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A few terms ago, I had a brilliant student in my English composition class. She actively participated in all the discussion forums, she gave her classmates insightful and encouraging feedback, and she wrote with a passionate elegance. In short, she was an ideal student. About midway through the term, she disappeared without a trace. After weeks of silence, I finally heard back from her advisor: one of the student’s family members had passed away, and she was so distraught that she was unable to concentrate on her classwork. The student tried to make a comeback, but she didn’t have enough time to make up all the missing work.

Sadly, these stories are all too common. Many online students fall off the radar halfway through the term. It usually has nothing to do with their academic abilities. More often than not, students disappear because they encounter unforeseen challenges. Online courses vary in length, but most courses are around 8 weeks long. Although the accelerated format has its advantages, it can make it more difficult for students to rebound after experiencing a setback.

That’s why it’s important to come up with a game plan so you’re prepared to deal with the curveballs that life may throw at you. Here are some of the most common problems you may encounter during your online class and the best ways to deal with them!

Problem 1: You lose your internet connection.

If you want to succeed in your online class, you have to stay connected.

However, sometimes, the weather doesn’t cooperate. Sometimes, you don’t have enough money in the bank to pay the cable bill. Sometimes, you move, and it takes a while for things to get up and running.

That’s why it’s important to have a backup plan. Find a friend who’ll let you use their internet connection. Get to know the hours at your local library. Locate local shops and restaurants that offer free computer and wi-fi access. Don’t miss a step because of a lost connection!

Problem 2: You have a medical emergency.

Unless you’re a clairvoyant, you can’t predict whether or not you’ll have a medical emergency. However, you *can* make sure you understand your school’s policies in case something comes up. Some schools allow you to appeal for a medical incomplete, an extension which allows you to complete assignments after the last day of the term. Others will allow you to withdrawal from the course if your medical condition prevents you from completing your coursework. Know your options!

If you have a chronic medical condition, reach out to your school’s disability resource center. They may be able to offer you certain accommodations. Also, consider asking a friend of family member to act as a contact person. If you have to go to the hospital or if you are unable to type, your contact person can get in touch with your instructor and advisor and keep them in the loop.

Problem 3: You have to leave town, and you’re unsure if you’ll be able to work while you’re away.

In a previous blog post, online professor Leslie Bowman discusses whether or not going on vacation during an online class is a good idea. She offers some great suggestions for managing your workload while you’re touring Europe or relaxing on the beaches of Florida. However, what if something comes up that you hadn’t anticipated? What if you’re asked to take a last minute business trip? What if you need to visit an ailing relative? In these types of situations, the best thing to do is to contact your instructor and develop a plan for making up the work once you return.

One of my students just left the country for a brief training session (he’s in the military). Because he reached out to me as soon as he learned about the training, we were able to create a realistic work schedule that he could tackle once he returned. He’s on track to pass the course with strong grades!

Problem 4: You experience a personal tragedy.

Loss – whether it be the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, or the loss of a home – is part of our everyday lives. It can be very difficult to focus on your school work when you’re grieving. If you experience some sort of loss, reach out to your instructor. Most instructors are incredibly compassionate, and they will give you the time and the support you need to make it through the course. Also, communicate with your advisor or academic success counselor. Many universities offer counseling and other support services. Your advisor will help you find and utilize those services.

Life is messy and chaotic, and you never know what it’s going to throw your way. That’s why it’s important to understand your university’s policies and know the best people to contact in case of an emergency. When it comes to online classes, you want to hope for the best but prepare for the worst.