A complete guide on how to be successful by doing online courses and classes

How To Be Successful In Online Courses: Full Guide + Free eBook

Last Updated On: June 13, 2021
Posted In

It took me just six months to start earning by learning from online courses, all on my own. And another four months of learning and applying the knowledge into work to reach a handsome monthly figure. 

But a lot of my friends who started learning with me are still stuck in the learning phase. Why is that?

Impatience is the number one reason why most students don’t succeed by taking online courses. In fact, you may not even read this complete guideline and just jump to read the headings to get your answers!

I just finished reading 20 to 30 articles on how to succeed in life by doing online courses, or how to get the most out of online courses. All of them state the most obvious things that all of us know about. And it’s totally different from what I do or found to be effective

In this very detailed article, I’ll describe what you need to do to be successful doing online courses. As success is subjective, you can say, how to get the most out of online courses!

If you’re serious about the topic, do not skip it!

I’m preparing a checklist that you can use while taking an online course or certification or even your online classes. So sign in to the newsletter so that I can send you the book when it's done.

I’ll explain everything in 3 steps.

Firstly, I’ll talk about why everyone doesn’t succeed in online courses. Then I’ll help you choose the right courses for you. And finally, I will describe how to get the most out of those courses.

Why Doesn’t Everyone Succeed In Online Courses?

Out of many reasons for not getting enough value from online courses, I’ll talk about the student’s perspective. Because, when you’re doing it the right way, all you need is to find the perfect course on your desired topic.

1. We Chase to Get a Certificate to Share on Social Media

Almost every paid course provides a certificate when you complete the assignments. And it feels good to show them off on social media, doesn’t it? 

Some even think that these certificates will be counted as their ECA (LOL). Others think adding them to the CV will increase their likelihood of getting accepted into jobs. Both of these are misconceptions.

Just think yourself, why would I pay you $1000 if you don’t create enough value that generates me at least that amount

People focuses on completing the course as soon as possible to show the certificate on social media
From Facebook

As you can guess, your skill matters, not the certificates. It only feels good to share on social media, not getting your desired position in any industry. 

2. We Rush to Complete The Course ASAP

You might think, as the course you’re taking says that’s a complete mastery course, then the moment you complete it, you’ll become a professional! 

This is why most of us rush to complete the course. And at the end of it, it feels like knowing nothing special

Andrew ng's last speech of the deep learning ai specialization
Andrew Ng's last speech of the Deep Learning AI specialization

Here’s the catch.

Andrew Ng of Coursera, at the end of his famous Deep Learning Specialization program, says, “Now you know more than most of the Machine Learning engineers of Silicon Valley”.

It is said that when the specialization was first launched, some students joined big companies after completing the program. 

So the specialization must contain some unique value. Still, not everyone could make the best use of it. Because we hurry to complete it, thinking just finishing will make us professionals!

3. Losing Excitement

When you explore courses to enroll in, don’t you feel very excited about it? Like, I’ll enroll it now, complete each step very sincerely, and cover the entire course as soon as I can!

That’s why we tend to enroll in long-form, in-depth courses. And start doing the classes right after.

But as time goes, we lose excitement. It feels like a burden over time. We check the remaining syllabus over and over again. Start taking too many breaks. 

A barrier to succeed in online courses is to enroll in many courses at once
Lost excitement and courses are overdue

Keep reading to know how you can overcome this widespread problem.

4. Enrolling More Than One Course at a Time

When searching for the best courses on your topic, you’ll find many famous and quality ones. That’s why you might feel like enrolling in more than one course at once and doing them over time.

Or sometimes, while you’re doing a course, you’ll find more and better courses, which kind of pushes us to enroll in more programs.

To be successful in online courses, do not enroll in multiple courses
Enrolled in multiple programs

The moment you enroll in a new course without completing the previous one, your excitement shifts to the new one. Hence, you can’t complete the previous one properly. 

So, how many online classes should you take at once? Just one.

5. Procrastination

Who doesn’t suffer from procrastination?

Maybe no one.

While you’re taking an online training or certification, you might procrastinate to completing quizzes, assignments, participating in the community, asking questions, googling, or even reading the supplied materials. 

Take a recorded online class of a group of people and give them assignments and some supporting resources. Only then you’ll understand how hard you worked to find the best resources, and they are just procrastinating in reading them! 

Although you might think that the supplied resources are not essential for you, do not skip those

6. Not Taking The Assignments Seriously

Assignments are not just for passing the grades. It’s for showing your skill. If your projects don’t outstand others, then you didn’t learn anything special. 

You can't get the most out of online course by skipping the projects and assignments
Skipping the projects

I always say that you need not be an expert, just be above the average to become successful in any field

Assignments are the places where you can judge yourself by creating something unique, better than most others. 

7. Too Shy To Ask For Help

You might be an introvert, but why in an online platform? 

Asking good questions in the community and directly to the course teacher (if possible) will give you knowledge that you can’t find somewhere else, not even in Google.

Engage in the forums or community to learn every bit of your online course
Ask for help when needed

But make sure to search in the community and Google before asking something to avoid looking stupid

8. Following The Wrong Path

Following a wrong path or track is very common among beginners.

Take the Data Science path, for example.

Many students start taking Data Science courses before even learning Python programming, necessary libraries, and maths. 

This way, you’ll manage to solve many problems. But you can’t become an expert. Although the complete courses cover Python, necessary libraries, and maths, those are not enough. 

To solve this problem, we at Course Recommendation, will create complete guidelines on different fields. 

If you want to get updates, make sure to subscribe to the newsletter and turn on the notification. 

9. Choosing The Wrong Course

Finding the right and the best course is challenging and time-consuming. And because of the affiliate marketing program, most online reviews are diverted or false. You can guess by reading them carefully; they only talk about the most obvious things.

Thanks to Google’s product review algorithm update, which is trying to rank higher the genuine reviews. And we are experiencing a significant ranking improvement for our articles!

How To Choose The Right Course For You?

With the rise of online education during the Coronavirus pandemic, the number of online courses increased rapidly. As a result, the number of low-quality courses and classes increased a lot. Choosing the right course is very important to save your time and money.

Here’s how I choose online courses.

1. Is It a Long Form or a Short Course?

The first thing I look at in the course description is how long or in-depth the course is. For the same reason, lots of Udemy courses are made so long-form to make it look appealing. 

By long-form, I don’t mean the length of the course, but the depth of the topics covered. However, the size of the course is one of the ways to guess the depth.

Example of an in-depth course
Choosing the perfect course

The image is from Andrew Ng’s famous Deep Learning Specialization program, where he explains everything in detail. It has five courses, 17 weeks of content, and also follows some more specializations. It’s the perfect example of a complete skill track

Look at your desired course content, and take a few classes if a trial period is available. If you think the course covers very in-depth about the topic, you can buy it. And if it’s a freemium course, then that’s a bonus!

2. How Updated Is The Course Content?

If the course you’re taking is neither new nor updated frequently, then be careful, as most topics are not evergreen.

Choosing an outdated content is a barrier to be successful in online courses
Outdated content

For example, you’ll love the Content Strategy section if you take the Digital Marketing Nanodegree program by Udacity. But I didn’t like the SEO section a bit. It’s around five years old, outdated, and only talks about the most obvious things that everyone knows about.

Even I knew much more about SEO before taking this course. I guess it was a great course back then when it was published, but not now. 

3. What Are The Reviewers Saying?

A shortcut way of finding the right course about your topic is to check what reviewers are saying because a good reviewer has already done extensive analysis to list out the best programs (Stay out of coupon websites).

Best adobe illustrator cc courses reviewed
Adobe Illustrator course review by Course Recommendation

You can use Course Recommendation to read reviews from many engineering students. Visit your desired review page, and read the Special Recommendation & Tips section. And read what the reviewer is saying about your best-matched course. 

4. Read Negative Reviews On The Course Page

When I look for a course, I know that most reviews and ratings will be fake. But nobody writes a negative review about their own course, right?

So negative review is a good source of finding honest reviews.

But competitors sometimes create fake negative reviews. And some people always love to rate negatively. Then how to decide?

Negative reviews reveal the real face of online courses
A very catchy title, but the reviews show what to expect

Validate the reviews yourself. Are those just obvious things? Like saying the course doesn’t have a one-on-one session, while it’s a cheap Udemy class. Make sense? 

Or just saying, “the course is not good enough, I don’t like it”, without providing any specific reason. Ignore these kinds of reviews.

But if it talks explicitly about the pros and cons, then you can trust it. Like, “The course content is good but outdated. So it doesn’t work now”.

5. Does It Have A Community?

Whether you use it or not, this has become the most common feature of any online course. In fact, if the program doesn’t have any community or direct help from the instructor, I’ll never enroll in it. 

The better community or support the course includes, the higher value you can get out of it.

Having a community is a must for online courses
Coursera discussion forum

I really like the Coursera discussion forum. But not every forum might feel engaging as different forums have different student types, and the Coursera forums are fully student-driven.

6. Does It Have A Refund Policy Or Trial Period?

No matter how cheap or expensive a course is, it must have a refund policy or trial periods. Although scammers use this opportunity to steal classes, the course provider still should have it as not everyone is a scammer. It’s a good way of building trust.

When choosing a course, check if it has a refund policy
Refund policy example

Udemy has a 30 days money-back guarantee, whereas Coursera offers a 7 day free trial period with 14 days of refund policy.

You’ll find a refund policy on almost every popular online course platform. Especially check for this commitment when you’re buying courses from individual instructors. 

How To Get The Most Out Of Online Course?

Now you know why most people don’t succeed with online courses. You also understand how you can choose the suitable courses for you. Hopefully, you’re enrolled in any program. 

Here are some unique tips to get the most out of online courses or classes and become successful, even more than me!

1. Do Not Keep Your Phone Away

Didn’t expect this?

Yes, this is what I do. Keep your phone with you. It’s a smart device; get the benefit from it!

I use the Pomodoro technique to concentrate on my work. You can also use the Forest app to use their timer, it's too good! 

Use pomodoro technique to increase your concentration
Tracking time on the forest app

The amount of time you can concentrate at once may vary from others. Mine is around 90 minutes. But it reduces if I don’t continue doing it.

One thing to keep in mind. If you keep checking your phone again and again, then either turn off your internet or keep the phone outside your eyesight. 

2. Count Hours, Not Days or Months

Why does it take someone to master something in just six months, while for some, it’s two years? 

Well, it’s not some God-gifted talent. It’s the number of hours you spend on learning.

Think this way. If your friend spends 2 hours per day for 2 years to learn something, how long will it take you to learn if you spend 8 hours per day? 6 months right?

Tracking concentration time in the forest app
Tracking hours

In fact, you’ll learn more than your friend because you’re spending more time at once. And your learning is faster than the technology changing itself, so you’re up-to-date! 

3. Forget About The Certificate, Focus On Content

If you keep checking the remaining course content, then you’re pushing yourself just to complete the course and obtain the certificate.

Do not hurry to complete the course. Spend enough time on each section. It’s better to complete one course properly than five

4. Keep A Hand Note The First Time You Take A Course

My father created this habit for me. When I was a very young student, he used to make different exercise books for different subjects for me. 

When I started taking online courses, I noticed that in the middle of the course, I couldn’t remember what I learned at the beginning. And it was frustrating.

So I started taking notes for every class (even for programming classes). This way, it becomes very clear about what I understood and what I didn’t.

Taking hand notes while doing online courses is extremely helpful
My hand notes while taking the Deep Learning AI specialization

And I write in so detail that everyone reading the notes will easily understand what I’m writing. If I have my own questions, I write them and answer myself too.

In fact, this is how I balance my work and study. Study once in the entire semester and once at the exam night. 

By the way, if you’re very lazy, then at least use Google docs. It’s suitable for saving and sharing content.

5. Try Learning Every Bit Of The Topics

Some people will disagree with me that you should not stick yourself to learning everything about the topic. But I say, while you’re in the learning phase (6 months of learning at least 8 hours daily, in the Deep Work method), you should try learning everything about your topic.

Follow these techniques to learn the most from your online course:

A. Google, Google, and Google

Learning how to use Google to find what you need is a skill. If you have it, you can achieve anything in your life.

Whenever you are stuck at something, start Googling to find the answer. Use the People Also Ask section to get more related question ideas and start looking for their solutions.

If you’re lazy enough to skip Googling while taking any course, you should also skip dreaming about a successful career.  

B. Read Related Books

Books contain a lot of knowledge! Everyone can write on Google and drive traffic to earn money. But everyone doesn’t have the guts to write books. So most of the time it’s assured to get much value by reading books. 

You might have heard in motivational videos that all successful big people read a lot of books. This is the reason why they read so many books!

C. Repeat As Much As You Need

By repeating, I mean repeating the classes as well as the entire course. Although if you take hand notes, you’ll by default repeat the classes to understand what to write.

So, after completing the course, keep your hand notes opened in front of you, and start over the classes. Watch the videos, read the materials, and go over the hand notes.

Another good idea is to do the above step again after some time because people tend to forget things over time

D. Read The Questions In The Community

The community or forum contains a vast amount of knowledge! You’ll be amazed to see how deeply others think and ask questions! (Stupid questions also exist, as some people never read already asked questions or Google simple things)

Sometimes it’s not possible to go over hundreds or thousands of questions. So what I do is to read the questions with the most engagement. And then some discussions are always pinned to answer the most common questions. 

E. Re-Attend The assignments At A Later Time

Being active, honest, and creative in your assignments is so important to take the core concept of the course. So no need to talk about them separately.

But, do you re-attend the assignments or projects at a later time?

Because when you attend an assignment or project right after completing the theory classes, you already know what to expect and what to do. But you forget those after some time. All you’re left with is the experience. And a bit of Googling can help you do whatever you want.

That’s why it’s a great idea to re-attend the assignments and projects later, without taking the theory classes again. Take help from your hand notes and Google. By Google, don’t copy others' solutions. Yes, most solutions are available online.

6. Help Yourself By Helping Others

Did you ever feel like people who keep answering questions in communities and forums are so knowledgeable and expert? 

Why don’t you do the same? In fact, it’s been the most effective way of learning for me. 

Once I complete a course or a section, I go to the community or forum or Q&A section and keep answering the questions. Sometimes I answer the unanswered questions, and sometimes I create better and detailed answers than others.

My thread in coursera community helped a lot of learners
My thread helped a lot of students

My thread on CNN course in Coursera is now the 3rd most popular thread on an upvote basis. Although I’m currently focused on SEO...

This process feels a bit tough when you just start looking at the questions. It feels like I don’t know anything what they are talking about! But eventually I end up making valuable answers. 

7. Create 2 Gmail Accounts

We waste a lot of time on YouTube. And YouTube recommends videos based on your watch and search history. Similarly, the Google Discover section of Chrome mobile shows you article suggestions based on your activity all around the Google services.

So to make my video and article recommendations clean and work-friendly, I opened a second Gmail account and use it for all my leisure time online. Like if I need to listen to music while working, I use the second account. 

This way, whenever I open my YouTube app or Chrome browser, it recommends the latest and popular topics on my field of interest. This helps me to be updated with the latest trends of the industry. 

8. Start A Project

The biggest reason why people can’t start earning after learning is that they don’t work on any project.

Learning from online courses can’t prepare you for the industry. And everyone can earn a certificate online, so you can’t get a job by just taking some online courses.

Start a project, make it above the average. You’ll face lots of problems. The more you solve them, the more you prepare yourself for the industry. 

A single quality project can open the door of your earnings.

So, start your own project as soon as possible. This is the biggest reason why I got work offers very soon. 

9. Start Blogging

You learn the most when you teach others. 

There are many ways of teaching others. I found blogging is the best way

Say you’re interested in Machine Learning. Then create a blog, start writing from the very basics like Bash Scripting or Python programming. Cover each topic one by one and write in every detail. Make it your own Wikipedia.

Don’t focus on earning from the blog, or visitors over time, or the UX of the site. These are resistance to your success. 

10. Be Above The Average

You don’t have to be an expert, just be above the average!

You feel like you can’t get a job in your desired field because every field is already filled with experts? 

In my experience, most of the fields are occupied by below-average people. That’s why I always say, create your own project, be above average, and show off your skills or achievements to your target audience.

You don't need to be an expert in anything to be successful. Just be ABOVE THE AVERAGE!

If you don’t remember anything from this long guideline, then this is the only line that you should always keep in mind.

Final Words

If you want to be successful in life, you need to be above the average. The same goes for becoming successful doing online courses. Take your online courses the way you get the most out of it, so that you know about it more than the ordinary people in the same field. 

Help yourself by helping others. Be active in your course-related communities. Answer as many questions as you can. If you think you’re not successful yet, or couldn’t start earning yet, ask yourself one question, “Am I above the average in my field yet?”


How to choose the best online course?

Is it a long-form or short course? How updated is the course content? What are the reviewers saying? (Course Recommendation serves honest reviews). Does it have a community and refund policy? Don’t forget to read the negative reviews. For details, read the article.

Why doesn’t everyone succeed in online courses?

As discussed, we chase to achieve a certificate to show on social media instead of focusing on building skills. Losing excitement, enrolling in more than one course, not taking the assignments seriously, not being active in the community, following the wrong path, and choosing the wrong course are the reasons why everyone doesn’t succeed in online courses, classes, or certifications.

How many online classes should I take at once?

Just one. The moment you enroll in a new course without completing the previous one, your excitement shifts to the new one. Hence, you can’t complete the previous one properly.

How to study for online courses effectively?

Read the details in the article. In short, Google everything that comes into your mind, read books on the topic, repeat the course as you need, read the questions in the community to get more ideas, and re-attend the assignments and projects later.

How effective are online courses?

If taken properly and follows the rules I described, online courses can be your way to success. It’s not like the moment you complete an online course, you become a professional. It’s how you utilize the resources you have.