to know your class schedule for the semester and know when deadlines are coming.  
  • Create a study space to eliminate distractions. Not everyone has a devoted place to study, but it is essential you create a space that allows you to concentrate. Whether it’s a lap desk, a kitchen table, or a comfy chair in your room, focus on creating an environment where you feel comfortable to study and succeed and maintain that space throughout the semester.  
  • Practice good time management. A lot of MSU Denver students have jobs, internships, and families that require their time each week. Creating a schedule and holding yourself accountable to spend allocated time on coursework will help learning remain a priority.  
  • Get help. MSU Denver offers a variety of student services such as tutoring, supplemental instruction, and advising, so utilize these offices and ask for assistance with any personal problems. 
  • Find your study style. Do you learn better rewriting your notes multiple times or reading passages from your textbook? Knowing your learning style and using effective methods of studying related to your study style is the best way to learn.  

Using technology in your online courses 

In order to be successful in your online course, it is recommended that you have the following computer and digital information literacy skills: 

  • Use the Canvas learning management system. Being able to navigate Canvas is essential, since all your classes will be taught within Canvas. If you need additional help, don’t hesitate to refer to the Canvas Student Training. 
  • Send an e-mail with attachments. You will likely need to email professors and classmates often, so making sure you know how to do this is essential. Keep in mind the size of the attachment, the type of attachment (word doc vs .pdf vs picture), and who your audience is. Know when to carbon copy versus blind carbon copy.  
  • Create and submit files in commonly used word processing program formats. Word processing programs help you create, edit, and print documents. There are a few different types of programs depending on your operating system. Examples include: Microsoft Word, WordPerfect, AppleWorks, and OpenOffice. 
  • Use spreadsheet programs. Your major will determine how often you use spreadsheets, but at some point, you will need to know how to use them. Excel is an incredibly powerful tool for getting meaning out of data, but it also works really well for simple calculations and tracking almost any kind of information. View this tutorial to learn how to get started. 
  • Use presentation and graphics programs. Presentation and graphics programs allow you to convey a message by using visually appealing graphs, charts, and images. Examples include PowerPoint, Prezi, Google Slides, and Keynote. This tutorial focuses specifically on PowerPoint, but visit LinkedIn Learning to learn about other types of programs.  


  • Log in every dayDon’t allow yourself to think, “I can always catch up later.” Be diligent and stay current. Maintain your schedule even though you might have additional flexibility in online courses. 
  • Take a peek. If a “preview week” is offered before your online course begins, read the syllabus, review the schedule, and practice navigation in Canvas. Know all classes are available to you two days before the start of term.  
  • Integrate personal and course calendars. Develop a prioritized to-do list and a master calendar, digitally or in hard copy, whichever is easiest for you to use. This will help you see the “big picture” of all your academic due dates integrated with your family and work responsibilities. If you see in advance that a particular week is chock full of responsibilities, plan to complete your academic work ahead of time so you can meet your course deadlines. 
  • Use built-in tools. Graded course items such as tests, assignments, and graded discussions are automatically added to the Canvas CalendarYou can even import your course calendar into external calendars such as Google Calendar. Utilize your Global Activity Stream daily: add items to your To Do listsee due date reminders and other notifications in your calendar or dashboard view; check your course announcements, discussions, and conversations; and view your latest scores in My Grades. 
  • Start the week off right. At the beginning of each week, review all course activities and assignments that are due that week. If you have questions, ask them early in the week so that you can still complete the work on time. 
  • Anticipate technical difficulties. Keep MSU Denver’s help desk phone number and website URL at the ready. Since you can access your Canvas course from any internet-connected computer or device, having computer problems isn’t usually an acceptable excuse for late work. Have an alternate method for getting work done, such as using a computer lab or a friend’s laptop. 
  • If you fall behind, don’t let it snowball. Contact your instructor immediately to catch up – they are there to help you determine how to get back on track.  

Time management 

  • Time management is key. Use good time management and planning skills so that you don’t leave your academic work to the last minute. 
  • Create a cushion. Often, it’s not a matter of “if” items of a personal nature will infringe on your academic work, but it’s “when” they will occur. Plan ahead and leave yourself a cushion of time each week so that you can complete your weekly coursework even if personal emergencies arise. 
  • Set goals. Develop long-term and short-term academic goals, with timeframes, for completing your college work. Whether your goal is to complete a degree, a certificate, or to take a few courses for personal or professional growth, plan the time it will take to meet your goal while handling your other responsibilities. Don’t sign up for more courses than you can reasonably handle. 


  • Communicate with your instructor. If you find that you’re dealing with barriers to your learning, contact your professors as soon as possible to let them know the situation. Maintain good communications even when you’re not experiencing problems.  
  • Attend virtual office hours. The more you get to know your professor, the better relationship you’ll have. Use this time to talk through specific questions related to the course.  
  • Make the most of online discussions. The discussion board is the best place for you to interact with your classmates, so take the time to post thoughtful responses, questions, or comments. You will have the most success if you participate in the online discussions regularly.  
  • Share your camera and mic in class. Classes can be more engaging if you have your camera and microphone on during class to help you pay attention. Be aware and respectful of your professor and classmates by being aware of your surroundings when you are attending class and following your instructors’ preferences related to cameras and microphones. 
  • Check email, Canvas, and Teams often. 

Email/Canvas: Check your email and Canvas at least once a day. When you check your  emails, reply the best you can – even with a “I will get back to you at X time” if you are  too busy to respond in the moment. Email your professor if you have a question.  

Teams: Look through any Teams general posts you might have missed and reply to any  @ or direct messages. Decide when it’s relevant to reply with a reaction vs a written  reply. Set up a time to talk if it takes more than 3-4 messages to convey your point.  


Canvas Community Student Guide 

Fetzner, M. (2013). What Do Unsuccessful Online Students Want Us To Know? Jan 17(1), 13-27.  

Roper, A. (2007). How Students Develop Online Learning Skills. Educause Quarterly. Nov (2007), 62-65.