Online Learning

Online learning provides students with many benefits, such as adding flexibility to schedules and improving time management skills. As you take online courses at Mason, you may have some questions. Use this resource to help you plan and adjust your study strategies to learning online.

Download a Copy of How To Be A Successful Online Learner (PDF) 

Whether you’re new at online learning or you’ve already taken online courses, here are important tips to help you be a successful online learner.  

How do I tell if my online class occurs in real-time or is self-directed?

Online classes operate in three methods: synchronous, asynchronous, or hybrid. You can determine which method your class will operate in when searching for a class or reviewing your schedule.

If your class happens in real-time, that means your class is synchronous. Synchronous classes have a set schedule with required login times for class meetings. Instructors will typically take attendance in these class meetings, just as they would with an in-person class. View how a synchronous class looks on the schedule: Synchronous Instructional Method(PDF).

If your class is self-directed, that means your class is asynchronous. Asynchronous classes do not have a set schedule with required login times for class meetings. The instructor will provide you with the reading material, pre-recorded lectures, and assignments ahead of time to complete by the deadline listed on your syllabus. View how an asynchronous class looks like on the schedule: Asynchronous Instructional Method(PDF).

Some classes operate in a hybrid method. Hybrid classes combine in-person instruction with online instruction. These courses offer the benefits of face-to-face interaction along with some of the flexibility of online courses. If you have any questions about how hybrid classes operate, reach out to your professor, who can explain the expectations for the course and how the course will operate each week. View how a hybrid class looks on the schedule: Hybrid Instructional Method(PDF).

Click the link below to view an infographic on determining the difference between Synchronous vs. Asynchronous instructional methods:
Synch vs Asynch (PDF)
Synch vs Asynch Accessible Text (PDF)

Evaluate Your Technology Access

  • Access Blackboard. You’ll need your Mason username (NetID) and password to access Blackboard. Log in to and select the Courses tab to locate your course. Blackboard Mobile App can help you keep track of your online courses using your mobile device.
  • Check your Internet Connection. To complete and turn in your assignments, you will need consistent basic wireless or cellular connection at your home or study site.
  • What if you need to join in a video-conference or take a supervised exam? For these, you will need broadband wireless (or strong cell connection) capable of streaming video, as well as a web-camera as part of your computer or tablet. Note on Accommodations:  If you cannot participate in some forms of virtual instruction, we encourage you to work collaboratively with your professor to find creative solutions that allow you to continue to participate in the course. Reservable rooms are also available at Fenwick Library and the Johnson Center on campus, and at the Fairfax County Public Libraries. Click the provided links to begin the reservation process.
  • Check the technology requirements of your class. Ask your instructor if there are other programs or applications required by your department or program for your online course.
  • Consider back-up access. If your wireless goes down or you’re out of data, is there a library or other location you can go to safely to briefly access instructions and download large files or videos? WiFi may be accessed from all Library branch parking lots, every day 6 AM – 10 PM.
  • Inform your instructors right away if you do not have reliable access to technology resources.

Stay Organized

  • Know where to find and keep track of lectures and activities for each of your classes.
    Where can you find it, and how do you access it in Blackboard?
    Will you need to attend/participate at a specific time (live, real-time sessions), or can you participate any time (in the Blackboard course site)?
  • Check to see if your assignments are changing.
    Are there any new due dates?
    Where do you submit your assignments?
    Are there online quizzes or exams?
  • Set a schedule. Setting a schedule for yourself can help provide structure and keep you motivated. Use a weekly or daily calendar to help you organize your time, including time for exercise and self-care. See Learning Services’ videos on Time Management and Overcoming Procrastination for tips on scheduling your time.
  • Allow adequate time. Online assignments may take longer than you expect, especially if you’re new to online learning. Adapt your study routines and habits to concentrate and stay on-track, even if uncertain. Stay in touch with your instructors, classmates, and others to build community and relationships in the virtual setting.

Communicate With Others

  • Stay in touch. Communicate regularly with your instructor and your classmates. You can communicate within your online course (e.g., through Blackboard discussion boards). You also may contact your instructor via email, virtual office hours, or phone.
  • Be proactive. In an online environment, your professor may have fewer “clues” about whether or not you understand course content. Reach out to your instructor if there is something that is not clear to you, or if you are having difficulty keeping up with the course. If you are having issues with the technology, let your instructor know and then contact Courses Support for help. Also, make sure to inform your instructor if you become ill during your course and may be delayed in completing assignments.
  • Check your email and Blackboard Announcements regularly & often. Checking your Mason email is important even under normal circumstances, but it’s even more important when your course moves online. Your instructor will be sending you updates, announcements, and reminders. Update notifications on Blackboard, so you’re always up-to-date. It is your responsibility as the learner to stay informed.
  • Use good “Netiquette” when you are participating and posting in your online course. In online discussions and peer reviews, critique ideas but treat people respectfully & professionally. Remember that tone and humor may be easily misinterpreted by others in online discussions.
  • Reach out to Mason Services. If you require accommodations or auxiliary aids, reach out to Mason’s Disability Services for assistance.

Be Patient with Yourself & Others

  • Be patient with yourself, your classmates, and your instructors. Virtual alternative instruction will be new to many at Mason, including your instructors. Please be patient, kind, and supportive during this time. We all feel stressed and nervous, so let’s work together.
  • Learn Strategies for Mindfulness and Stress Management. Mason’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) offers Mental Health Workshops.
  • Stay connected to others: your instructors, classmates, family, and friends. Reach out to others for assistance and help with your courses, and also your self-care and well-being.
  • Be kind to yourself. You’ll find your way. You’ll get back on track, and this way of learning will eventually become familiar.
  • Take a deep breath, do your best, get some rest, and let’s carry on!

Academic Success Resources

Blackboard Courses Support (Information Technology Services, GMU)
The Blackboard Courses Support resource highlights instructions to the most common Blackboard tools, such as submitting an assignment, taking a test, participating in a video lecture, or accessing other course materials Here are some specific help resources for these FAQs:

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the ITS Support Center at 703-993-8870, or via email at

Using Zoom
Learn more about how to access, download, and use Zoom from Mason’s Information Technology Services.

Mason Online: Strategies for Online Learning Success
This is a longer list of tips for a successful online experience.

Learning Services
If you need assistance, please contact Learning Services at 703- 993-2999, or via email at Learning Services offers online academic coaching and academic workshops, as well as a list of Mason tutoring resources.

Counseling and Psychological Services
Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) remains available to provide services to Mason students. Please see CAPS’ website for a list of hours and resources. CAPS also offers virtual workshops focused on healthy coping skills. Contact CAPS at 703-993-2380.

Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Multicultural Education 
ODIME offers support to our Mason’s diverse student populations, including Asian/Pacific American, Black/African American/African Heritage, Hispanic/Latino(a), Middle Eastern and North African (MENA), and Native American/Indigenous heritages.

Disability Services
Disability Services is available to serve all students with disabilities, including those with cognitive, learning, psychological, sustained head injuries, sensory, mobility, and other physical impairments.

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