How I Moved From My 1st MOOC to 6th MOOC

The first time I learnt about Massive Online Open Courses was in 2012. A friend had showed me this website named Coursera. I was very impressed with the site and the courses they were offering. Then I did what any logical person would do. I signed up for 5 courses. And I failed to finish a single online course in the next four years.

I had enrolled or re-enrolled in many online open courses, not just in Coursera but also other sites like NovoEd, EdX, etc but every year that course completion certificate managed to elude me. Finally in 2016, I finished my first online course. And then something magical happened, like in those movie montages where a lanky, bullied nerd joins the gym and comes out of it with bulging muscles: I finished 4 MOOCs within the next 6 months!

After taking 4 years to finish my first MOOC, I finished 4 more of them in the next 6 months! 

I was surprised at this progress rate and realized that there was an informal but effective and efficient system that I had subconsciously developed to finish the online courses. I say efficient because I had been working part time and going to MBA classes as well. So without further introduction, allow me to present the most comprehensive guide you will find to guide & motivate yourself to finish your first online course (and then many more).

Five Major Sections of the Blog:

  1. Knowing Where You Stand – Identify the problems you commonly face, and setting the right mindset
  2. 7 Effective Strategies- Deals with steps that will ease the course completion like picking an easy course, having a study buddy etc
  3. Time Management Techniques- You’ll be surprised how easily you can finish the course by using the right planning tools
  4. Solution of Common Problems- To provide solution for some very common problems
  5. Bonus Materials- Download A Simple Online Course Completion Planner (word file)

Competence in learning from online course as professionals

Most Common Problems

Think of your online course as a battlefield you want to conquer. First, we must identify the common enemies who are going to stop us from doing that. Then we can make a good battle plan.

I conducted a survey recently which involved 107 participants on

 I asked them what was the main reasons for dropping out of the course. The results were something like this:

Survey Result of Reasons for Dropping Out of Online Course


As we can see clearly see, the two primary antagonists that are refraining you from completing the online course are:

  1. Losing Interest
  2. Poor Time Management

So, you need to pay attention to how passionate you are about the course and managing your time.

This is a basic road map of a successful online course journey:

Roadmap of Online Course

Let’s take a look at how we can go from start to finish.


Setting Up the Right Mindset

Step 1. Identify Your Purpose: Why Are You Taking This Online Course?

The main reason we lose interest halfway through an online course is because we stop seeing the necessity of it. What started out as a curious and optimistic journey turns into watching a series of boring videos and the same hoopla of taking quizzes and assignments.

But just imagine if this was that course that could change your life. If completing this course would take you one step closer to your dream job. Would you not finish the course then?

Just imagine if you were Albert Einstein and you were given a book of difficult mathematics problems to solve. Would you lose interest halfway?

Einstein always used to prove a point in an argument

Just imagine if someone asked Elon Musk to stop being an innovator. Would he stop?

No. Because for them it’s not just about doing something. It’s about working with passion and absolute dedication, on something that you’re passionate about, madly in love with. That’s why you need to pick a course that is not a mere interest of yours. You need to pick a course that resonates with you. A course that would bring more meaning to your life. If you were to die without finishing it, you would feel like you’ve left something incomplete.

You need to pick a course that resonates with you.

I strongly suggest you ask yourself these questions (spend a couple of minutes on these before picking any course):

  1. How will I use what this course is teaching?
  2. Is this course related to achieving my dream? How?
  3. Is this online course going to add value to my career? For example, if I see this course listed on my linkedIn profile, will it make me feel accomplished?
    Will the head-hunters think of me as a more capable person for the job?
  4. Is the course related to my passion or my interest? If I’m asked to talk about the course, will I feel excited and reply with enthusiasm? Or will I be indifferent?
  5. Say it out loud: “I just finished this MOOC called _____ .”   Did saying that make you feel cool and happy?

A good practice would be to write down brief answers of these questions in Google docs or Evernote (I have also included a planner at the bottom of this post).

Having this file can help you when you are lacking motivation during the course. It will remind you of the ‘Why?’

Why you started this course.

And why you need to finish it.


Step 2. Become Determined That You Want To Finish It

The first online course is going to be the most discouraging to finish. Let me show you why I say that:

Days I Needed to Finish Online Course

This is my own course completion speed. I finished the 4th and 5th course during semester break which may have partially increased the speed. But it is the confidence I felt in me after the second course which was the main reason behind this accelerated improvement.

From my experience, 3 things happen after we enroll which weakens our resolve:

  1. We are not trusting of the online learning method
  2. We start wondering whether the course will actually be valuable for us
  3. Real life duties and responsibilities distract us.

There is, however, a solution. You just have to give more gravity to this course. If you’ve written the answers of all those questions about purpose of your study then you’ve already taken the pain of justifying your purpose for taking the course. So stop thinking about its value or effectiveness. Just work on it and finish it. Think like an engineering student who has no say when the institution makes him/her take a financial accounting course. Just like him, your task is to go through it, not to question the method or value. You can connect the dots later.

Eventually (usually after 2nd or the 3rd week), you will arrive at this point where you’re considering one of these two options:

Option to consider for giving up on online course


Or, if you’re determined and passionate, you choose this path:

Best option to consider for giving up online course

So, which path will you take?

A quick recap. So far we have-

  • learnt about the common enemies and
  • Identified our purpose- are we passionate about the course or only interested?
  • have set this belief that we can conquer any online course

Now let’s look at some strategies that has made completing online course a lot easier for me:


7 Strategies To Easily Finish Your First Online Course

Pick An Easy Course (Preferably Without Deadlines) 

As you’ve already seen, finishing online courses and getting certification becomes easier exponentially. Therefore, it is wiser to take a course that you find easy. And pick ONLY ONE on your first go. Online universities are virtual, so you don’t exactly have the feeling of 50 other people suffering from the same anxiety as you. You don’t see weaker students or friends scratching their heads or class nerds acing throughout the course material.

As a result, the hurdles you face seem enormous and only happening to you.

But that’s not true at all. Can you guess how many students drop out of online courses or fail to finish them? 90%!

90% of online students fail to complete their courses. Motivate yourself to stand out

So try a little harder. Once you have finished your first course, you will start feeling more confident. Just like I did, when I took a no deadline course and took around a year to finish it.

What Is An Easy Course?

  • A course that you’re already familiar with
  • A course that you’ve already taken somewhere else but want to learn more about it
  • Self paced course, one that doesn’t have deadlines
  • You have great competence in that related field
  • A course that lasts 4-6 weeks
  • A course that doesn’t have a CAPSTONE project

There can be many other criteria, but let’s stop here. I want to present a list of 6 online courses that I have found to be relatively easy:

  1. Learning How To Learn – University of California, San Diego – Coursera
  2. Strategic Career Management -State University of New York – Coursera
  3. Thiink101x: The Science of Everyday Thinking -University of Queensland – EdX
  4. How to Build Up A Startup – Udacity
  5. The Art of Photography – RMIT University – Open2Study
  6. Introduction to Statistics – Udacity
  7. Leadership Communication for Maximum Impact: Storytelling – Northwestern University – Coursera

Great Hack – Take Notes During the Videos for Quiz Preparation  

Most online courses have MCQ based exams. I have done 3 courses where the final exam was just a big 75 or 100 questions Multiple Choice Quiz. I remember I was halfway through my first online course, ‘Introduction to Public Speaking’, and I recognized that at least 60% of the quizzes are directly made from the text that appears on screen. And it kept happening in the future courses. 1

Logic Behind This:

In an online class teachers can’t use slides the same way they do in class. And they have no way to check how attentively we are listening to their speeches. So to ensure that the most important topics of the course are highlighted, they show it on screen (as done in the blue and yellow colored texts in the picture above). Which means, 60% of your exam questions are shown on screen!*

You should take advantage of it by writing them down or taking notes. I always write down the text displayed or what I learnt from them. They come in handy, especially during the finals. I scored 96.2% (With Honors) in ‘Learning How To Learn’ by following this method.

Use text of online course

*BTW, when I say 60% it’s not exact statistics. Just my estimation.

Use Free Time During Your Vacation/Weekends 

Study during vacation online course Meme

There, there. Take it easy. I know how precious our vacations are during university life. The semester breaks are what we students look up to for having fun, partying, going out on a tour with friends or family, etc. And when we move on to our professional lives the vacations become even more cherished and (sadly) scarce. They are for de-stressing, so taking an online course would seem to be rather counter intuitive. And if your vacation length is less than 7 days, it’s probably not the best idea. But if it the break lasts an entire month long? Clearly you can make some time then (and if you’re competitive like me, after the first 5 days of a vacation you start thinking about how you can get ahead of others. High-five!).

We might not like the idea, but the extra hours we can spend during the vacation could really come in handy to finish the online course.
Morpheus suggesting online course completion using weekends

And that’s why I’m suggesting this. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that you become obsessed with work and career and studying. I value work life balance a lot. Let me just tell you my own story to justify why I’m suggesting this.

6 Days to MOOC Completion

It was just a few weeks ago. I was struggling to get a job. My hope was to work with a reputed marketing/digital marketing agency. So I discovered a job opening in a renowned agency. As I was about to apply, I noticed something. Even though I had the expertise and basic knowledge for becoming a senior executive, I didn’t have any formal degree on digital marketing. There was still a week’s time left to apply for the job. There was also a 3 days holiday ahead. So here’s what I did.

I closed the browser window where I was writing an email to the HR team, on the next window signed up for a course on Inbound Markeitng in HubSpot Academy called ‘Inbound Certification‘, and finished it within the next 6 days. I put that degree on my CV and LinkedIn account and believe me or not, that’s where the conversation started in the interview.

And I got the job!

Well, actually, I didn’t get the job. Sorry about lying.

I got a job in the next company that I applied for.

Why You Should Pick Only One Online Course at A Time

Many of us start our online university experience by enrolling for 3-5 courses at the same time. Which is not a strange thing, because that’s how we take courses in regular universities. And you may manage the first week or two. But as you start missing quizzes and assignments in multiple courses and they start stacking up, the task of finishing even the easiest course becomes monumental.  So it’s better if you enroll in one course and stay focused on a single track.

That way, you have to deal with less number of failures when you fall behind the assignments. So, it’s a lot less dirt to clean if you mess up.

That way, it’s a lot less dirt to clean if you mess up.

After you’ve finished one or two courses and gotten used to the online course system, then go for multiple courses.

Get A Study Buddy or A Study Group

I would highly recommend you to do this. It’s a fantastic way to complete a course. Doing it together means you can get:

  1. Competitive motivation
  2. Group discussions
  3. Help when you’re stuck
  4. Creative Ideas for projects
  5. Note sharing

And, last but not the least, you get to:

Finish Your Online Course like Bad Boys: in style! Get a study buddy

But what if you can’t find friends in real life to join you?

Take advantage of the online course forum. You’ll find at least a few if not many- who are looking for tagging along and finding motivation for themselves to complete the course. There are group chats, google hangouts, Facebook groups, all sorts of ways students are connecting with each other.

Keep Updating Your Friends About Your Progress

Do you have a friend or someone from your family who really cares about you? You can also use them as a support system. Keep talking with them once in a while about this. Since they care about you, they will try to motivate you. Even a question like, “So how’s that online course going?” can bring you back to the realization that you need to finish the course.

If It’s Not Working Out, Leave It

Sometimes the course material becomes obsolete or no longer as necessary. For example, say you are majoring in marketing from a Business school in Sri Lanka. Just out of curiosity, you decide to try out a marketing course from an Ivy-League university offered as a MOOC. Now say since then a year has gone by and still have not finished it. You’re still interested but now you see that doing a course in Digital Marketing is going to give you a competitive edge over other marketing students. And you are also passionate about it. In this case, there’s no reason why you should stick with the previous course.

Remember, you’re either in this for your career or your passion for knowledge. If it isn’t serving any, just leave it.

Remember, you’re either in this for your career or your curiosity. If it isn’t serving any, just leave it.


So those were the strategies. Before we move on to time management hacks, Here’s a short video you can see about staying motivated in your online course:

Time Management Hacks for Finishing An Online Course

Figure Out The Quiz & Assignment Deadlines & Their Alignment With Weekends/Holidays

Every online course has a detailed syllabus and timeline made available. Use it to plan ahead. See whether the assignments and submission dates fall immediately after weekend or during the weekdays.

This way you can understand how committed you have to be and which days you need to put in more effort.

If you’re really serious about the course, enter the final exam and submission dates on your google calendar or any other calendar software that you use.


Set Up A Dedicated Time

An effective strategy is to have a separate time set for studying the course. Right after you’ve signed up for the course, think about which time of the day you can allot to this specific task. It’s best to have a fixed slot, like every Friday to Wednesday 8:00 PM to 8:30 PM, or if you’re an early risers then 6:00 to 6:30 PM.

Now let’s take a quick look at the how a week’s study list usually looks. It will be something like this:

Online Course Weekly Schedule

As you can see, there are 6 videos to be seen and 3 pages to be read for week 1. You can divide these throughout the week as per your schedule.

However, this is taken from the first week of the course and has only one lesson. Future weeks could have 3-5 lessons, with every lesson having a separate list like the one above. Then you have to spend some more time to spread out the lessons in between your week.

Setup A Backup Time

There’s no guarantee that you will be able to maintain a strict schedule. So you should also keep some backup time in hand. Best idea is to look for those idle hours you spend on weekend mornings. Yes, it sounds very boring especially if you’re a fresher at your university, but trust me the older you get the more you look back on these times wishing you had spent them more wisely.

Also, sometimes we find sudden breaks that appear out of nowhere. Think of that class that got cancelled or your date for the evening texts you to say that she wants to meet tomorrow instead of today. Make use of this freed time and catch up on where you are lagging or to study ahead. Most of the videos in these online courses are 5-8 minutes long. Think of the numerous times when you are waiting for someone or sitting idle on the bus/train/subway and spending time on Facebook tapping like on kitten videos. You can watch one or two videos in these short breaks too. Download the app of the online university for a better on-the-go experience.

 Most of the videos in these online courses are 5-8 minutes long. Use the short breaks you find in your life to use them. Use app for on-the-go studying.

Be Prepared For Some Binge Watching As Well

I know, this isn’t Netflix. But the courses are based on watching a lot of videos. So sometimes you might need to finish 2 or 3 weeks’ materials on a single day. I’m not advising that you do it, but desperate situations call for desperate measures, right?

However, don’t turn into this guy:

Binge watching online course

Because you need to retain information in your head to pass the course as well. Let’s talk about that.

I’ve already mentioned how important it is to take notes during watching videos. If you’re binge watching, it’s critical that you do so. Not only can you improve retention but you can also use the notes for exam or to make your submission appropriate. But remember, do it only in urgent situations.

Be Mentally Prepared For Some Real Life Problem(s) During Your Online Course:

This is a no-brainer, really. If you have taken an online course before, and failed to finish it- a flashback of that course is enough to make sense of this headline. I’m talking about that one thing or many other events AKA PLE (perfectly logical excuses) that stopped you from finishing it. But has anyone ever been impressed by how good your excuses are? So this time as you embark on your online course, remember that you will face difficulties and hurdles. Take a break from studies and deal with them. Solve the problems you are facing. Then do come back to finish your course.

ENIA Excuses Never Impressed Anyone

Solution of Some Common Problems:

As a new blogger, at this point of the article, I am supposed to be concerned about how many of my readers will read until this point and finish the article. But since you are still reading, I’m concerned about how I can help you to get through your online course. It must be very important to you. And it makes me very happy to think that there are people like you who care about studying and self development in today’s almost retarded internet generation. You give me hope. Thanks for that. 🙂 Now let’s look at the specific situations that many have suffered in their online course experience and how you can deal with them:

When You Lose Motivation Halfway

If you have written the answers to the purpose related questions I have mentioned, then you can go back to them when this happens.

If you’re still not feeling motivated, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. What is the event(s) that has made you lose motivation?
  2. Why did you take this course?
  3. Is it still valuable for your academic skills/career?

These answers should help you get some mojo back. Otherwise, you can see some of the awesome motivation videos on YouTube that can help you demand better performance from yourself.

And finally, don’t forget that you don’t have to finish it if it has become obsolete and unnecessary for your journey of life. You can always pick a new course that is meaningful to you. Just don’t keep changing courses. Otherwise your e-learning experience will look something like this:


When the Teacher Is Boring

I won’t name the course, but there was this one time when I was quite eager to finish a course that was substantially important for my career. I made all the commitments and planning to finish it but the teacher was absolutely annoying. He had a weird Australian-Indian accent, kept using technical terms after terms even before introducing the concepts properly. And he kept assuring how this course would turn us into marketing geniuses. I just couldn’t take it after the 1st week. So I dropped out and looked for other options. IMO you should do the same. Many online universities are offering courses on the same or similar topics, so finding an alternative shouldn’t be the problem.

Look for better options if the instructor is the right kind of teacher for you.

When You’re So Behind that You Can’t Finish the Course This Time

You really have 2 options here. First one is, you try finish as many weeks as you can. After the course is closed, there will still be the option to watch the videos. Only the quizzes and exams would become unavailable until course reopens. So you can even make progress after the course has finished. Once the course begins, simply take the quizzes and exams or submit your final project.

The other option would be to leave it for now and wait for the course to begin again.

Unless you really don’t have any time time, I suggest you take the first option.

When the Course Is Complex

If this is the case, check if you have finished the prerequisites. For complex topics, you can ask help from others in the discussion forums. You can google or see videos about it on YouTube to understand with clarity. You can even email directly to the instructor.


Just ask for explanations.

When People Are Mocking You for Being A Nerd 

As silly as it may sound, it does happen. In this case I suggest that you think about your purpose for enrolling in the course. Know that these people forget about you when you’re not around. So don’t carry them in your mind when they’re not there. When you’re alone, just carry on studying. They won’t help you get your dream job, your dream life, your dream house, your dream car. They won’t make you feel you good about yourself because you are knowledgeable. So why should you give their thoughts any significance? You should be proud with yourself because among the plethora of useless things that can be done with it; you’re using the internet for doing something productive.



(Bonus) Have A Progress Planner


Bonus: Here’s a 3-page-plan that covers from finding out your purpose to having the progress plan and finishing the course. Just click on the button below to download it for free!


Download online course completion planner


Real Life Inspiration: Meet Mr. Hong Chee Joo, the man who has finished 42 online courses across 5 platforms(30 of them in just 6 months!).


That’s it! Now go on to develop yourself to the person you dream of becoming. All the best!

Here are the key points if you need a refresher: