You may be one of the increasing number of students who is pursuing a college degree online. If so, follow these tips to help you be a successful online learner.
- Do not presume. Many students assume that online classes require less work and are easier than traditional classes. In reality, online classes are designed to be just as rigorous and demanding as traditional courses. Be prepared to do a minimum of six hours of work a week in an online course - and that's a modest estimate. Some weeks and some entire classes will require far more than that, especially during the weeks of finals and midterms.
- Pay attention to the course learning objectives. Every course has learning objectives. Don’t ignore these objectives. Course objectives are carefully crafted and they are the foundations around which a well-designed course is built. Lectures, activities, written assignments, discussion boards, and tests - in fact, everything in a course-flow from the objectives. If you understand the course objectives, you will understand what is expected of you in all aspects of the class and will understand the criteria upon which your grades will be based.
- Read and practice everything. Go through every screen in a course, not just the graded assignments. Don’t run through a course skipping videos, animations, and ungraded self-assessment activities. Your instructor designed the course to help you achieve its learning objectives. Even if something doesn’t have a grade attached to it, know that it is there to provide supplemental learning opportunities to better prepare you for graded assignments and exams.
- Be sure you have the required software and hardware. These requirements are usually specified somewhere in the course-usually in the syllabus or course introduction section. You may not be able to turn in papers, view videos, or participate in groups if you don’t have the proper technology. Making sure that you have the proper Internet connection, spyware, and software programs installed is essential to your online learning success. Don’t let a piece of software or hardware prevent you from achieving learning objectives.
- Be open to new ways of learning. Students learn in different ways, and instructors often use a variety of strategies to appeal to a wide variety of learning styles. Give animations, videos, and audio files a try, even if they seem different from what you’re used to. Well-designed courses use technology to enhance learning, so be open to it.
- Be comfortable communicating through text. Most communication in an online course occurs through the written word. Discussion board posts, written assignments, and email are all common modes of communication in online courses. This is different from traditional classes, where a lot of communication is oral. Be prepared to read and write a lot in online courses.
- Participate wholeheartedly. Respond to discussion board questions with substantive remarks. An example of a bad post would be a very short "I agree with the previous post" response. A good post would bring up thought-provoking questions related to the lesson’s subject matter and would be multi-sentenced. You will likely be given points and grades for your postings, and detail and substance will earn you higher points and grades. A well-designed discussion board is designed to generate thoughtful discourse. Use the opportunity to have a meaningful conversation with your classmates.
- Be proactive. If you have questions or don’t understand an assignment, contact your instructor. Your instructor won’t know if you don’t understand something unless you tell him or her. Don’t wait until after you've turned in an assignment to let the instructor know that you have struggled. If you email or call the instructor before an assignment, quiz, or exam, you’ll prevent the struggle, and avoid having your grade suffer.
- Establish a regular schedule. Log on to your course every day...or at a minimum five days a week. Since courses are designed for students to do at least six hours of work each week, it’s not wise or effective to wait until the end of the week to do the coursework. Manage your time and do some work each day, just as you would in a traditional course.
- Fill out the surveys. Online courses often ask for your feedback somewhere within the course or after the course is over. A school will use your comments to build better programs and create better online courses. Remember that online education is relatively new, and there’s always room for improvement. The time you take to answer a survey will benefit you as well as future students.
If you follow the suggested tips, you can succeed at online learning -- and enjoy the experience all at once.
This article was written by Joan Saliskas, Ph.D., an Instructional Designer for Rasmussen College Online.