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A Guide On Beginning Your Online Education (Distance Learning)

Updated on October 21, 2015
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My Commitment To Potential Fellow Students And Colleagues

I attained my Bachelors Degree in Virtual Modeling and Design at the University of Advancing Technology via exclusively online courses. I started school while I was deployed to Iraq, and continued my education while essentially traveling the world.

I have had quite a few friends and family who have asked me many questions about getting a degree online. I feel that I should share my experience with everyone who could use it, as getting starting can feel daunting or ambiguous. My goal is to help you in any way I can by telling you about things you should expect, tips on finding the right college and degree program, and resources I used in my daily scholarly endeavors. I hope that by the time you have read this, you know exactly what direction you are heading in with confidence, and are equipped with the tools you need to help ensure you have a successful and rewarding experience.

Please Note: Any questions you have that I am unable to answer in this article, please make a comment and I will answer your question, and update the article with the new information for future readers.

Online Classes...

  • allow you to work when you chose to within deadlines.
  • require a higher degree of self-motivation and time management.
  • take up more time per class than campus classes, but you take fewer classes at a time, and are shorter in length (my classes are 5 weeks long, I take 1 at a time).
  • provide a larger degree of personal creative freedom (from personal experience in a large majority of my classes).
  • connect you with other people that share your interests from all over the world, not just in your area.

One person's perspective:

I asked my wife if online classes where what she had expected: "Online classes are actually easier than I thought they would be. I actually save time because I don't need to actually go onto a campus to get work done. It is so easy to be able to come home, work on assignments, and turn it in while sitting at my computer."

Is Distance Learning (Online) Education For Me?

This is the first question that many people have when showing interest in this form of education, and is the first question that needs to be answered before moving forward. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I want to get my degree online because there are no other alternatives?
  • Is online education more convenient due to my work schedule/nature of my job?
  • Am I interested in online education because I don't want to go onto a campus to take my classes?

Keep these questions in mind while I describe the nature of online education so that you have a better understanding of the pros and cons.

When you begin looking into schools that offer online programs, some will offer you a quick test to see if you would benefit from online education.

My personal opinion is that even if you do not "pass" this test, it doesn't mean that you could not, or should not, take online classes. These tests are targeted for a generic group of people, and by no means are any indication of whether or not you will have a successful experience. These tests are supposed to help you gain some introspective insight as to the nature of online education.

For Those Who Know What They Want To Get Their Degree In

Finding the right University to meet your needs can actually be a fun and easy process. While shopping around for what school will offer your desired degree, you may begin to feel like you are about to become a part of something really big, which in all truth, you are.

Many online schools will be eliminated based on whether they have your desired degree program. Making some Google searches for your degree program can help turn up potential schools, but I recommend first looking up schools you want to attend first to see if they offer your program or something similar.

Your Future Virtual Arm
Your Future Virtual Arm | Source

For Those Who Do Not

Some people know exactly what they want to get a degree in, but for the rest of us, we just know we want to go to school. The large number of schools that offer online courses can seem daunting, so lets knock them out systematically so that you have a more manageable selection to choose from. Here is a small list of methods you could use to achieve this:

  • Find a school(s) you would like to attend, and browse their degree programs. I knew I wanted to attend the University of Advancing Technology, so I just looked through their degree programs and picked the one I was most interested in. If you can't decide, ask the school for more information, or pick a general course of study and decide later (you can change your degree program any time).
  • Try to imagine your dream job. Chances are, your dream job requires a certain degree of study or certification. Find out what you would need, whether it is a Bachelors in Computer Science, an A+ Certification, or a Masters in Balloon Popping. Based on this information, you can then begin searching for schools that offer your required education/training.

Once you find what you want to do, and where you want to do it, there are some things you will need that you should know about...

Your FAFSA

You are going to need to fill out your FAFSA, which requires tax information. If you do not do your own taxes, then that is ok, they account for that. Below is a demo video in case you have any questions.

  • Even if you do not intend on taking out financial aid, it is required for every student to fill this out. This determines your eligibility for financial aid, and is submitted to your university. Your university will then contact you with the offers at which point you may decline. This is done regularly, so be sure to save your Username, Password, and Student Pin.

FAFSA Demo

Previous Education Information

Your school will most likely need to know about your previous education. This becomes very important if you intend on transferring credits from college you may have done in the past, or military transcripts which you get just for serving. Have ready a copy of the following:

  • ACT/SAT Scores
  • High School Diploma/GED and GPA
  • Military Transcripts
  • Previous College Transcripts

Note: Most likely you will only get one chance to submit these items, and the submission of these items is under a time limit once you begin, so do not wait to turn these in. I made this mistake myself and had to take/pay for classes I actually did not need.

Built To Render

Custom PCs are a cheaper method to getting the power you need. I will be making a guide for this soon (for beginners).
Custom PCs are a cheaper method to getting the power you need. I will be making a guide for this soon (for beginners). | Source

The Basics

You may need special tools other than an internet connection and a computer, such as a drawing tablet or special computer peripherals. These requirements should be included in the course catalogs, but you can ask the school for more information if you have any questions or are unsure of what you need. In my experience though, a large number of my classes required me to have access to things that will not be listed:

  • Webcam: Having a webcam is very important. There will most likely be times when you will need to make a virtual presentation which requires either a web cam, or an external recording device such as a digital camera that can record video. Webcams almost always come with a built-in microphone, but check to be sure as you will most likely need one of those too.
  • YouTube Account: If you are taking online classes, chances are you will need to upload a video of yourself giving a speech, provide a demo of a project you are working on, or to assist in collaborative projects. At the very least, there will be lectures and tutorials you would need to keep track of which is doable if you create an account.
  • Proper Hardware: Ensure your current computer meets the projected requirements of your course of study. For example, if you are getting a degree in Digital Animation, the 3D rendering process is extremely resource heavy and requires some very powerful computing power. Keep this in mind when you are looking for financial aid so that you can be sure you get set up for success ahead of time.

One Of My Own Assignment Videos: For Example

The Internet Is Your Greatest Tool

Source

Great Tools I Highly Recommend (All Free)

The following is a list of resources I used almost daily, and still do despite not being in school anymore. Surprisingly, it took me years to discover all of these, and really wish I knew about them from the very beginning:

  • Google Docs/Drive: I highly recommend getting a Google Docs account. Create a spreadsheet, and save your usernames and passwords here, as it is safe and reliable, and never misplaced. Just ensure you have a good password for your Google Docs account, change it once in a while, and be wary of phishing scams, much like any other service found on the internet. I also use Google Docs to share files with other people, and even turn in written assignments. With the addition of Google Drive, you can store large files too, such as project files or videos.
  • Dropbox: Dropbox is an online storage program that is incredibly secure, and ensures that all of your important projects and files are safe from the hazards of PC failures. This is another good place you could chose to store usernames, passwords, and other important information. The main reason I decided to get this program was when I had to transfer a massive project file to a colleague over the internet. All I had to do was get his e-mail, make a folder inside Dropbox, and share it with him. I plopped my file into that folder and bam!, he received it on his end in minutes. It is a simple little program, non-invasive, and simple to use. I swear by it, use it for personal, business, and school.
  • Prezi: For presentations, you can forget PowerPoint, Prezi is where its at. Inevitably, you will need to create presentations of some form. Prezi is free for students, which is great especially when you consider how much Microsoft products cost. Plus, everything is stored online, and since you are going to school online, this is a great advantage. You can access Prezi from anywhere since nothing is stored on your computer. This safeguards your homework from crashes and other PC wrecking events. Also, the learning curve is quite minimal, and it is a lot of fun!
  • JourneyEd: This website offers the entire spectrum of software at special student prices. This is a critical resource when you are absolutely required to use non-free version of software, such as Microsoft Word instead of Google Docs. It is also a great place to buy software if you intend to pursue technical or artistic degree programs. Programs such as Adobe Photoshop and Autodesk Maya are extremely expensive normally, but student version are available for cheaper, and there is really no difference, and the discounts can but up to 90% off!

My Mech

This thing destroyed my laptop.
This thing destroyed my laptop. | Source

What To Expect

Have no fear! For some people this endeavor seems daunting, especially when delving into an unfamiliar culture. If this is you, you are not alone! Online Instructors are equipped to help people who are unfamiliar with cyberspace or the eCulture.

Your first class will be an introductory class that will help you get familiar with how things work, so don't worry about being thrown in blind and hands tied. I know some people who worry they are "too old" to take online courses. There is never a wrong age to take classes. The internet actually makes it easier; nobody knows your age, or who you are, and if you choose not to want to meet anyone, then your identity will remain in the shadows.

Story: Some of the most amazing people I met while going to school online were much older, and I gained quite a lot from them.

It is assumed and expected that there will be a constant stream of communication and interaction between yourself, fellow students, and the instructor. Do not be afraid to ask questions, ask many! Ambiguity will cause you to mess up at some point. Online classes leave out a whole lot of context, so you need to be clear of what the assignment requires from you. if the description is not enough, ask ask ask! If you have to, send your Instructor an e-mail, or call them up. They will not mind, and is entirely for your benefit.

  • Lasting relationships, professional and otherwise. A wonderful experience, and a monumental boon to those who can really take to getting their education in this manner. It has changed my life, the way I think, and how I view the world. I learned many of these things the hard way, and want to pass them on to others so that they may have a smooth transition into their program of choice. Everything I wrote about here is from personal experience. I decided to write it all down due to demand for this kind of information from family and friends who are interested in online education. Thanks to my online education, I have been able to build a small team of professionals to work together with on some very neat projects that will one day (hopefully) turn into a real big business opportunity.
  • Procrastination can destroy your entire day/weekend/week. Even if an assignment is not due for a few days, get at least some of it done ahead of time. This is where personal discipline comes into play. There is an illusion that procrastination can help motivate you to get more work done in less time, but work expands/contracts to fill time, and although you may be able to get work done, it tends not to be nearly as good as it can be if you worked on it iteratively over a longer period of time. (Less stressful too!)
  • Try 1 class first! If you can help it, start by taking 1 class at a time. Online classes are condensed into shorter periods of time, but contain the same level of content as a regular campus class. This means you are working much harder during your classes, but for shorter periods of time. It is highly advisable to start of with a single class so you can judge your time management, and how it impacts your life. This goes double for military members. While I was in Iraq, and my classes never stopped, not even during command transfers or deployments.
  • There is a level of wiggle room. Classes are in the hands of the instructor for the most part. If you have a preferred way of doing an assignment, or have an idea not listed in the requirements of an assignment that you believe would fulfill these requirements and is something you are interested in doing, talk to your instructor. For example, in one of my 3D modeling classes, we had to make a model using NURBS. I made half of a mech that week. The next week, we had to make another model using Polygons. I asked the instructor if I could instead finish my mech from last week using Polygons, and he said yes. Below is a picture of that mech from class, my first 3D model, all thanks to asking the instructor if I could deviate slightly from the assignment.

I was also able to convince a few instructors to let me turn in assignments using Google Docs or Prezi versus the normal mediums.

Thank you for reading!

If you have any questions, please ask and I will get back to you with a reply. Depending on the context, I will also update my article so that other's may benefit from your question as well.

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    • profile image

      SK Yadav 3 years ago

      I also believe that online education is a good move for those who are willing to improve their knowledge without wasting a single minute of time.

      Today, we have technology rich platforms for l;earning various technologies and other academic subjects through online education platform, such as Coursera, Udacity, University18 etc.

      If one have no time to attend school classes, then he/she can effectively learn his/her subjects and concepts they need to learn for their curriculum. I must say, making the education system online is the best invention of modern era.

      Online education platform is completely worth-it particularly for higher education programs. As, after graduation or high school, candidates have no time to spend for full time courses. And they can easily complete their higher degree courses through online distance learning pattern without suspending their employment.

      I found an introductory guide for online MBA degree programs at http://www.slideshare.net/online-mba/online-mba-co... exploring why one should get MBA through online platform. The benefits, and various other aspects of online MBA are explored in this document.

    • kerlund74 profile image

      kerlund74 3 years ago from Sweden

      Informative hub. I like that you share your experiences:) I have worked for some time now from the "the other side", looking at methods for online education in my company. But this autumn I will begin higher education in Pedagogy here in Sweden, and it is an online education. I will save this till then!

    • JRAnthony profile image
      Author

      Justin R. Anthony 3 years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

      I am very happy you find this helpful, if you ever have any questions, please ask and I will get answers for you.

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