Once upon a time, educators recoiled from the idea of online education. How could classes taken over a computer possibly provide the same benefit to students as those taken in person? As technology has improved and more reputable educational institutions have embraced online learning over the past few years, many of the early criticisms lobbied at online learning have been well challenged.
Over a third of all higher education students are taking at least one of their courses online, and more than 12% are enrolled in online courses exclusively. Clearly students, professors, and colleges are all coming around to the idea of distance education.
Online courses do come with their own share of challenges though. Some students may find that in spite of dreams of earning a degree in their pajamas, being an online student isn’t actually for them. If you’re intent on giving online learning a try, making sure you’re prepared for what to expect can make a big difference. These tips can help.
Online learning long got a bad rap due to the prevalence of for-profit colleges working in the space. Many of these schools aren’t accredited, and charge considerably more than their nonprofit counterparts for lower-quality results. If you want to be successful as an online student, the most important decision you have to make is picking a good school. Our online college reports can help, but supplement them with some of your own research to make sure that the school you choose is not just well respected, but also the right fit for you.
An old computer that’s slow or an Internet connection that’s spotty can impact your online education. Dropouts are common in online courses, just as they are for brick-and-mortar ones and anything that places a barrier in your path to graduation – even something that seems like a small frustration like an outdated computer – may play a role in making it harder to keep going.
You also need to check the particular technical requirements of the online program you take, to make sure you get all the software or tools they recommend. A lot of technology companies offer deals for students, so you may find it easier to upgrade your technology than you expected. If it makes the difference between keeping up your determination to finish your degree or giving up, the cost will be well worth it.
You’re never going to get through an online course if you’re not making yourself do the work. You may find it easy enough to assume in the abstract that you’ll get it done, but the actual work of sitting down every day to study is a significant challenge, especially if you’re trying to fit your classes in around an already busy life.
Figure out a system that ensures you actually get your schoolwork done. It may be putting down strict deadlines or setting aside blocks of time for study on the calendar. It may be finding an accountability partner in your class or a friend who will bug you until you get the work done. Do whatever it takes to hold yourself to that high standard that means you’ll put the time in and pass each class.
As with the last tip, this is something that may require a little trial and error on your part. Pay attention to what types of learning work best for you – is it listening to recordings of lectures, reading a chapter in the textbook, taking thorough notes, or mind mapping? Once you’ve identified the study style that gives you the best results, give more of your time to that type of studying.
The format and style of work is an important part of the equation, but so is the where and when. Figure out where you can do your studying that offers the least distractions. If trying to study in your own home means dealing with loud kids or family members who bug you about chores, go to the library or a coffee shop. If you find trying to do your classwork in the middle of the day means you’re always distracted by thoughts of all the other things you need to get done, do it in the evenings.
Treat this like a job and urge the people around you to so as well. If you wouldn’t be expected to stop your work at random to do laundry, that same expectation should hold to completing your schoolwork.
Many colleges provide tools or assignments that encourage collaboration between online students, but students can always take the step of developing study groups or online spaces for communication themselves. Social media makes it easy and free to get discussions going with your peers.
A simple Facebook group, Google+ community, or regularly scheduled Skype call that anyone in the class is invited to join can help you recreate some of the classroom community that comes more naturally to in-person classes. Do keep in mind the importance of digital citizenship in your interactions with other students. You should always treat each other with respect and professionalism, and you might want to even produce some guidelines to that effect. These people may very well end up being valuable professional contacts to you down the line, don’t blow it!
Most colleges make a serious effort to provide students with the support they need. If you find yourself struggling, speak up to your professor. If you need help beyond what your professor can provide, look into the other resources offered by the college. Talk to your professors, your counselors, the librarian, or whoever you need to in order to get the answer you need.
Helping students learn is the #1 goal of every college out there, and they all have a whole structure in place to ensure that goal can be reached. But many students don’t realize that and don’t bother asking for help when they hit a roadblock in their studies. Remember: if you’re having trouble, you’re not alone in this.
Do hold yourself to the goals and deadlines necessary to get through the course, but don’t feel guilty when you need to take a break. Don’t even see it as an indulgence you’re allowing yourself, it’s a necessity. Our brain can only handle so much in one sitting, taking a break every so often will help you stay more focused the rest of the time. You can even put them on your calendar or set an alarm to make sure you don’t forget.
Some of student success depends on having good teachers and courses. But most of it falls on your shoulders. If you can figure out a system of study that works for you and stick to it, you can succeed as an online student. If you really find you’re still struggling, even with trying out all these tips, you may be someone who would be better off on campus. Be willing to switch tracks if that is what’s best for you; online learning isn’t for everyone, and that’s ok.