How to Build Self-Discipline as an Online Student

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Last Updated on November 3, 2023 by Alexandra Markin

Online students have the flexibility to learn anywhere and at their own pace. But with this freedom comes responsibility: you need to build strong self-discipline skills as an online student in order to succeed in your academic journey.

Success in online learning requires consistency. Higher education is a marathon, not a sprint. Apart from some disadvantages of online learning that may be outside your control, self-discipline can be 100% built from within.

To build self-discipline as an online student, you’ll need to manage your time, minimize distractions and learn online communication to realize your goals.

The Importance of Self-Discipline in Online Learning

“The ability to control yourself and to make yourself work hard or behave in a particular way without needing anyone else to tell you what to do.”

– Self-Discipline definition from Collins Dictionary

The Collins Dictionary definition says it perfectly: to succeed in online studies, you need to be able to study consistently without prompting from your professor or anyone else.

Self-discipline is the number one skill every online student needs to master.

This post outlines the contributing components you’ll need to build self-discipline for studying.

Solidify Your Why

The reason why anyone builds self-discipline in the first place is because of their end goal.

Why are you getting your degree?

  • For promotion opportunities at your current job?
  • To have a better quality of life?
  • So you can help others?
  • For higher earning potential?

For example, if your goal of completing higher education is to get a career that will afford you the money to fully indulge in your passions, decorate your desk with inspirational items to help give you the motivation to keep going. You’ll have a physical reminder of your why every time you sit down to study.

If your why is to secure a job that can fund your travel passion and your dream city is Paris, decorate your desk with a photo of the Eiffel Tower and a city-themed mug.

Not having a strong enough desire to complete your program can result in a lack of self-discipline in online learning.

Get Organized

Being organized and prepared is essential for success in online learning.

Gather supplies and set up your workspace before you begin your courses so you’re not running around searching for things you need when you should be studying. Make a supplies checklist, set up a printer ink subscription if you know you’ll be printing a lot and go through a checklist of all the necessary school supplies for online college.

Keep yourself digitally organized too. Set up folders on your computer where you can save assignments, university correspondence and tuition receipts to make it easy for yourself when it comes to tax time.

Create a Detailed Study Planner

Without the structure of traditional classes assigning due dates, it’s completely up to you to complete coursework in a timely manner.

Breaking each module into manageable study chunks with self-assigned due dates for each learning activity will keep you on track.

Treat these learning activity due dates with the same intensity as assignment deadlines.

Creating a detailed study planner for each course is the number one thing that helped me stay on track in my self-directed courses.

Want a template? You can purchase the below planner from the Online Student Life store – shop the course study planner.

Creating a detailed course study planner and sticking to your deadlines will keep you on track.

Avoid Procrastination

Get started on coursework as soon as you have access to the course. Leaving assignments until the last minute and then staying up all night to complete them is irresponsible and leads to unnecessary stress.

The importance of self-discipline in online learning is to avoid procrastination by studying daily, even if it’s only 30 minutes.

Create a Dedicated Study Space

Physical classrooms enforce structure and focus, which is why it’s so important for online students to create a dedicated study space.

A small desk in a quiet corner of your bedroom is just fine if you’re able to study comfortably.

Some online students find it hard to study at home. If that’s you, you’ll need to find a place that works for you. Head to a public library for a study session or study at another university’s campus (their libraries and common areas are open to everyone).

Even booking a day at a WeWork coworking space and being around other self-disciplined people can really help you get things done (while drinking their free and unlimited coffee!)

laptop and stainless steel we work cup on desk in the sunshine
Having a study session at the WeWork Bentall II location in Vancouver, Canada.

We all need a change of scene sometimes, so keep a list of alternative places you like to study away from home. Feeling bored or uninspired with your study space can lead to a lack of self-discipline in online learning.

One of the major benefits of online learning is the freedom to study anywhere, so take advantage of it!

Minimize Distractions

Distractions look different for everyone, so learn to recognize your weaknesses.

If your phone is too tempting, leave it in another room or install the Forest app. Forest works by growing a tree on your lock screen during inactivity – leave it long enough and you can grow a whole forest!

If you find even having a Netflix subscription too distracting, cancel it for the sake of this intense self-improvement period of you life. You can always rent DVD TV series from the library as a reward for yourself.

Exercise Proactive Communication

With Your Instructors

Without the ability to ask real-time questions during a lecture or stay after class to talk to your instructor, you’ll have to get comfortable reaching out on your own when you need help.

Send an email to your instructor well in advance of needing to know the answer – don’t leave it until the day before an assignment is due. Instructors have many other students and email takes longer than popping in during office hours, so budget your time accordingly.

If your instructor has a phone or Zoom option, utilize these if you find talking more beneficial for you over email or using the chat function in your online learning platform.

With Other Students

Having other students as a support system in online learning is extremely underrated. However, you’ll need to reach out to make connections.

If available, use the discussion boards within your course to connect with others, or see if your school has a Discord group or online forum.

If you’re not already following other students or studygrams on Instagrams, they are an excellent place to get inspiration, learn study tips and make new friends. Follow me on Instagram and join the Online Student Life community!

Having another student to study with or even just to talk to will help you stay motivated and disciplined.

Adjust Your Attitude

“The first and best victory is to conquer self.”

-Plato, ancient Greek philosopher

Never underestimate the power of positive thinking.

There will be times where the journey gets tough and you feel like giving up. You just don’t understand a concept no matter how many hours you’ve studied, you got a poor grade on a test, there are too many assignments due at once, etc.

Get through these tough times by pushing away negative thoughts. Tell yourself you can do it, and remind yourself how far you’ve come. Everyone goes through this regularly, even the seemingly high achievers.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is an Example of Self-Discipline for Students?

Some examples of self-discipline for students are:

  • Creating a detailed course study planner for each course and following it.
  • Scheduling time to study everyday, even if you can only squeeze in 30 minutes by reviewing flashcards while waiting for an appointment, reading on transit or writing one learning outcome summary.
  • Saving your favourite TV series as a reward for after you’ve studied.

How Do You Develop Self-Discipline for Online Learning?

Self-discipline for online learning is developed by taking daily action to improve oneself.

The three main ways students need to develop self-discipline for online learning are:

  • Creating a dedicated study space
  • Avoiding procrastination by studying daily
  • Connecting with other students to create a support system

How Do I Build Self-Discipline for Studying?

Without the structure of a classroom, online students need to identify their weaknesses to build self-discipline for studying. This can only be achieved by daily practice.

Shake up your environment by finding places to study that inspire you, such as coffee shops or other college libraries.

Create a physical reminder of why you’re pursuing higher education. Add inspirational images to your desktop wallpaper, your phone lock screen or add items to your desk that represent your end goal.

How to Build Self-Discipline as an Online Student – Conclusion

As an online diploma graduate, I don’t feel online learners get enough credit. The fact that we need to have enough self-discipline to complete courses where we’re handed a stack of textbooks and assignments with very little lecture time or instructor assistance is truly amazing.

Online learning isn’t an easy road, but if you keep yourself organized, conquer procrastination and follow a detailed study plan, you’ll build the self-discipline required to succeed as an online student.

Although most online programs are done via independent study, you don’t have to go through your academic journey alone. Sign up for my email list below and follow me on Instagram to join our online student community!

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4 thoughts on “How to Build Self-Discipline as an Online Student”

  1. As an online student, I know how powerful changing my environment can be to focus my studies and speed up my progress.I never heard of the forest app- how cute of an idea! Gotta get that for myself:) SO many helpful tips for staying focused and productive!

    1. I’m so glad you found some new tips to help you stay focused and productive Danielle! I love the Forest app – it’s fun to see how big of a forest you can grow whilst working on your study goals!

  2. I really appreciate this post. As a teacher who lived through virtual instruction, I know that working online sounds easier than it is. Thank you for taking the time to provide so many strategies for being successful. These are helpful reminders that it’s important to set the right environment for success no matter where you’re studying from.

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