Cyber security

Use these 12 steps to help you get started for your online learning!

Step 1: Find Your Private Learning Space

You need a private, quiet space to work. This is the space where you connect for lessons delivered live using Zoom, Adobe Connect or a similar online learning platform and where you read, make notes, watch videos and do the other things required in your course.

You need a space which:

  • Does not have people walking through and interrupting while you are on a video call with your professor or fellow students;
  • Has some natural light (preferably) or good enough light to read by; and
  • Is available for you to leave papers, books, materials you are working on, even if you have to place them in cardboard box while the space is used for other things.

If you do not have this kind of space, make sure your professor is aware of this challenge.

Step 2: Check Your Internet Speed

Videoconferencing and other online activities require access to the Internet at certain speed. What is your connection speed?

The recommended minimum speed for effective video-based learning and activities is 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload (Mbps = megabits per second). Click here to test your connection speed. If you are below the recommended speeds, you may have difficulty with downloads and live video. Let your professor know if this is the case.

Most professors are recording their “lectures” and making them available to you at any time. Try watching a recorded video and see what happens: (a) if you watch it from its location on the Internet; or (b) if you download it and watch it. Identify what method is best for you and when to watch.

Step 3: Play and Practice with the Online Learning Platform(s) Your Course Uses

It is always helpful, before you have to start using them, to know how the online learning platform(s) your college, university or school is using work.

Find out which platform you will use for “live” activities – things done in real time – and which platforms you will use for non-live (anytime, anywhere) activities required for the course.

Once you know you will use Zoom, Adobe Connect or WebEx for the live class, learn how they work. Go to their websites, take free introductory webinars and use available tools to get familiar with them. Most importantly, if at all possible, use them before you attend your first class.

Then find out what learning management system (LMS) you will use – it is likely Moodle, Brightspace, Blackboard or Canvas. Once you know, go to their website, take free introductory webinars and use available tools to get familiar with them. Most importantly, if at all possible, use them before you attend your first class.


Step 4: Understand the New Language of Online Learning

If you are new to all this (and many are, you are not alone), there are some terms your professor or tutor may use that you need to understand.

  • Asynchronous

    Asynchronous is anytime entry into the course through a learning management system (LMS) used by your college, university or school (it may be referred to as Moodle, Brightspace, Blackboard, Canvas – these are the common ones). This is the space where you find the course outline, materials to study, discussion places, group dialogue spaces (if there is one for your course) and other activities. You can login and work in this space at any time.

  • Synchronous

    Synchronous refers to a live class where your professor asks you to “attend”at a specific date(s) and time(s). There is a schedule for these sessions. Make sure you have a diary or calendar so you know when you are expected to be online. Check the time very carefully. If you are studying at an Ontario college or university, but live in another province, state or country, make sure your schedule reflects the fact that the majority of Ontario is in the Eastern Time zone.

  • Post

    A post refers to an entry placed in a discussion forum within the learning management system for you to read and respond to. Discussion boards for online courses offer students the chance to discuss course topics with one another, and with the instructor.

  • Thread

    A thread refers to a series of posts resulting from the first post, made by the instructor or a learner. 

Step 5: Become Familiar with the Policies of Your College or University with Respect to Cheating and Plagiarism

Some students try to “cheat” their way to course credits by copying and pasting material from the Internet. Cheating is a feature of higher education since universities began.

The irony of digital materials – assignments you submit online – is it makes cheating much easier to detect. In fact, many colleges and universities run assignments through plagiarism detection software like EasyBib, iThenticate, TurnItIn, Dupli and others. Online cheaters are now more likely to be caught. Punishments differ based on your college’s or university’s academic policies, but suspension and expulsion can result.

Before you submit an assignment, consider using a plagiarism tool (Plaigarisma), for example, is free to use) to check your assignments.

The other form of cheating is where two students submit the same piece of work. When reviewing assignments, this soon becomes apparent to your professor – she/he can use a feature in Microsoft Word to compare two documents (it just takes a second) and the students are “caught”.

Step 6: Have a Planner / Diary / Calendar Handy

As soon as you receive the course syllabus, and before you do much else:

  1. Add the dates for when key assignments are due in a diary or online calendar. Do all you can to submit all assignments on time.
  2. Add the dates your professor is offering real-time (synchronous) sessions you are expected to attend online.
  3. Do this for all courses you are registered in. Make sure there are no conflicts with the dates for the real-time sessions. If there are, let your professors know immediately.
  4. Once you add all real-time scheduled sessions in your diary or calendar,schedule time for your own anytime/anywhere activity. Give yourself at least 3-4 hours per week or more for each course you are taking, in addition to the real-time activities.

Using a diary or calendar ensures you are clear what you have to do and when.


Step 7: For Each Week of the Course, Develop a Plan

Step 6 provides the beginning of your plan to learn online. But now, we need to get more specific. Here is a template you can use each week to plan your work. Do not leave it to chance. You are on your own, at home (or in a controlled space) and need to make the most of your time.

Student QuestionDetailed Response

What I am expected to learn this week?

Quick summary of what I have to learn:


Why am I learning these things this week – how does it connect to the purpose of my program?

Remind yourself of why you need to do this…

What do I have to read and what am I am supposed to do with this reading (review, critique, challenge)?

List required readings (URL links or other ways of accessing materials).

What do I have to watch or listen to this week? When I watch or listen, what do I need to focus on?

List any video / audio material you have to view / listen to.

What am I discussing with my fellow students this week? What is the conversation?

Check the learning management system (Moodle, Brightspace, Blackboard or Canvas) to see this week’s topics.

How do I know I am learning what I need to learn?

Identify any quizzes or other methods to check I am on track. Talk with other students in the course.

What do I actually need to do to practice the skills and capabilities for this week’s learning?

Describe the practical activities I have to complete this week.

Do I have to complete some sort of graded assessment this week?

If YES, identify the type of evaluation (quiz, open book exam, oral presentation, etc.)

What is the face-to-face session about this week?

Check the learning management system (Moodle, Brightspace, Blackboard or Canvas) to see the topic of this week’s face-to-face session.

Are there additional materials I can explore if I have time and want to do “extra”?

If time permits, I want to learn more about:


Step 8: Introduce Yourself

Use the discussion space (or other space if it is recommended by your professor) to say a few things about yourself: who you are, why you are taking this course, where you live and what you see as a career ambition. Keep it brief. But make sure others in the course know who you are.

Why? Because learning online does not mean you are not connected to others. You can make really deep connections with other students in online classes, but they begin with having a sense of who is in the class and why they are. You do this in most face-to-face classes, especially small ones (in large classes, we do this ourselves with a few people). Reach out to get to know others and share who you are. It enriches your learning experience.

Step 9: Take Control of Your Time

The reason we suggest using a diary or calendar in Step 6 and the template in Step 7 is the need to take control of your time. “No one else is coming to help you” so you need to help yourself. If you do not take control, time flies by and you can get behind. Just because the course is online does not mean there is less work. Learning online requires you to be in control and to shape how you use your time. It takes discipline and only you can do it.

Step 10: Make Notes and Keep a Learning Log for Each Course

Using the template for each week outlined in Step 7, you can ask the question each Friday night: have I learned what I was to supposed to learn this week for the course? If not, what am I going to do to catch up?

Many successful students keep a “learning log”, which is a list of the key objectives of the course from the syllabus and notes about the progress they are making. You can also make a note in the log of your scores on quizzes and marks from assignments.

Step 11: Feeling Stuck? Ask for Help!

Just as if you were in class, if you do not understand or can’t follow the class or find a particular part of the class or course difficult, do not hesitate to ask for help. Do it as soon as you can. By all means, try and solve the problem through your own efforts (search the Internet, ask your family, call a cousin…) but do not be shyin asking for help. Book an appointment with your professor. She/he is there to help you succeed.

  1. Most professors have office hours when they are available to respond to requests for help and assistance. Book a time by letting the professor know you need to talk. Tell them (a) what help you need; and (b) what you did to try “resolve” the challenge yourself.
  2. You may be alone at home or wherever it is you are studying, but you are not the only student taking your course. Ask other students for help. Some of them you may know from previous classes. But they may need your help one day. You will find most will be supportive and grateful when your turn comes to help them.

Step 12: Participate! Participate! Participate!

Most online courses reward meaningful participation in online discussion boards and in-group activities. In some courses, this may be between 10-15%, but in others, participation can be as high as 25-30%.

As we indicate in Step 4 when describing posts and threads, a key form of participation is helpful, insightful observations with links to peer review or quality external sources.

But participation has another value: connectedness. It brings a sense of belonging to the course and a sense of community, and studies show that participating and co-creating materials improve your success online.

See here for tips on writing a strong discussion post.

Have Fun!!

Great things happen in learning online.

For example, group projects, group presentations and activities with your fellow students in music classes provide great performances (see here for an example or 

You will do well if:

  1. You accept the proven fact there is little evidence that learning in a classroom is better than learning online. Learning online can be better depending on who is teaching and what the subject matter is. Online learning has been with us since 1994 and there is a lot of experience around that shows it can work really well.

  2. You begin by believing learning online means:

    • I have more control over my learning.
    • I can learn anywhere and at any time.
    • I can accelerate my learning if I need to.
    • I can assess myself using the quizzes and materials available so I can see how I am doing.
    • I can partner up with another student in the course as a “study-buddy”.
    • I can get my assignments in on time and see how I am doing.
    • I can get help from my instructor via e-mail or during their “office hours”.

Each year in Canada, over 1 million students take at least one online course per year and completion rates are not significantly different from an in-class course. You can do this. Make it so.