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Mastering Online Learning

It seems online learning is scary for a lot of people. I’m not entirely sure why. I don’t know if it’s because it seems so different than the traditional setting, or if people are worried they don’t have the discipline? Do they think they need that teacher/student interaction? Whatever the reason, it’s a real shame because online learning can help so many people advance in their career. Especially since a lot of entry level jobs are requiring some sort of college degree.

Full disclosure: I’m probably a bit biased. I completed a bachelor’s degree almost totally online. To be perfectly honest, too, I would never have gotten that far without the online option as I was too sick to attend in person classes. Some of my fellow classmates were in the same boat as me. Others were managing jobs and/or families. The flexibility of the online classes far outweighed the potential cons for them because to get to where they wanted they needed an education. Quitting a job isn’t always an option, and you certainly can’t lock your kids away.

I will admit online learning isn’t easy, but it seems largely because the student is juggling something else with school. At least, that’s the feedback I got. No one much mentioned the lack of interaction or self-discipline. Anyway, on to the tips.

First, before school even starts, get familiar with your technology. Make sure your equipment is in good shape. You don’t want your computer to crash while you’re in the middle of typing a major paper. Check to see if you have the software you need or if you need a webcam. Your school will provide a list of requirements. Give yourself a crash course on how to use the software and hardware (there are lots of tutorials on everything on YouTube or just google it).

Next, again before school starts, do any and all tutorials your school offers on how to use the online forum. You may need to watch it a couple times and explore around a little, but you don’t want to wing it on this. You may neglect to actually submit an assignment or turn in a test without answers.

Consider starting with a lighter class load. Maybe you could do six classes, but if all you need is three to four to qualify for full time, try that first. Online learning is an adjustment. Though you’re not really hanging out there on your own, it can feel like it. You will have to manage a lot on your own though including your schedule, how you prioritize, and you’ll likely have other responsibilities. Go easy on yourself for at least one semester until you have the hang of it.

Make a plan. Are you a night owl? Morning person? Do you have to work around your job or kids? Determine the optimal time to do your work and put it on your time schedule. Wiggle away from that time only in emergencies or if you find another time that is better. Also give yourself at least a couple hours a day if you can. It’ll help you stay on schedule and manage your workload better.

Speaking of managing your workload, don’t count on your memory to remember when assignments are due. Get a calendar, planner, etc. and write down what is due when for each class so you know what and where you need to spend your time. Since you are not in an in person class, you are less likely to get reminders about due dates and deadlines. Please note: your instructor will likely tell you how many hours you can expect spend on the class. It can you upwards to 15, 20, or more hours. Don’t panic. It is more like how much time you need to put in. If math isn’t your best subject, you may need the extra time. If you’re a fast reader, less time.

Have a dedicated study area where there are no distractions. You don’t need to re-do a room into an office, but at least have a spot where you can set up your computer and textbooks and be able to study without intrusions. Having area reserved for doing homework can help you feel like you’re attending class and get you in the right headspace to buckle down and work.

Participate, participate, participate. Most of your interaction with your classmates and professor will take place through discussion forums. Instructors will likely tell you that you have to post X number of times, but that can typically mean you won’t fail if you post that number of times. You often will get a better grade if you post more than the minimum. Also write something substantial and/or meaningful. Just writing “good post” will not make the grade. Granted not every class you take will lead to debate or even decent discussion (thinking of my accounting class), but every class you take will likely have a discussion forum. No instructor will be looking for major breakthroughs in every post or deep philosophical thought but participating on some decent level is key.

Stay accountable. With no one checking to make sure you’re physically in class, it’s easy to procrastinate. However tempting, avoid it. These are real classes with real professors expecting real results. Just because they aren’t in front of you doesn’t mean that they won’t take off points for or outright refuse late assignments or exams. If a real life emergency happens though and you’re sure to be late, contact your instructor as soon as possible for an approved extension.

Check your email or communication center regularly. Your instructor will tell you how they will communicate. Sometimes it will be through email, sometimes through a forum or other dedicated area. Keep on top of these communication venues so you’re aware of any changes to due dates, updated or additional assignments, and other announcements.

Reach out if you need help. Whether to your professors, advisor, fellow students, or other faculty such as academic support, they are all there to help. Just because they aren’t physically in your presence on a daily basis, doesn’t mean you’re on your own. If you’re struggling with a class, don’t wait until you are failing to get support. Your professor is still there to help instruct, and they have virtual office hours for just such a reason. If your professor isn’t helpful (this is pretty rare) or you still aren’t able to glean the material then get in touch with your advisor or the school’s academic support department for guidance. They can help set you up with a tutor or other resources.

Lastly, just treat an online class as you would an in person one. Take notes or use flashcards. Be prepared to do a little extra work, especially reading. Set that schedule and stick to it. Dedicate at least the same amount of time to an online class as you would spent in an in person class. You’ll find that you’ll adjust to this new way of learning just fine.

Have you taken on online class? What worked for you? Share in the comments.


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