Student studying

Online Learning

The Student Success Centre offers workshops, resources and one on one help to support your online learning. 

Online learning resources

Below you will find:

Getting started with online learning

New to online learning? See our workshops and resources to help get you started.

Read more about getting started with online learning

Strategies for learning online

Try these reading, note-taking and online engagement strategies to support your learning in online courses.

Discover more about strategies for online learning success

Staying motivated

See tips for keeping up your motivation while learning online.

Find out more about staying motivated

Completing online assessments

Check out our workshops and suggested tips for online assessments.

Learn more about completing online assessments

Featured workshops

student learning online

Getting Started with online learning


TIP: Setting up a weekly schedule can help you to stay organized and on top of your coursework.


See strategies for this tip below along with other tips for getting started with online learning.


Getting Started with online learning

So now you are taking classes delivered online - where do you start? Visit our resources below.

  1. D2L/ Brightspace

    Your online courses will be delivered via the University of Calgary’s online learning management system: D2L/Brightspace. You can find a helpful D2L access and usage guide from the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning resource library. 


  2. Zoom

    Your class may have some live events (lectures, tutorials, etc.) scheduled. These live events are delivered via Zoom.

  3. Office 365

    All students have access to Office 365, and its full suite of apps. One feature that really enhances online learning is saving files to One Drive so you can access them from anywhere and also share them with classmates. 

You will notice that there are many differences with online learning compared to learning face-to-face. Some are obvious, like the use of technology to view learning materials versus attending class in a classroom. Other differences can be more subtle, such as having a lecture schedule as opposed to online delivery where you can access the lecture on your own time. This freedom can also function as a removal of a regulatory factor. It is important that you self-direct in online learning. Here is a quick quiz on self-directed learning to help you gauge where you are and what areas to further develop.

For some tips on succeeding as a self-directed learner, watch this recorded workshop or read the transcript from our Online Learning Workshop Series.  

When undertaking online self-directed learning it helps to start by reviewing the structure of your course and planning your study schedule.

  1. Step 1: Review your course outline

    You can find your course outline in D2L, and this document will have key information, such as,

    • Due dates and weights of assessments 
    • Weekly lecture/list of content – is it scheduled into Zoom sessions, or released in modules? Do you need to create your own regular schedule?
    • Required/suggested reading - look up these readings and how to access them
  2. Step 2: Creating study schedules

    • Using the Office 365 calendar (for a live calendar) or an Excel workbook (for a static calendar), map out your semester by adding in assignment due dates.
    • Consider what work needs to be done each week, as well as your other commitments. Use our weekly schedule worksheet to help you keep track.
  3. Step 3: Plan to work on your assignments

    • Note down what needs to be completed. You can use this semester task list as a suggestion for how to record and track your assignments. 
    • Need help breaking down the steps to completing an assignment? Try this Assignment Tracker worksheet.


Book an appointment with an Academic Development Specialist: visit the Elevate website or send us a question about online learning.

Watch our recorded workshop series Getting Started with Online Learning.  This workshop series covers general tips for succeeding in self-directed learning and provides strategies for managing your time and getting organized.

Do you need a Zoom background to use during your online lectures? Access the UCalgary Zoom Background Library

Person writing notes at a desk

Strategies for online learning success


TIP: Setting up virtual study sessions with students in your classes can be a great way to deepen your learning.


See strategies for this tip below along with other tips for learning in online classes.

Strategies for online learning success

Looking for learning strategies for succeeding in online courses? See our tools and suggestions below.

Regardless of whether you are studying online or in-person, actively engaging in assigned course reading is a key part of learning the course content and achieving academic success. Finding a reading approach that is effective and efficient can go a long way in helping you manage the reading load and get the most out of your readings. While there is no one "best" strategy for approaching your readings, below are some common features of active reading (Mulcahy-Ernt & Caverly, 2018).  

  1. Plan your reading

    • Determine your purpose for reading (How will you use the information?)
    • Get an overview of the text (How is the information organized? Where will you focus your attention based on your purpose for reading?)
    • Make connections (How does this content relate to what you already know?)

    Try out this Weekly Reading Plan worksheet to help plan your readings.

    For more tips on planning your reading, watch this workshop clip or read the transcript from our Online Learning Workshop Series.

  2. While you read

    • Ask questions and note your thoughts, making annotations in the margins of the text
    • Stop and check your understanding
    • Record what you are reading in your own words

    Reading digitally?  Learn about the digital annotation tools such as and Adobe Reader in these videos from Kwantlen Polytechnic University.


  3. Pulling it all together

    SQ4R is a reading strategy that combines effective processes for active reading. SQ4R stands for Survey, Question, Read, Record, Rehearse and Review.

    For more information on how to implement SQ4R, access our SQ4R Method tip sheet or watch this video from Ontario Tech University's Study Skills resources.

    While these approaches can take a bit more effort initially, they can save you time in the long run by ensuring you are absorbing what you read the first time so you don't have re-read sections multiple times.

While there will be many similarities to taking notes during in-person and online lectures, being aware of the different formats lectures may take in online courses can be helpful when determining your note-taking approach. If the course lectures are offered synchronously (live) for instance, you might adopt a different note-taking strategy than if your instructor posts asynchronous (recorded) lectures that you are able to pause or review multiple times.  

In whatever note-taking approach you choose, we would suggest that you consider including the following elements:

  1. Organize

    • Create a consistent method for dating and titling your notes
    • Use a consistent organizational structure that makes sense to you (e.g. main ideas/concepts are distinguished from supporting information, examples, etc.)

    If you are interested in a tool for online note-taking, you might want to try out OneNote, which is free to students as part of the Office365 suite. You can download Office365 from IT Services. 

  2. Integrate

    • Prepare a note-taking template before the lecture that incorporates your notes from the week's readings and provides you with empty space to add additional lecture notes. This ensures your notes are comprehensive and avoids the inefficient practice of studying two sets of notes with overlapping content later.
    • Flag any questions or information you miss, so you can add that information to your notes in the future. 
  3. Review and Self-test

    • Leave space in your notes to highlight key concepts in a way that enables you to quickly test what you know when studying.
    • Set aside time to revisit your notes periodically.

    The Cornell Method is a great strategy for setting up your notes in a way that incorporates organizing, integrating and reviewing principles. Learn more on how to implement this method with our Cornell Note Taking Method tip sheet

Online classes typically engage students in virtual discussion boards in order to support learning and build classroom community.  While requirements vary by course, discussion boards generally provide you with an opportunity to contribute to the learning of your classmates by responding to their posts, as well as solidify your own learning by writing and reflecting on feedback from others.  Some helpful tips for engaging in online discussion boards include:

  • Understanding the expectations: Details regarding how often to post, how long posts should be and if and when you need to respond to the posts of others vary from course to course, so it is important to identify these at the beginning.   It can be helpful to create yourself a checklist so each time you write a post, you can review the requirements.
  • Know how to post on the discussion board: Get to know how to post comments on the discussion board in D2L by watching this quick video.
  • Engage with course content: While written posts are often less formal, they should demonstrate that you are reflecting on ideas from the course. Consider focusing your post on a particular concept from a reading or a question that was posed in the lecture and sharing your own developing thoughts related to it. You should reference the sources you draw on to write your post with the suggested citation style in your course.  Find out more about citation styles in the resource section of our writing support webpage.
  • Set up a routine for posting. To avoid last minute pressure to create posts quickly, set up a regular time each week to write your posts. Try to give yourself more time than you think you will need initially, so you can reflect on the readings and lectures while you write and revise your submission.
  • Consider free writing to generate post ideas. If you can’t pinpoint an idea to start with, try free writing about the readings and lectures for the week to get you started. Set a timer for five minutes and write whatever comes to mind when you reflect on the course content. Or try a timed writing session starting with some broad questions like: ‘what I found interesting about the content this week was…’ or ‘one thing that surprised me was…’, then consider why you felt that way about the content.
  • Engage with others. Read through the other posts and comment on how their thoughts on the course content impacted your own thinking. Did someone’s post make you see something in a new light or extend your current thoughts on course content? Did they highlight something as important from a reading that was different than what you identified?  Sometimes providing responses to your peers' posts is a course requirement, but even if you are not required to respond, you can enhance your own learning by actively engaging with posts from other students in the course.
  • Check your tone in your responses to other posts. The expectations for participating in a virtual discussion board are much the same as participating in a discussion in class and so you want to ensure that your comments to others are respectful. Tone can sometimes be more difficult to interpret in writing, so read over your comments picturing yourself on the receiving end of the message before posting. While it is important to challenge each other’s perspectives on discussion boards, ask yourself if your comments support the learning of your peers (Kwantlen Polytechnic University Learning Centres, 2018).

At the University of Calgary, most synchronous lectures will be conducted through Zoom and are accessed through D2L. You can find out how to access Zoom in your course D2L shell here.

Depending on how your instructor sets up the course, you may be asked to participate in online, live lectures in a variety of ways. These include using your computer audio and video and/or making comments using the chat function or using Zoom reactions such as selecting check marks to answer 'yes' to a question. Depending on the class meeting size, instructors may request that students first raise their hands before commenting or asking questions.  

Guidelines for etiquette in online classes

You should look to your instructor for specific expectations regarding participating in online classes, but here are few general guidelines to follow.

  • To avoid interrupting the class and to limit background noise, try to enter the session on time and keep your mic muted when you are not speaking.
  • While we recognize this may be difficult in the current situation, if possible, try to find a quiet, professional space in your home where you can join the class.  If your only option is not as professional as you would like (e.g. your bedroom), Zoom backgrounds can come in handy to maintain your privacy and professionalism.  Watch a quick tutorial from Zoom on how to do this.
  • As with an in-person class, be respectful of the views of others in your chat comments and voiced contributions.
  • Read chat comments before contributing in order to avoid repeating questions that another student may have already asked.
  • As a general rule, raise your hand and wait to be invited to speak by the instructor, unless other discussion norms have been discussed.

For more tips on etiquette for online lectures, watch this video clip  or read the transcript from our Online Learning Workshop Series.

Zoom is a tool available for students to use too for group work or to get together to with other students to study. Connecting with other students outside of class can be really helpful to keep you motivated and engaged in your learning while studying away from campus.  Many students are using Zoom to set up virtual study groups. Use these Zoom eLearn resources from the Taylor Institute of Teaching and Learning for information on how to create a meeting and invite your peers. There are also tips on how to use breakout rooms for smaller groups within your study group as well as how to create a shared whiteboard and share your screen.

Thinking of starting up a virtual study group? Try this Online Study Group Planning worksheet from the University of Oregon to help plan your online study group or check out UBC's Tips for Getting an Effective Study Group Going resource. This video clip / transcript from our Online Learning Workshop Series also provides some helpful tips for online groupwork.

Book an appointment with an Academic Development Specialist or send us a question about online learning.

Watch our recorded workshop series Supporting and Maintaining Online Learning.  This workshop series covers more specific strategies on how to read and take notes effectively in online courses as well as how to connect with other students and succeed in online group work.


Male person climbing up a mountain

Staying motivated


TIP: Setting goals and tracking your progress regularly is a great way to maintain your motivation.


See strategies for this tip below along with other tips for keeping up your motivation.

Staying motivated

Looking for strategies to manage your motivation? Review our resources below.

When engaging in self-directed online learning, there is no one there to observe you working. Staying on task requires discipline, and it can be helpful to consider some ways to keep yourself accountable to your goals:

  1. Study in groups

    By connecting with classmates to study, you are using that allocated time as a marker to ensure you are up to date with course material. You also gain some “accountability buddies” and can keep each other on track.

  2. Use visible reminders

    It is very easy to snooze an alarm or swipe away a calendar reminder. Why not go old school? Use a wall calendar, or make one of your own, and post it in a place where you can see it every day.  

    Get some tips on setting your goals.  Watch this recorded workshop clip or read the transcript from our Online Learning Workshop Series.

  3. Reward yourself

    To motivate yourself through challenging or time-consuming tasks, set up a reward system for yourself. Finish your summary of your lecture & reading notes – enjoy some Netflix time! Find the research articles you need for your paper – videochat one of your friends! Just make sure the reward, while being fun, is not so fun that you don’t get back to work!

    For tips on building a study habit, watch this recorded workshop or read the transcript from our Online Learning Workshop Series.

Where do you study when you are learning remotely? The intentional choice of a workspace can have a big impact on concentration and persistence. Try to set aside a place at home that is just for study if you can – this could be a room other than your bedroom, a desk, or perhaps spreading out at the kitchen table. 

It is also important to think about what you need to engage in study, and make sure that you have these materials ready to go:

  • A laptop/tablet device to view online materials
  • Headphones for your lectures (if you share space with others)
  • Paper and pencils/pens to jot down notes, or an app where you compile your notes (e.g. OneNote)
  • Your readings – be that a physical book, or online articles open in a separate browser window
  • Any software you require for your course – from the basic (calculator, Office365 apps) to more specialized (LaTeX editor, SPSS, graphing software, etc.)

When you don't have an imposed structure and social influence of attending classes in person, it is easy to procrastinate when learning online. Procrastination happens, it is important to recognize that. Try to understand why you procrastinate and how you can change this behaviour and get back on track. 

When you are working on tasks that may be demotivating, be that because they are difficult or time-consuming, it can help to note down these tasks and reframe your attitude. This handout can help with reframing demotivating tasks.

Since we know that procrastination will happen from time to time, why not prepare in advance? When working online, there are many potential distractions, and to mitigate their impact we can develop an implementation intention (Pychyl, 2010). By setting out what you can do to minimize the impact of a distraction (Netflix, family interruptions, etc.), you can be ready to react. Write up your ideas on this handout.

Want more on how to manage procrastination?  Watch this recorded workshop or read the transcript from our Online Learning Workshop Series.

Moving to online learning does give you a lot of freedom to take control over when you study, but there are also things that may be beyond your control. It is important in moments of stress to remember what things we can control, and what we cannot – there is not much to gain from spending energy on areas over which we have no control. This Circle of Control handout2 can help you visualize what you can control (e.g. dedicating time to work on your course) and what you cannot (your group member doesn’t reply to email right away).

Student Wellness Services offers many online resources including online learning modules on mindfulness, stress management, time management and much more. Counselling also remains open to students in remote formats during the current Covid-19 health crisis. Find out more about how to access counselling services here.

2. Used with permission from University of Lethbridge: Counselling and Career Services

  • Join us online at a Virtual Study Hall session for facilitated, structured study time based on evidence-informed study principles. 
  • Book an appointment with an Academic Development Specialist at
  • Watch our recorded workshop series Establishing and Maintaining Motivation in Online Learning.  This workshop series covers strategies for goal setting, habit building, managing procrastination and more.


Wooden blocks with checkmarks stacked in a row

Completing online assessments


TIP: Asking your instructor about test and exam formats well in advance gives you a chance to test out your technology before you write the assessment.


See strategies for this tip below along with other tips for succeeding on online assessments.



Completing online assessments

Get strategies and resources to help you complete your tests and exams successfully.  

Open-book/ take-home tests

Open-book tests allow you to consult your notes, textbook, or both while taking the exam. Instructors often give this type of test when they are more interested in seeing you think critically or apply content from the course.

When preparing, know where key material is present in your book and notes; create an index for your notes and use sticky notes to flag key pages of your textbook before the exam. Also ensure that you reference the source material from readings and lectures that you are using. Get familiar with the recommended citation style by your instructor in advance by accessing citation guides.

Be clear about when the test is due. Some instructors will ask you to e-mail your exam to them or submit it in the dropbox in D2L by a specific time.

Note: Find out if the instructor allows or expects you to collaborate with classmates or use any student support services. 

Online tests and exams

With online tests be sure you understand the technology you will need to access to complete the test and if at all possible, try practicing with it prior to the exam time. Are there practice questions? If so, make sure you use them. 

Find out if you will be allowed to move freely between test sections to go back and check your work or to complete questions you might have skipped. Some online tests or technology used for online tests do not allow you to return to sections once they are submitted. 

Unless your exam needs to be taken at a specific time, don’t wait until the last minute to take the test. Should you have technical problems, you want to have time to resolve the issues. To avoid any conflicts with the testing technology, close all other software applications before beginning the testing software.  

As with take-home tests, ensure that you are aware of what materials and resources you are permitted to access in order to complete the exam.

Attribution statement: This section is an adaptation of College Success (Chapter 6.3 Taking Tests) by University of Minnesota, and is used under a CC-BY-SA 4.0 International licence.

Review your course outline to check out how your instructor has planned for your to submit online assignments, tests and exams and try to practice with it ahead of time.  

There are a variety of ways your instructor may choose to have you complete online assessments.  These could include:

  • The instructor emails you the assignment to your UCalgary email address and has you submit the completed assessment using the same email address.  Make sure I have my UCalgary email set up.
  • The instructor provides you access to the assignment in the course D2L/ Brightspace and has you submit it within the dropbox.  Find out how to do this.
  • The instructor asks you to complete a test or exam within the D2L/ Brightspace quiz tool.  Find out how to access a quiz or how to complete a quiz.

If you have any issues with accessing these tools, Information Technologies can help! Visit their FAQ page or contact them via Livechat.

Try these test-taking strategies:

  1. Learn as much as you can about the test

    • What has the instructor told you about the test?
    • Will it be open book? What types of questions will be on it?
    • Are there parts of the test that will be worth more points than others?
    • Will it be cumulative or just cover the most recent material?
    • Will you have choices about which questions to answer?
  2. Try to foresee the questions likely to be on the test

    • What kinds of questions would you include if you were the instructor?
    • Brainstorm possible questions with your study group.
    • Look for possible questions in your notes.
    • Review past quizzes and tests to see what kinds of questions the instructor likes to ask.
  3. Set up your test space and resources in advance

    • Know where you plan to take your assessment, test your technology and ready your allowable tools (pencils, calculator, etc.).  
    • Create a list of resources you may need if you experience issues with technology. 
    • Find out in advance how you will contact your instructor if you have questions during the exam period.
  4. Create a test plan

    • When you the test becomes available scan the entire test first.
    • Evaluate the importance of each section.
    • Create a rough time allotment for each section. (You don’t want to spend 80 per cent of your time on a question worth 10 per cent of the grade.)

    Attribution statement: This section is an adaptation of College Success (Chapter 6.3 Taking Tests) by University of Minnesota, and is used under a CC-BY-SA 4.0 International licence.

  • Join us online at a Virtual Study Hall session for facilitated, structured study time based on evidence-informed study principles. 
  • Book an appointment with an Academic Development Specialist at
  • Watch our recorded workshop series Navigating Online Exams.  This workshop series covers important steps for you to engage in before, during and after the exam.

Kwantlen Polytechnic University Learning Centres. (2018). Learning to Learn Online. Surrey, BC: Kwantlen Polytechnic University,


Mulcahy-Ernt & Caverly, (2018), Strategic study-reading.  In R. F. Flippo & T. W. Bean & Francis Group (Eds.), Handbook of College Reading and Study Strategy Research, (pp.  191-214), ProQuest Ebook Central,


Pychyl, T. (2010), Implementation Intentions Facilitate Action Control: One of the most effective anti-procrastination strategies I know., Retrieved  April 27, 2020, from