How to Succeed in Online Classes
Thinking about making a career change but need additional education? Planning on college, but a traditional structure doesn't work for you? Perhaps online classes would work best for you.
Online classes are flexible and easy to manage if you stay up to date on your assignments. It can also be challenging because one has to be self-motivated in order to be truly successful.
Picking your classes
Make sure when you are looking at what classes you want to take, that you consider the following:
- Prerequisites. Most 100 level classes have no prerequisites, but some do. Make sure you read the course descriptions thoroughly so you know if there is a class you should take before the one you are considering.
- Your schedule. It may seem like you can take more online classes than you could in-person classes, but that usually isn't the case. Online classes require just as much time, for the most part, as traditional classes. There is often more reading and a significant amount of writing required. There may be required videos to watch. All these things translate to time spent.
- Program requirements. There is nothing worse than spending time and money on something that does you absolutely no good in the end. You may think that "Virtual Basket Weaving" sounds fun, but consider whether it gets you closer to your goals. Would it could as an elective for your chosen program? Unless you want to become a virtual basket weaver one day, you may want to rethink that class.
It may be worth it to talk to an academic counselor at the school to get their input. They will know what your program requirements are and can advise you on the amount of time you can expect to spend on each class.
Getting a good start
Once your class begins, you should try to start off on the right foot. It is infinitely easier to be successful in online school if you are involved from the very beginning. Some things you may consider doing include:
- Emailing the instructor. Let the instructor know if you have any limitations that may affect your performance (learning style, software glitches, etc.). Also, a heads up about any time you will be hard to reach would be nice.
- Introducing yourself to your classmates. Usually, there will be a bulletin-board style communication system for your class. You can post there and introduce yourself or ask questions of your fellow students. This is more for you than for them as you will find it easier to reach out for help or suggestions if you've already made contact once.
- Getting a head start on assignments. The first few assignments are usually pretty simple in order to help you get acclimated to the class and the instructor's expectations.Invest the time up front, if possible, in reading and completing assignments. This will give you a cushion in case things go wrong later.
Sticking to it
Once you have started off strong, keep going! It can be hard when no one is taking attendance to make yourself log on and do work, but when you see progress, you will want to keep it up. Try:
- Printing off a list of assignments. You can check off or cross off assignments as you do them, creating a visual reminder of all you have accomplished.
- Creating a schedule. If you get yourself into the habit of logging on at the same time every day, it will become a habit and won't feel as onerous. Set aside a specific chunk of time for school and treat it like an in-person class where you must attend. This will help you keep school as a priority.
- Focusing on your work. Whenever you do work on your class, don't multi-task. Try to stay focused only on the work at hand. If you try to complete a spreadsheet assignment while watching reruns of Jersey Shore, you are likely to miss a required element of the assignment. Turn off the TV and focus on your class so you don't forget those little things that add up.
When things go wrong
Don't worry if things don't always go smoothly. Sometimes unexpected things happen that interfere with our plans. Don't panic! There are steps you can take to mitigate any problems:
- Contact your professor. Always, always, always contact the instructor. Even if you just think you might miss a deadline, contact the instructor. Your professor would much rather know ahead of time that there could be a problem so they an help you figure out a solution.
- Do as much as you can. Did your computer crash and you lost half your work? Turn in what you can after contacting the instructor. Showing that you are trying goes a long way and could buy you time.
- If all else fails, talk to the department head. Sometimes the school's software is set up to shut you out on a certain date and there's nothing the instructor can do about it. That's when you need to go to the head of the program. This may be a dean of the department or other faculty chair.
A few "don'ts"
- DON'T automatically blame the instructor for errors or problems. The nature of online classes masks the structure of the program. This means that the software the school uses may be to blame and not the instructor. If there is a problem, notify your professor, but try to refrain from placing blame on them. A simple, factual description of the problem is good and will help your instructor figure it out for you.
- DON'T wait until the last minute to do all your assignments. This is a sure-fire way to miss major points and waste a lot of your effort. If you don't give your instructor time to grade your earlier assignments, you may keep making the same mistakes which will hurt your grade.
- DON'T assume online school is easier. Some students find online classes easier, but many are surprised by how challenging it can be. The subject matter is likely the same as what you would get in person, but you are effectively teaching yourself the material. This can be difficult, especially if you lose motivation to keep going.