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Enrolling in online courses is relatively easy. Getting the most out of it is more difficult. However, if you take the time to plan ahead and know what to expect from your online courses or degree program, then you can get the best value for your time and money. Follow these five real-world tips to make the most of your online education.

1. Get used to the software before the course begins

While different schools use different programs, the general type of software that is used for online courses is basically the same. Although the software has improved greatly over the past few years, expect software for online courses to be a little behind the more modern, commercial software and web browsers that you currently use. Navigation buttons can be counter-intuitive, so take the time to learn how to use the software so that you can focus on your education once classes begin.

2. Find a coach or mentor

As pointed out in Getting the Most from Online Learning: A Learner’s Guide, trying to learn things from word of mouth or trial and error can lead to significant frustration and wasted time. Reach out, either in person or online, to others who have experience taking online courses. Also, ask the school if you can contact other students who have taken the course previously. If you are having technical issues, call the school immediately and ask to speak to someone who can guide you in fixing problems.

3. All the little things

Small steps can make a big difference in the long run for your online courses. Saving your resources to a dedicated ‘favorites’ folder in your web browser may seem insignificant. However, when you are able to immediately find and review your resources the time savings can be substantial. Also, plan shorter and more frequent time periods to spend on your readings and assignments. The time spent is the same, but the impact is higher with more frequent sessions.

4. Create the right environment for yourself

Most guides will tell you to study in a quiet area, and this is probably the best advice for the majority of people. For others, studying alone leads to feelings of isolation, and they do better studying in a public place like a library, community center, café or even with a group of friends who are taking different online courses.

5. Make time to build relationships

Especially for busy professionals with work and family obligations who are pursuing online courses, this can seem like the lowest priority. While you will apply the knowledge that you have gained from your online courses in your work, it is your interaction with others that you will remember the most. Also, your classmates and instructor can become part of your personal and professional network. Building and maintaining those relationships is an opportunity to broaden your perspective as well as add depth to your knowledge of the material.