Students attending online classes enjoy greater flexibility than their traditional counterparts, but without a solid game plan, that flexibility could turn into procrastination and last-minute study sessions. To get the most out of your experience, follow these study tips for online classes.

Online Study Environment

While your classes may take place in a virtual environment, you’ll need a calm physical environment free of distractions wherever you log on. Whether you’re using a desktop computer, laptop or tablet to access your classes (it’s probably not the best idea to attend online classes with your phone), designate a specific area for your online studies that is bright, quiet and free of clutter and distractions.

In addition, you might want to create a “do not disturb” sign or use some other method to signal that you are participating in class.

Organization Is Essential

Once you’ve designated a study space, it’s time to get organized. Buy a file box or cabinet and create separate sections and folders for each online class. Of course, you can do this on your computer as well. But if you’re taking physical notes in a notebook, a place to keep them organized and at your ready is important.

You’ll use these folders to store printouts, reading material, notes, clippings, study guides and miscellaneous paperwork. While most of your class materials will be electronic, you may be surprised at the amount of paper you accumulate per class.

Next, create a folder and sub-folder system on your computer for storing your electronic class documents. For example, create a primary folder called “Online College” and then create sub-folders for each class such as “Biology,” “Calculus,” and “Art History.” If you’re taking online classes at a career college, trade school or tech academy, your class folders will obviously be named differently; but label them, nevertheless.

From there, create subfolders within each class folder for assignments, research, notes and downloaded materials.

Study Schedule

Online classes allow for greater flexibility, but you will still need to participate in classes, turn in assignments and take exams within a given time period. You may have all week to view a lecture, read a study guide and turn in an essay, but if you don’t designate the time to accomplish these tasks, you could fall behind. Invest in a good student planner and use it faithfully.

Designate a time at the beginning or end of each week to plan the upcoming week’s activities. In some cases, you may find it’s best to perform routine tasks at the same time each week. In others, you may need to work around your work schedule. Plan for unexpected meetings and build time into your schedule for alternative study sessions. By planning your online study sessions in advance, you’ll be more likely to complete your tasks, and you could see better grades.

Consider these study tips when planning your week:

Keep a physical notebook if you’re comfortable with one.

Use different colored highlighters or digital task folders for each class.

Create a master list of weekly tasks for each class and check items off as they’re accomplished.

Set up electronic alerts to remind you that it’s time to study.

Schedule a series of frequent but relatively short study sessions rather than a single long study session.

Getting the Most Out of Your Online Study Sessions

You have a calm, organized environment – now it’s time to study. For a productive study session make sure that you’re well rested and ready to focus, and then follow these study tips:

Review what you need to accomplish during your online study session. What do you need to learn and why? Instructors often leave clues in the class’s online study guide or even in the assignment’s description or lecture title. Some instructors will even tell you what’s going to be on an exam.

Write down questions before you begin in your notebook and then articulate the answers afterward.

Participate in the course’s discussion board, and chat with other students.

The flexibility of online classes opens up possibilities for people who may not otherwise have the chance to pursue a higher education. Use this flexibility to your advantage by creating a good study environment, getting organized and managing your time wisely.