1. Join the Online Community
Many online courses require you to participate in chats, discussions, and other community events, which is a good thing. These venues help you get to know your fellow students. Take full advantage of these opportunities. Making friends in class means you have people to study with, to ask questions of, to support you.
Even if your class doesn't require this kind of participation, reach out however you can. How? Look for them on Facebook, LinkedIn, or other social media. Ask for email addresses if they are not provided in the class. Express interest in your new friends.
2. Remember that Online Messages Can Be Misunderstood
You've had enough experience with email by now that you've likely had an email or two misunderstood. When people can't see facial expressions or hear your tone of voice, it's incredibly easy for some messages to be misunderstood.
The best way to avoid this misfortune is simply to be aware of the possibility. Be careful with your online words, especially in rapid fire conversations during chats, which move quickly, and apologize sincerely when something goes wrong.
See Heinz Tschabitscher's Email Etiquette: 26 Rules to Follow
3. Learn Emoticons
Emoticons are online smiley faces, except that almost every emotion is represented, not just smiles. You may have seen embarrassed, angry, confused, or lovesick emoticons. Some are even animated.
Some emoticons are made with keyboard characters, and some programs convert the keyboard characters into cute little graphics.
:-) That's a smile.
Paul Gil, About's Guide to Internet for Beginners, has a great list of emoticons. Check it out.
Asking questions is one of the most important things you can do to ensure learning in any class, but it's especially important online, where visual cues are usually missing.
When you're not sure what's going on in class, ask a question. The longer you remain confused, the worse the situation becomes. Ask questions when they first occur to you without interrupting the flow of class. If you can't ask a question right away, write it down and ask during the first break or whenever questions are taken.
Most online teachers schedule time for questions, have office hours like classroom teachers, and are usually available by email to help their students. Take advantage of this time. Your teacher wants you to succeed.
5. Use Anonymity for Confidence, Not Hiding
If you're the shy type, online courses might be the perfect venue for you. You can participate fully, ask questions and answer questions, without anybody looking at you, assuming you're not using camera technology.
Take advantage of this opportunity to participate more than you might in a classroom situation. If it helps, envision yourself as your alter ego, the one who does all the things you've always want to but haven't because of shyness or whatever.
The anonymity of online learning allows you to be whoever you want to be. You are not, however, allowed to be a bully, and we hope you won't use anonymity to hide. I know you didn't need to hear that from me, but there it is.