Tips and Tricks for Success in Online Courses

You will need regular access to a computer and the internet to complete most online courses at MSU-Northern. If finances are preventing you from standard technology access, please reach out to Financial Aid to inquire about financial assistance possibilities.

Computer and Internet recommendations:

  • Computer System: Mac or PC capable of running at 2 Ghz or greater
  • Internet Connection: Broadband internet connection supporting data rates of 3.0 Mbps or greater. Run a Speed Test here.
  • Browser: The latest version of Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox or Safari. (Microsoft Internet Explorer is known to have compatibility issues with the Brightspace system.) You can run a system check here.


  • All MSUN students have free access to Microsoft O365 (including Word, Excel, etc.). Follow the instructions for install here. You can also download O365 apps on your smartphone or tablet.
  • Alternatively, you might use the free cloud-based office software platform Google Suite.

MSU-Northern uses an online learning platform called "Brightspace" for online-only and face-to-face courses. Brightspace allows students to communicate with their instructors and classmates, view course content, complete homework assignments and quizzes, and check their grades. Brightspace can be accessed from a web browser on most internet-enabled devices, including laptops, Chromebooks, tablets, and smartphones.

If you've never taken an online course before, we recommend that you complete the "Adventures in Brightspace" self-guided orientation course in Brightspace. This is available to you once you log into Brightspace. The orientation teaches you how to navigate the system, complete homework activities, check your grades, and access other important tools.

In Brightspace you can sign up for email or text notifications to notify you when assignments are due, when grades are posted, or when your instructors make important announcements. Here is a short video showing how to set up notifications in Brightspace.

Becoming a successful online learner takes initiative and self-discipline. It's very easy for an online class to go "out of sight, out of mind." To create a consistent routine:

  • Set an alarm or calendar notification to remind yourself to check in on Brightspace at least once a day at the same time.
  • Once a week, take some time to plan out your work for the week. Write down all activities due for that week and prioritize them.

You should plan to spend 2 to 3 hours per week for each course credit. For instance, for a 3-credit class, you should plan to spend an average of 6 to 9 hours per week academically engaged in that class. Let your family and friends know when your study time is planned so that they respect that time.

Communicate with instructors about problems that are preventing you from completing any assignments. Make sure to do this before the due date whenever possible. Communication is key! Your instructors want to hear from you.

In the "Classroom > Classlist" section of Brightspace, you can email classmates in your courses. Some students set up group messages in GroupMe or other messaging services to create study groups with their peers.

Zoom is a great live video conferencing tool that is free and can help you communicate with classmates if you have group work. Pair Zoom with Google Docs to collaboratively work on documents in the cloud, and group work is a breeze!

Other questions? Contact the Office of Teaching and Learning Excellence / Brightspace Support at (406) 265-3767 or (406) 265-3701. You can also email if you need assistance!


Campus Resources for Online Students

Online tutoring
Tutoring Central provides free one-on-one and group tutoring for most courses at MSUN. Tutoring can be conducted online through Microsoft Teams, which is free for students. Our professional tutors have flexible schedules so that they can be available for after-hours tutoring as needed.


Online library access
Many library resources, including ebooks, electronic journal articles, and much more, can be accessed remotely.


Online academic advising
If you need to register for classes and don't have a faculty advisor yet (or don't know who your academic advisor is) schedule an online advising appointment here.


Accessibility services for online courses
Students who need to request disability accommodations for online courses can reach the Accessibility Services Coordinator here.


Mental health counseling
Virtual options exist for mental health counseling appointments, but there are some restrictions for providing services outside of Montana. Please contact the campus mental health counselor through Student Health Services here.


Student Support Services
SSS is designed to help qualified students achieve academic success and personal growth by providing them with helpful resources. These include tutoring, computer access, textbook access, academic/personal counseling, financial planning, course planning, workshops and social activities, and much more. Online students have the same eligibility for SSS as on-campus students.