‘I’ll do it tomorrow’: How to start and keep going on an online course

Struggling to start and finish an online course? In this post we share some of our tips and tricks for completing online learning.

Some of the best things about online learning are also the reasons it’s hard to keep going: it’s often free, there’s no real pressure, you can learn at your own pace. Once your past the initial excitement of finding an online course procrastination sets in and soon you’re ignoring the reminder emails and telling yourself you’ll do it next weekend. 

So how do you get started and then keep going? Here are our tips. 

1. Make the time

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Don’t just say to yourself ‘Tuesday nights are learning nights’ – block out some time for learning in a tangible way. Set an event on your phone (with an alarm) or write it in a diary. Maybe tell friends and family the time, and get them to remind you. Having time that’s been properly set aside will help you learning feel like more of a commitment that you can’t skip. 

2. Try and stay focused

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If you find yourself on Facebook or Twitter every five minutes when you should be learning you’re not alone. It’s almost an unconscious behaviour for lots of us. But there are solutions. For instance apps like SelfControl allow you to specify a list of sites you can’t visit for a fixed amount of time. It’s also worth removing distractions around you like phones and unrelated paperwork (read more about creating a good environment for online learning). 

3. Know what you want to achieve

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Whether it’s knowing 100 words of Italian, being able to explain what a gene is, or knowing where to invest a spare £50 – having a goal that you can achieve thanks to your learning is a good motivator. Try and avoid vague goals, if you make it something more specific you’ll really feel you’ve made progress when you achieve it. Write it out somewhere nice and big, and have it in your eye-line – it’ll remind you of why you’re learning.

4. Get yourself the right tools

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Having something you’ve bought especially, like a nice notebook or pen, to help you learn might help you get excited about your learning. It doesn’t have to be big thing, or even something you’ve bought – it might be a well-organised file on your computer, or a note-keeping app. Either way, have somewhere special where you can write notes and ideas down – that way you’ll feel excited about coming back. 

5. Try not to worry about the workload

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If you’re worrying about the amount you need to get through on a course learning becomes a chore. Try not to think about all the work you need to do. Often you can learn step by step online – you don’t need to spend two hours or write pages and pages of notes

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Comments (26)


  • Pushpa Gamage

    Thanks Lily and Future Learn, providing this wonderful opportunity for learning new things, ideas and lot more. Even Though I couldn’t complete some courses fully, I learned and brushed my knowledge with those courses. I will be with you next year also and wish you very happy new year from Sri Lanka.

  • Judith Finney

    I’ve had a wonderful year with my Future learn courses; enjoyed every one. Am now trying to finish my latest before my next one begins mid-January. Thank you Future learn, I’m well and truly hooked.

  • Afor Paul

    Thanks Lily and Future learn. I feel deeply honored to be a part of the future learn family. Though I left some few courses uncompleted, am just so glad that I found future learn in 2018. My motivation is as fresh as ever. I believe I’ll achieve more with future learn this year. Am looking forward to an exciting, challenging and fulfilling year, 2019.

  • Carolyn E

    Thanks Lily for providing the opportunity to reply at this time of year. I appreciate the blend of courses that you curate and send to my inbox. Life is a series of projects. I intend to restart my lifelong learning with Futurelearn in the new year.
    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

  • William Starkey

    Best wishes too Lily and her team for making possible FutureLearn without which, the world would be a poorer place.
    Bill Starkey

  • Sue Chapman

    I have completed a good amount of Future Learn courses this year. The last at the end of November and so I thought I would give myself a break, until the new year when I will refreshed and ready to take another course. After all, learning new things is really good for the mind but so it s a break, so you don’t get over stretched.

    I look forward to learning something new in 2019 and found the study guide helpful. Half the battle is finding something which you are really interested in, so you can go the distance.

  • Silvia Saiquita

    Good tips!!! I enjoy online courses, I learned many useful things for my classes, and I want to thanks Futurelearn for everything.
    Merry Christmas!!!!

  • Billy Huft U

    Awesome and kind platform to expand all sorts of learning journeys ! Thanks a lot for this opportunity.
    Season greetings.
    Winter 2018

  • Betty Cheesman

    I have completed several Futurelearn courses this year and enjoyed every one of them. I followed the suggestions about learning. My course starts in January and I can’t wait, as a recent retiree Futurelearn has given me the structure and motivation I needed.

  • Karen Beckwith

    I’ve really enjoyed Futurelearn this year and follow all the learning tips suggested. What really helps though on a course is having a suggested reading list in week 1 so library books can be ordered and having a couple of mentors look through the comments and make suggestions each week. Some courses use PhD students to do this. YouTube links are also very popular and keep students motivated. Having a partner or friend to learn with also promotes off line discussion and keeps you focused.

  • S Mc Cormick

    I am often detoured/road-blocked by excessive comments. Then scrolling through really long threads, that are tangent to the discussion. I’ll click on “activity”, to get the most recent comments and find a few learners are 2 or more weeks ahead of everyone else. These conditions do not add to enjoyment in learning. Can Self-control app put a leash on runaway students, as well as pulling along the reluctant?

  • agnus

    I like online courses

  • Kadir

    When I fall behind on the course because of my university exams or etc, I do not fell like finishing the course anymore.I do leave the course and retake it when I can get to catch up with the current disscussion section on the course.


    I agree to continue following the next steps of Compassionate Care. I’m deprived apparently to enter easily.

  • Osman Abashar

    Its good advice

  • Mehwish

    Yes this is very good suggestion for us.

  • Matt J

    Find a space to learn in – your physical environment can have a huge impact in terms of distractions, comfort and productivity. Online learners are in their own space – treat it like your own campus; with the tools you need in your environment to learn.

  • Will Parker

    This is the same advice I gave to learners when teaching, the same advice I advised teachers to share when providing guidance to other teachers and the same advice I completely forget to apply myself when I am studying. It is excellent advice though.

  • Helen Houldcroft

    Thanks, very good advice. I will have to remember it.

  • Fwangjel Pantu Abafras

    This is an interesting tips for learning. I really appreciate it.