How to succeed as an online student: 7 Secrets to excelling as an online student


Worth reading 😎

If 2020 has tuned you into an online student, you're going to want to check out this book to find out the secrets to excelling.


How do you know if you have what it takes to study online and be successful? From what I have observed over many years as a teacher, there is a clear chasm between “knowing” and “doing.” If knowledge were all that was necessary for success, many more people would be hugely successful. But knowledge alone is not enough. Fortunately, the design of this book will support you in moving from just “knowing” into actively “doing”. We will share seven secrets to success with you and, by making a concerted effort to apply this information, you will place yourself in a stronger position to achieve the online success you desire.

With everything going on in 2020 many students may be finding themselves now as an online student when they weren't before. Eric Tangumonkem has written this book with 7 secrets on how you can excel. He believes that "knowing" is not enough, you also have to be "doing". There is a discipline needed in order to be an online student. You have to also be flexible because you aren't meeting at the same time each week in a classroom. Things are fluid. In addition to the 7 secrets, there is also an 8th, spiritual approach included at the end of the book.

I am currently in my last trimester of an online masters program. I knew that doing things online only would be different and probably difficult. I wasn't wrong. The book talks about how Flexibility is not equal to easy and I think that was the most important thing I had to learn. You're not meeting every M, W in a classroom. The professor may not post assignments when you are expecting them and you can't try to make any sort of solid schedule in advance. While you can be studying anywhere you can bring your laptop, that might mean airports on work trips or vacation with friends. The other big thing is to avoid distractions. You need time management. Being on the computer for your lessons means social media and the whole internet is at your fingertips. Set time aside to avoid all those distractions and get your lessons done.

With the pandemic making a lot of schools go online, I think that a lot more students will need to know what it takes to excel online and I think that the 7 tips in this book will really help. (There are also a lot of really great quotes in the book as well that may be helpful too!)

Reviewed by

I love to read and lately have been reading several books a week.


How do you know if you have what it takes to study online and be successful? From what I have observed over many years as a teacher, there is a clear chasm between “knowing” and “doing.” If knowledge were all that was necessary for success, many more people would be hugely successful. But knowledge alone is not enough. Fortunately, the design of this book will support you in moving from just “knowing” into actively “doing”. We will share seven secrets to success with you and, by making a concerted effort to apply this information, you will place yourself in a stronger position to achieve the online success you desire.

Chapter 1: Know your “why”

 “The road to your best stuff” puts it, “The why sets the stage for how.” Mike Williams

“When things are going badly and you really want to quit, that’s the time to push harder than ever. The game doesn’t start until you’re up against the wall.” Chris Gardner

Secret #1: Know your “why” because it will determine how you will face any challenges, distractions, and obstacles that you are going to encounter.

Taking an online course should not be done with careful consideration. Many take online classes with the wrong motivation, but understanding your reason why is the foundation on which you can build.

For some, unpicking their “why” is not an easy process. Maybe you are unsure why you are in school, without going a step further to consider why you are taking, or considering taking, an online class.

Each time a new set of students enroll in my course, an opportunity is given to them during the first week to introduce themselves, share what their major is and explain why they are taking the course. This introduction does not just allow me to get to know my students and learn how to serve them better. It also allows the students to process their “why” if they have not yet done so.

Online courses are easy

While we are considering the importance of developing an understanding of our motivation for taking an online course in the first place, we must address this common misconception about online courses. The misconception is that online classes are easy, and you can pass them with minimal effort. After all, “The exams are online and are open-book; therefore, you do not need to read, or even study. All you need is minimal effort, and you will achieve top marks…” If this is why you are taking an online course, I am sorry to say that you are gravely mistaken and must be prepared to make some serious adjustments if you want to do well in your course.

Online courses are not easy. If you do not put in the work that is required, you are likely to be unsuccessful. Many schools have special setups to monitor online exams to minimize cheating and academic dishonesty. But why would you sign up for an easy course? If you are not willing to put in the required amount of work, it is your future that you are potentially impeding.

You reap what you sow

Some students feel that if nobody catches them cheating or cutting corners, then it does not matter. But we are creatures of habit, and the habits that we develop will determine outcomes throughout our lives. There are executives of multi-billion dollar companies that have ended up in jail because they carried out some fraudulent transactions which broke the law. Once caught, they ended up in jail. If you take a close look at their lives, you will realize that they had cultivated a habit of trying to cheat the system over the years. Initially, nobody caught them, and they got away with it. Maybe this habit began with the first time they got away with dishonesty on an exam, quiz, or term paper. Initially, they had a fear of being caught, and their conscience ate away at them. But, after they successfully got away with it once, they become bolder. With time, it became a habit. They easily rationalized their actions because other people were doing the same thing.

What they failed to understand is that they were breaking one of the universal laws that apply in all cultures and has done so for millennials. This is the law of sowing and reaping. The law states that “You reap what you sow,”  which is extremely simple yet profound. The implications are far-reaching, even in academia; if you sow laziness, you are going to reap failure. Some students think they can get away with just the bare minimum of work. They do not care to read the textbooks and other outside readings. What they are sowing is ignorance, and it is going to catch up with them sooner or later.

Here is your opportunity to sow positive habits into your own life and, when you do, you will likely reap a bountiful harvest. It is your life, and you are in charge. It does not matter if you are being watched or not. Do the right thing because, each time you do, you are strengthening the moral foundation on which your life will be built. With a strong foundation, you will be successful, not just as a student but as a professional too.

“I know how to set an irrigation tube, and I helped with the harvest. I learned the law of the harvest without even knowing I was learning it. On the farm, you learn early that you reap what you sow.” Sheri L. Dew

“In this world, there really is a law of cause and effect: You reap what you sow. The energy you put out really does come back to you.” Michael Imperioli

School is not just about grades

Many students focus their motivation for studying on achieving specific grades. After all, the only way you can prove to other people that you are a successful student is through the grades you earn. But when you compare your grades with others, it has the potential to either boost or lower your confidence and self-esteem.

I tell my students that, in about ten years after they graduate from school, grades will not matter. After saying that, I still remind them to make sure that they get good grades, not just in my course, but in all other courses they are taking. They should do this even though their grades are not going to matter in the long run. I am not against grading and testing students. But grades do not measure all the skills you need to be successful in life. My hope with this book is that it will help you develop habits that can impact all areas of your life while you are still a student.

Here are some quotes about grades that I want you to ponder upon:

“My grades put me in about 5,000th place in all of South Korea. If I kept going down that path, I would've become a successful man with a regular job. However, I was positive I'd be number one in the country as a rapper. So I asked my mother whether she wanted to have a son who was a first-place rapper, or a 5,000th-place student.” RM

“Grades don't measure tenacity, courage, leadership, guts, or whatever you want to call it. Teachers or any other persons in a position of authority should never tell anybody they will not succeed because they did not get all A's in school.” Thomas J. Stanley

“I think the big mistake in schools is trying to teach children anything, and by using fear as the basic motivation. Fear of getting failing grades, fear of not staying with your class, etc. Interest can produce learning on a scale compared to fear as a nuclear explosion to a firecracker.” Stanley Kubrick

“Screaming at children over their grades, especially to the point of the child's tears, is child abuse, pure and simple. It's not funny and it's not good parenting. It is a crushing, scarring, disastrous experience for the child. It isn't the least bit funny.” Ben Stein

“I don't believe the most successful people are the ones who got the best grades, got into the best schools, or made the most money.” Ben Stein

“One's only rival is one's own potentialities. One's only failure is failing to live up to one's own possibilities. In this sense, every man can be a king, and must therefore be treated like a king.” Abraham Maslow

“I had really bad grades in high school and didn't want to go to college, and my dad said, 'Why don't you move to LA or New York and pursue music? You've always been good at it.' It was the first thing that made sense to me and... It was the right move.” Mark Foster

“To those of you who received honors, awards, and distinctions, I say well done. And to the C students, I say you, too, can be president of the United States.” George W. Bush

The bare minimum is not enough

Just reading the bare minimum to validate your course is not the best use of your time as a student. Leaders are learners, and learners read all the time. If you want to keep growing, you must continue learning. A large part of learning is reading.

So if your “why” for taking an online course is rooted in the idea that all you need to do is just the bare minimum to secure a good grade, you are gravely mistaken. When you push yourself to read the required textbooks and other materials, you are building a reading habit that will serve you now and throughout your life.

Remember that, if you do not cultivate the habit, you are not going to add it to your skillset. To do well as an online student, you must stop shooting for the bare minimum and start putting in more than 100% of your effort and energy. Don’t just read the required textbook, add some other related materials. Use the time that you would have used commuting to a traditional classroom setting effectively. If you learn to read widely, it will make you successful now and in the future.

Go to school get good grades and get a job (Just Over Broke)

Each semester, I tell my students that a job is another name for “just over broke.” We are conditioned to live paycheck to paycheck for the rest of our lives. Too many people are unhappy with their jobs but have to do them anyway. I am not against working or employment. But the issue is that, if you are purely working because you want to earn a living through the money paid to you, then it is not the most effective and efficient way to make money. While the job is the starting place, it should not be where you spend the rest of your life. If you are one of the few people who have found a job that is engaging and utilizes your natural giftedness, then you should save and invest some of the money that you earn. If not, learn on the job, discover your giftedness, develop, and deploy it. When you provide solutions or products to solve problems for other people, you are going to be rewarded with money. The more people you are going to help or serve, the greater the financial reward.

You may be wondering why we are talking about such things in a book that is supposed to be about taking online classes and doing well. You are right! But I wish that, when I was a student, somebody had told me what I am writing here. I would have invested my time more wisely. Instead of just reading to validate courses, I would have broadened my reading and developed myself as a leader. I have written this book because I want that for you.

If the reason you are taking an online course is just so that you earn good grades and get a job, you should expand your vision. While a job is great, it is just the beginning. School is not only equipping you to get a job; you are also being given the tools to develop your giftedness and deploy it. How successful you will become depends on how well you use these tools.

Life is going to give you exams

I always tell my students that taking exams in a controlled environment is the easiest thing ever. The exams taken in the classroom are easy because you know what has been covered. In addition to this, you may be given a review and the number of questions on the test. The most important thing is that you are told beforehand when this test is going to take place, the location, and the materials you require. When the day of the exam comes, you have access to the proctor to explain difficulties or any inconsistencies on the exam. In short, you have the support and a conducive environment to excel on the exam.

The purpose of the exam is to see if you are understanding the content of the course and making progress. Therefore, don’t give in to the temptation to cheat. If you cheat, you are cheating yourself. If you pass an exam when you have not mastered the materials, you are shooting yourself in the foot. It is better to fail and learn, rather than pass when you have not learned enough for it to be impactful on your life. School is preparing you for life. This implies that if you pass without earning it, sooner or later, things will catch up with you. A job opportunity might be given to you and, on that job, your lack of understanding of the course you supposedly passed will become apparent to your employer.

Life is also interested in testing and evaluating you. Unlike the controlled exams in school, life gives no warning, and you do not know when the exam will be presented to you. There is no way for you to cheat or outsource the exam. It is your exam, and you must take it. Part of preparing to do well in the exams life is going to present to you is learning how to take the controlled exams and do well. If you don’t develop the skills and mindset to approach controlled exams effectively, you will struggle with the exams that life will present to you.

Controlled exams give you grades as proof that you passed. But life’s exams are not about grades. It is about integrity, hope, faith, perseverance, tenacity, courage, honesty, love, etc. While controlled exams do not specifically test these spiritual attributes of our lives, developing them before and during the controlled exams will stand you in good stead for the future.

Imagine you go to work and are told that your job has to be slashed because the economy is terrible and the company is losing money. You had not seen it coming and have a large number of financial commitments that relied upon your excellent salary. In addition to your financial commitments, you have six dependents and no work permit to apply for alternative employment. What do you do? This is what happened to me in 2009. I was working on a restricted work visa for internationals like myself. The economy was so bad that nobody was willing to spend the extra money to acquire the necessary paperwork to hire a foreign national. To maintain my legal status in the country, I went back to school and enrolled in an MBA program. This meant that I was spending money, but not making any money. The test for me was that of obeying American immigration laws and staying in the country legally. This is something that I managed successfully. It was not cheap or easy, but we achieved it. Fast forward to 2016 when I became a US citizen and the joy this brought. I am proud to announce that I passed that exam.

You are going to face your challenges in life and now, as a student, is the time for you to be honing and developing the skills to face whatever life will throw at you. When you win the hidden battles of working hard to pass your exams and tests, you will be able to win the public battles and your reward will be in public as well.

Task A

What is your “why”?

I am not going to answer this question for you, and nobody else can answer it either. The only person qualified to answer this question is you. Go ahead and write out your “why” for taking an online course below here.

My “why” for enrolling in my online program is …

Task B

Exploring why your “why” is crucial

Below, you will find some powerful quotes that you should commit to heart and use when you feel like giving up. These quotes have been carefully selected from highly successful individuals from different walks of life. They will be a great source of inspiration, encouragement, and motivation to you. Read them carefully and thoughtfully. When you read each quote, you will be given an opportunity to write a few sentences on what you understand from it and how you can apply it in your life as a student. Keep the book and, after a few years, come and revisit it to see how your understanding has changed and how you have grown.

To get the most out of this book, it is strongly suggested that you complete the following activities. I am going to be ask you questions regarding each quote. The purpose of the quotes is to help you analyze, internalize, and reflect on your own learning. Answer the questions to the best of your ability. Don’t skip them. This book is not just for getting good grades; it is to help you become successful in a holistic fashion too.

I hope the prompts will set your creative and imaginative juices flowing. The only way you get a different outcome is by making some changes. It has been said that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over yet expecting to get a different outcome.” In order words, you cannot plant corn year in and year out, but pray hard and hope that you will somehow harvest soya beans. While this example may sound preposterous, many people live their lives that way. They desire a specific outcome, yet their actions are in direct contrast to what they want. You cannot be a student who wants good grades, yet not study, or turn in your work late. My hope with these quotes is that you will linger around them long enough that they penetrate your subconscious and help to change you for the better.

1.   “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche

“Hard work is painful when life is devoid of purpose. But when you live for something greater than yourself and the gratification of your own ego, then hard work becomes a labor of love.” ― Steve Pavlina

a)   What is your drive for being alive?

b)   How does your “why” equip you to bear all things?

2.   The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” ― Mark Twain

“It’s not enough to have lived. We should be determined to live for something.” ―Winston S. Churchill

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” ― Proverbs 29:18

“People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.”  Simon Sinek

a)   Why is finding your “why” so important?

3.   “Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to divine a purpose.” ―  Albert Einstein

a)   What do you believe your reason for being here to be?

b)   How has that impacted your “why?”

4.   “There’s no greater gift than to honor your life’s calling. It’s why you were born. And how you become most truly alive.” ― Oprah Winfrey

“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.”  Fyodor Dostoyevsky

“I believe each of us has a mission in life, and that one cannot truly be living their most fulfilled life until they recognize this mission and dedicate their life to pursuing it.” ― Blake Mycoskie

a)   What is your life’s calling?

b)   How are you honoring your life’s calling?

c)    How does this relate to your reason for studying?

5.   “I Never judge a man’s actions until you know his motives” ― Unknown

“Actions are visible, though motives are secret” Samuel Johnson

a)   Why is it crucial to know people’s motives before judging them?

b)   What are your motives for taking an online course?


6.    “When you feel like quitting think about why you started.” ― Unknown

“When you were born you were crying and everyone else was smiling. Live your life so at the end, you’re the one who is smiling and everyone else is crying.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears.”  Les Brown

a)   What do you do when you feel like quitting?

b)   What are your fears?

7.   “Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.” ― James M. Barrie

“It is absolutely stupid to spend your time doing things you don’t like in order to go on spending time doing things you don’t like and teaching your children to follow in the same track.”  Alan Watts

a)   Is school “work” for you?

b)   What would you be rather doing instead of taking classes?


8.   “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” ― George Eliot


“Don’t wait. The time will never be just right.” ― Napoleon Hill

a)   Why are you choosing to study at this time in your life?

9.   “Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it”  Viktor Frankl

a)   Why is it not advisable to aim at success?

b)   What are you aiming at instead?

10.  “Why did you get out of bed this morning, and why should anyone care?”

 Simon Sinek

a)    What is you “why” for reading this book?

Final Thoughts

Without a considered reason - a “why” - there is no point in doing anything. If you have not formulated a robust “why” for anything you are doing, you will not succeed because, when the trials and tribulations come, you will cave in. Many people fail because they did not start with the end goal in mind. When you formulate a strong motivation, it brings the end in sight from day one. Therefore, you must have an excellent “why” to back your studies. We do not succeed in life by just going through the motions; we have to be intentional, focused, determined, and persistent. If you have not yet come up with your “why,” that is okay. But make sure you do before you continue to the next section of the book.

About the author

Dr. Eric Tangumonkem was born in West Africa. He has a Bachelors's degree in Geology and a minor in Sociology from the University of Buea in Cameroon, a Masters in Earth Sciences from the University of Yaounde in Cameroon, and a Doctorate in Geosciences from the University of Texas at Dallas. view profile

Published on August 01, 2020

Published by IEM PRESS

20000 words

Genre: Self-help

Reviewed by

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