Characteristics of Online Learning Success

by James Totton, Social Studies teacher at Achieve Virtual Education Academy

The M.S.D. of Wayne Township has developed an educational philosophy of offering multiple pathways to achieve the student goal of graduation.  This philosophy has helped Wayne Township to develop some of the most advanced blended and virtual learning programs available to students in the state of Indiana. Among those options is Achieve Virtual Education, the first non-charter Virtual High School in the State of Indiana. Achieve has a wide range of students, but one common characteristic of all of them is that they seek an education that is more flexible than the traditional and usually inflexible brick and mortar setting that has existed since the one room schoolhouse of the 1800’s.

The virtual setting has its trade-offs and listed below are four characteristics I have experienced in my years of teaching of the successful online learner:

Being an independent learner

An independent learner is not someone that does not need help from those around them, but it is someone that is active in the academic process. Independent learners take action, they think critically, they want to learn for themselves and use those around them as a resource to break through the problems they encounter in the educational process.  This is not a passive approach to education.  Independent learners look to learn from situations around them, they look to learn from people around them, and they never make the excuse that there is nothing to be gained from a situation, even if the situation is one they have experienced before.


This may be the most obvious of the all the characteristics.  Someone that is goal-oriented has a vision for who they want to be and what they want to do. They know there are steps that need to be accomplished to get to that ultimate goal, and they set out to accomplish larger goals in that step-by-step process.  This is the basic format of online learning.  Students who can follow the instructions, complete the work as asked, and move on to the next assignment are just accomplishing mini goal after mini goal.

Set a schedule and keep to it

This is similar to the goal-oriented concept.  Most teachers offer students a pacing guide, which is an outline for how quickly the students should be progressing through the class.  As long as students stick to that schedule, at no point in the semester should they feel overwhelmed.  A flexible learning schedule does not mean you can wait until the last two weeks of the semester and turn in everything at one time.  This is problematic for a number of reasons.  It is stressful for the student and teacher, the student likely is not learning and retaining any of the information as they are rushing to complete all of the work at the end of the semester, and it does not allow the teacher to give feedback that the student can then grow from moving forward.  If students just set a schedule and move forward meeting those goals and deadlines, they will complete all work, grow from the experience, and feel far less stress at the end of the semester.

Taking responsibility for the learning process

Think back to the first characteristic – being an independent learner.  An independent learner will inherently take responsibility for the learning process. They are not expecting a parent or guardian to push them along.  They are not expecting the teacher to spoon feed answers to them. They expect to push themselves in their academic process and use the resources provided as a guide for learning.  This is a characteristic that is needed at the collegiate level.  The benefit to learning it in high school is that if you fail, you aren’t still charged tuition.  However, if you learn this lesson the hard way and fail in college, that university is going to be happy to take your money and be happy to tell you to take all of those classes over again during the next semester. Taking responsibility now not only prepares you for the next academic step, it prepares you to be a problem solving and critical thinking adult in the real world.