This study examined engineering students’ initial readiness to transition to emergency online learning in response to COVID-19 in Qatar. A theoretical framework is proposed for understanding the factors influencing students’ readiness for change. Sequential explanatory mixed-method research was conducted, with 140 participants completing an online survey, of which 68 also contributed written reflections and 8 participated in semi-structured interviews. Exploratory factor analysis displayed a four-factor structure, including initial preparedness and motivation for online learning, self-efficacy beliefs about online learning, self-directed learning online, and support. The qualitative outcomes supported the four factors and provided further insight into their varied and nuanced manifestation. In accounting for the perceived impact of the factors on readiness, significant differences were identified regarding pedagogical mode, with students enrolled in PBL courses reporting higher readiness than those from non-PBL courses. The practical implications for preparing students for future emergency online learning are discussed.