The Key Ingredients to Successful Online Learning

The challenges we've faced in 2020 have led to an incredible surge in online teaching and learning. For many of us, learning online is a new (and possibly intimidating) prospect that can leave us unsure about how to get started. Through my own process of trial and error as an online CertTESOL teacher trainer, I've come up with the following list of tips to support you in your online studies (feel free to add cupcakes to the list if needed).

Set goals

As with any course of study, it’s important to think about what you want to achieve and the support you will need on your learning journey.

To support you in setting your personal learning goals it’s a good idea to:

  • Review the course requirements and learning objectives.
  • Note and raise any questions/concerns about your studies with your instructor/teacher.

Create a study schedule

While studying online awards you the flexibility of learning at your own pace and from the comfort of your own home, it’s important to manage your time so that you can meet assignment deadlines.

It will certainly help you if you:

  • set aside time for learning: if you are given a timetable make sure that you stick to it.
  • are organized: Make yourself a schedule for both study and life.
  • track deadlines: Try to have a draft of each assignment ready a few days before the deadline.

Be an active participant

As with any kind of study, the more you put into it, the more you will get out of it. It may be tempting to rush through the materials, or fast forward through videos, but to make the most of the learning experience you need to be actively involved with it. At the end of each page ask yourself:

  • how you would explain what you have just read to someone else without referring to the screen.
  • If you can’t do this, write down any questions you need answered and review the material again.
  • Try to describe what you have learned to someone who is not enrolled on the course.

Managing different resources

When studying online, it is likely that you will encounter a variety of resources that support your learning.  Follow the tips below so that you can pace your learning and get the most out of each of the different learning resources you encounter.


Although it is tempting to take notes as you read through a text, this approach is often more time-consuming and less effective in supporting your overall comprehension of the content. Instead, read through the text fully and then summarise 2-3 key points in your notes. This approach will help you in managing your reading pace, as well as support you in consolidating the main ideas from a given text. If you are working with a larger text, such as a chapter from a book, then you can pause after reading several pages to summarise any useful points.

It’s also worthwhile noting the author and the name of the publication in your notes to save time in sourcing citations if you wish to reference a text in your assignments.

Videos & Podcasts:

For multimedia content, you may find it useful to pause every few minutes to reflect and summarise key points in your notes - this is especially useful when watching or listening to a longer lecture. It’s a good idea to also list any questions that you have and see if they are answered further into the video or podcast. If your questions remain unanswered then this offers a great opportunity for you to discuss them with your fellow classmates and trainers during your tutorials or webinars.


Webinars are a great in creating a community of learning with your classmates and trainers. Check your study timetable to find out the topic of the webinar beforehand so that you can prepare and note any questions that you would like to ask. In addition, it’s a good idea to contact your trainer with any questions or challenges in advance so that these can be addressed in the live workshop. For example, if the topic of the webinar is classroom management, you may want to ask your classmates and trainer for their best practices on how to manage large groups of learners.

While studying online may seem daunting at first, these tips will help you in navigating this new way of learning. If you’re feeling apprehensive about enrolling on an online course, then remember that you are not alone as your classmates and trainers are there to support you on your learning path.

Are you ready to put this knowledge into action? The introductory module of the CertTESOL course is now available as a standalone fully online course – the TESOL Starter course.

About the Author

Amanda Greenhalgh

Over the last 20 years Amanda has worked in a variety of TESOL positions and settings in Indonesia, Singapore and Hong Kong. Prior to working at EfA she worked for the British Council in a variety of middle management positions, both in Singapore and Hong Kong. She has taught a wide range of age groups from Kindergarten to Adults. She is an approved tutor for the Cert TESOL, and has obtained two ESL Diplomas, the DipTESOL and the International House Diploma in Academic Management.

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