In the age of MOOCs, degrees which give you the option to take some classes ‘distance’, and other programs that are all-online, many people are considering the pros and cons of taking classes on the internet.
If you’ve never taken a class online before, the concept might seem too good to be true – no worrying about getting to class on time, being called on to speak about a topic you’re not really comfortable with, or sitting in an uncomfortable chair for way too long.
You might imagine sitting in your comfiest chair, relaxing your class time away at a time that is completely convenient for you. But as with any fantasy, reality is hiding just behind the corner, and it’s important to take a good look before you jump right in.
So if you’re up in the air about it, take a page from some folks who have been successful in their online classes. Here is a short list of tips to get you thinking about if online learning is right for you.
It seems obvious, but you have to have access to technology that works in order to be successful in an online class. An internet connection that goes in-and-out (and not like the burgers!) isn’t going to help you get through the class. Similarly, if you’ve been writing up your papers and doing research on a clunky old computer, investing in a new one can help ensure you can work as quickly and efficiently as possible. If you’re constantly arguing with your technology, you won’t be able to focus as much on the learning aspect.
Depending on the type of class you’re taking, much of online learning happens in a lecture-based format. If you don’t already know, find out what type of learner you are, and supplement your lecture accordingly with visual or hands on practice. You might want to find a local interest group for the subject you’re working on – for example, a weekly Spanish conversation group or lunch table might be a great supplement to your online Spanish class.
This should go without saying, but when there’s no one else around, you need to police your own class and study habits. First, set aside a specific time to ‘take’ your class. If you’re trying to fit it in with laundry, child care, or other work, you either won’t get it done or it won’t have your undivided attention. Once you’ve made the time, actually spend the time attending to the class work. If you wouldn’t get up twelve times and miss a few minutes of class each time during an in-person class, then don’t do it when you’re home alone watching class from your computer, either!
Sometimes, when I feel particularly lazy as I head out for my run, I make sure to run on a well trafficked route so that I’ll be too embarrassed to stop and walk – I’m not ashamed to use the other people around me as motivation! If you’re someone who really needs other people around them to stay motivated, learning at home (alone) might not be the best for you. While some online classes incorporate group work, not all do, so if that’s your cup of tea, check first.
Don’t be your own slave driver! Time management is important to make sure you don’t burn out. As mentioned before, scheduling a time that is just for your online class(es) is important, but make sure to schedule time for other things, too. Don’t aim to get half your work done in one day – parceling it out will make it less stressful, and help you retain what you’re learning more effectively.