10 Tips for Successful Online Learning
While online learning is not new, the amount of students turning to this form of education is. Since most formal education takes place in a classroom from pre-K to senior year in high school, students are familiar with means for success because they have been continuously honed. The same is true for online instructors. Those new to or pondering online education do not have the same advantage. So, here are ten tips for successful online learning.
1. Know That Online Learning Is For You
A major misstep in choosing online education is that many students assume that it is the right choice for them. However, this leads to a lot of disappointment and wasted money. You can avoid all of this and be successful online if you know in advance that you have the potential to be an online learner. Following are some links to useful resources.
Traits of Online Learners:
- American University: http://www.american.edu/onlinelearning/Is-Online-Learning-for-You.cfm
Questionnaires: Is Online Learning for You?
- City College of San Francisco: http://www.ccsf.edu/Departments/Distance_Education/self_eval.htm
- Boston University: http://www.bu.edu/online/prospective-students/survey.html
2. Don’t Be Fooled By the Myths
Do not take an online course just to save gas and time or because you think it will be easy.While it is true you will most certainly save gas, the other myths are just that.
Accredited online courses require more time and work. Why? Because you have to take the time to read a lot of assigned and supplemental material, oftentimes more than what an in person course would require (This is what a typical lecture would provide). Then you must post discussion threads that take the place of in class discussion. Unlike in a traditional on-campus course, everyone has to post at minimum an original post and one or two response posts. You also have to complete course assignments: these include quizzes, test, and/or written works. Courses that normally would not require a quiz or test may require one for online students to check for understanding or that you are who you say you are.
Related to time is the length of a program or course. Do not be fooled by an institution that guarantees completion or a degree in a ridiculously short amount of time. You will know if it seems right based on comparisons to other schools. Make sure the institution is accredited. Accreditation varies for many reasons, but the main point is outside agencies ensure the school provides quality education. For more information about accreditation and a database for accredited higher education programs provided by the U.S Department of Education, click here.
This video provided by The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), will help gain a beginning understanding of accreditation and also provides a database of accredited schools.
3. Have The Required Hardware, Software, and Systems
It is almost unbelievable that this would make the list, but it should probably be one of the first tips mentioned. While having the needed materials seems like common sense, there are a lot of students that sign up for an online course and do not have a personal computer or laptop. Others may have the PC or laptop but no personal internet access, enough disk space, or more current operating systems. Ironically, this could be one instance that leads to not saving gas because the student has to go to a library or other public place that provides internet access or access to the specific system requirements. Not having the required technology for an online course is like paying for a face-to-face course but then not buying the books, a notebook, or bringing a writing utensil to class.
4. Get Information and Materials Early
Some students make a last minute decision to go back to college or continue schooling. Since delaying such a decision means on campus courses are already filled, you may decide or be convinced to take an online course—the only available option. Those wanting to avoid being seen for whatever reason, sticking out due to age, disguising a deficiency, et cetera, may opt for online education for the wrong reason(s). But do your homework. Again, check for accreditation (see number 2 above). Also make sure if you have a disability that there are services available to ensure your success. Know what the typical degree and course sequence is and average time to complete your degree.
Some institutions and programs even let you gain access to materials early. For example, Northcentral University lets students download the syllabus for a course up to two months in advance. This allows you time to shop around for the best prices on books and make sure you have them in time for the course. Believe it or not, many students drop online courses because their books arrive so late that almost half the course is over. Catching up becomes nearly impossible. Most institutions grant access to the course a few days early, so students can determine—after looking at the syllabus and course progression—if they want to keep the course or take something else in its place.
5. Read and Apply
Read all course introductory information. Sometimes there is information in the student handbook about course specifics, like how to submit work and contact your instructor. So make sure you read all the institution’s handbooks. If your professor posts his or her own documents and samples, be sure to not only read but also utilize the documents. Know what to include and avoid. Not doing so can cost you points due to not following directions and requirements.
If, and when, feedback is given on your work, make sure you apply it. You can easily fall into the illusion that not being in a physical class the professor does not know you. But if the professor cares, and more than not do, they will get to know you through your writing style and voice. They will remember if you make certain common errors and if you are making progress based on previous comments and recommendations. Of course they can also compare to previously submitted work.
Also read about the terms and acronyms used in online courses. For example, CMS stands for Course Management System. Every course uses one, so it is beneficial to know if you are going to use Moodle, Blackboard, WebCT, Angel, et cetera. Other terms are really important so you are speaking the same "language" when you need help from the Help Desk, the instructor, or someone else.
6. Print Hard Copies Of Course Materials
Work smarter and not harder any chance you get. You definitely want to print out a copy of the course syllabus and/or outline. Other materials you may access a lot should be printed out too. This will help you be successful because you will not waste time toggling between pages and pop-up windows. Printing does not mean you have to use up all your paper and ink. You can simply print to PDF for longer documents and open and read as needed. This way you do not have to log in to the course every time you want to check or read something.
Sometimes important and frequently accessed information is not compiled neatly for downloading or copying. In this case, you should create a Word document and copy all the essay prompts, assignments, discussions and other course activities. You can then print this out for an easy reference guide.
7. Stay as Close to Schedule as Possible
One of the greatest benefits of online learning can also be one of the greatest detriments. Anyone that has taken an online course will tell you that staying on schedule is one of the hardest aspects of online learning. No one is physically there to remind you of due dates or stress their importance. If you have the habit of procrastination, avoid online courses altogether. Once you get behind, it takes almost double—if not more—the effort to get back on track. The snowball effect is more than you would expect.
Some courses are self-paced, in which you complete work at your own pace but there are recommended deadlines to finish the course on time. Other courses are like a traditional face-to-face course where deadlines are set and firm: often no late work is accepted. And some courses are a combination of self-pace and guided. Students complete regular coursework at their own pace, but midterms and other assessments must be taken at a particular time, not matter how much coursework the individual has completed.
8. Know Your Limit
Some students are so eager to return to college or begin their college career that they try to take what would be considered a full load if they were attending school on campus. Remember, online courses require much more work and time in most cases. So know your limit—or rather learn your limit.Start by taking one course. This can be a course that is a prerequisite for others or a course you take for fun or personal interest. The point is to get a feel for what online learning is like before you take the complete plunge. Some institutions require taking a mini-course that acclimates students to the course management system and rigor of online learning.
9. Take Courses In Sequence
One drawback to any program, whether online or in person, is there are many classes you have to take before you even get to courses specifically designed for your major. But there are institutions like Thomas Edison State College that let you take courses out of sequence. For example, a typical prerequisite course like English 101 or Composition can be taken at the end of one’s academic career or program. While this seems like a reason to register right away, be careful.The adage “save the best for last” is pertinent here. If you go into your college career and take all the fun and interesting courses first, the novelty may wear off soon, leaving you with tough classes or ones that will not hold your interest. In the end, it keeps a lot of students from graduating. Also keep in mind that foundational courses are aptly named. They provide the knowledge base for everything to come and the skill sets needed to be successful in the rest of your courses.
10. Seek Help
There are many points of contact when seeking additional information, guidance, help and support. You are not alone in cyberspace. People and names may not have faces in your courses or the institution, but that does not mean they do not actually exist or are not willing to help. Some online institutions, like Argosy University, actually provide personal counseling services—not to be confused with academic advising—to their students. Never be too proud to seek assistance. It is better to ask a question than get a zero, fail, or drop out because you thought you could do it alone.
If tutorials are offered for different services like the library or tutoring center, view them. They provide invaluable tips for time saving techniques. Classmates tend to be very supportive in online courses. They are also easy to contact with the e-mail distribution list. Some institutions provide space for forums and discussion boards that are not monitored, so students can feel free to say what is on their minds and seek advice from everyone that attends the college or university.By no means is this list exhausted. There are plenty of books dedicated to this sole topic.